Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Could a liquor license entice riders on to the underused Emirates Air Line?
London is considering a new way to get more passengers to ride its chronically under-used cross-river gondola: it may let them get drunk.
This week, the operating company behind East London’s Emirates Air Line—which crosses the Thames from a site in the city’s former Docklands—submitted an application for a commercial liquor license at its two riverside terminals. If approved by the city, it would allow the company to open champagne bars at both its riverside terminals. To lure more visitors onto the service, they may also host film screenings, karaoke, and “silent disco” nights, where people come together to dance to music provided solely via their own headphones.
The service could certainly do with something, or anything really, to boost its ridership numbers. The gondola, launched in 2012 just before the Olympic Games, has a potential capacity of 2,500 passengers an hour, but only manages 4,000 during an entire average day. Widely damned as a white elephant, the gondola now has another, less flattering unofficial name—the Dangleway—owing to its tendency to leave its cars dangling motionless in mid-air during windy spells. It’s increasingly seen as a product of the flashy but sometimes poorly though-out projects typical of the mayorship of Boris Johnson, who himself is no stranger to being left dangling on a high wire.
The reasons for the Dangleway’s low user numbers aren’t hard to fathom: it goes from nowhere to nowhere. Certainly, its location in the regenerated Docklands may end up being busier at some point, but neither of its terminuses are particularly well located for nearby attractions or well integrated into the city’s wider transit network. It’s also quite easy, and only marginally slower, to follow its route using the Docklands Light Railway, which means few commuters bother with it on a regular basis.
It’s a fairly dire turn of events when the only way you can coax people to use something initially touted as a vital transit link is to let them get wasted. Having said that, I still think the liquor license plan is a great idea, albeit one coming at the end of a chain of bad ones. The view from the gondola is spectacular. I always enjoy it when I ride the cars (usually alone) and sitting back and enjoying the sunset while downing some overpriced bubbles sounds pretty damned pleasant.
The idea of hosting parties on either side seems a little dicey nonetheless. British people can’t really be trusted to drink sensibly on terra firma as it is. Put drunken karaoke performers into little glass bubbles, bouncing around in the wind high, and the scene could easily end up looking like something painted by Hieronymus Bosch. That sounds like a scream, but with all those potentially upset stomachs and expanses of glass vulnerable to splatter, I just hope they remember to invest in a set of new mops.