John Biggs Responds to London Cable Car Questions

Post by Steven Dale


Artists Rendition of the London Thames Cable Car

Last week I wrote about London Assembly member John Biggs and his problems with the London Cable Car (Gondola). In that post, I questioned three central assumptions that underlined Mr. Biggs’ concerns.

Rather than leave it there, I thought it would be interesting to solicit a response from Mr. Biggs as per those questions.

I therefore emailed him those very questions and was pleasantly surprised when he (or his staff) responded promptly thereafter.

The original questions (in bold) and his (unedited) responses follow:

Dale: Why could it never be a part of the transport network? Why can a city that blends subways, double-decker buses and light rail not also incorporate a gondola or cable car system? Is London incapable of accomplishing what CaracasMedellin and several Algerian cities have already done?

John Biggs: We already have quite a good public transport network, based on subway and light rail, in this part of London. The shortage is of a road crossing or two.

I do agree that a cable car could form a part of the infrastructure but the mixture of topography/costs/demand plus perhaps some institutional prejudice counts, I think, against it. Volumes in london mitigate perhaps against cable cars.

Second reason is that the Mayor says it would operate without subsidy, which I think excludes it from our heavily subsidised system unless he didn’t mean it.

Dale: There is a massive shortage of river crossings in East London. Adding the cable car (gondola) increases the number of East London river crossings from zero to one. How then is this a bad thing?

John Biggs: There are about 6 rail crossings, all underground. It is a road that we need.

Dale: There’s no argument that East London requires at least one road crossing over the Thames. But such a crossing was estimated to cost £500m and could never have been completed in time for the Olympics – a prime impetus behind the cable car (gondola).

John Biggs: I agree with most of this except that we have 6 rail crossings already, with another on the way. Certainly not mutually exclusive.

I should add that there has never been a published transport analysis of the cable car proposal which attempts to justify it in terms of transport policy and demand.

I’m incredibly grateful to Mr. Biggs for his response and he does make some valid arguments. The most valid being his final point that there’s never been a “published transport analysis of the cable car proposal which attempts to justify it in terms of transport policy and demand.”

That’s important – now more than then.

Were the system to be funded entirely by the private sector as had originally been planned, then such a study would be unnecessary. If the private sector wants to risk its own money, they should do a study or not – their choice.

However as it seems that more and more of the system may be funded by the public sector, Mr. Biggs’ concern does seem justified.

Nevertheless, it seems like a case of closing the barn door after the horses have fled. Study or not, this thing is going to be built.

And while Mr. Biggs can agree that the Cable Car and a road crossing of the Thames are “certainly not mutually exclusive,” most of his arguments hinge on the idea that what East London really needs is a road crossing of the Thames.

His main argument against the Cable Car rests on the idea that because East London needs a road crossing, it must therefore not need and/or want a gondola crossing. That’s a logical fallacy – the two have very, very little to do with one another and one is not dependent upon the other.

It’s like arguing against buying a bike because what you really need is a car.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. Seems to have ignored the fact that the only local road/river crossing is right underneath the cable car already, so if road competition was an issue then the cable car would be put somewhere else! Another road crossing is a long-running political football and this response seems to be about scoring points in that debate rather than the real transport needs of that part of London.
  2. Not for the cable car, but there are studies (not only a few). http://www.london.gov.uk/thelondonplan/ http://www.london.gov.uk/thelondonplan/docs/londonplan08.pdf (check page 160 and 161).
  3. I'd say the biggest problem with incorporating this river crossing in the public transit network is similar to incorporating a two stop subway in a public transit system (well except it'd be faster) - short lines suck. Because people who want to use this thing in their journey will have to transfer a lot - only the trips from one side to the other don't require transfers, and are there really a lot of those? For the trips that end in either terminal of this line, there's always one extra transfer, any trip that just attempts to use this line requires at least two transfers. A line like this would work if there are no alternative lines - which apparently there are.
  4. @ Edwin, Would probably agree with you.
  5. @ ant6n, Agreed. Hard to tell how useful it will be to locals in the long run. The only chance it has is if it's fully integrated, including fare. Otherwise, anyone who needs to cross the river by transit is simply going to take the Jubilee line.
  6. I don't agree with that, Steven. I have a feeling you'd like to see more in it than it actual is - and unfortunately it is what it is: Just imagine the London Eye flat and there you go. The only Londoners using that installation for will be the ones taking advantage of its location. I think those are 50 at its best (those working next the Excel and living in North Greenwhich and/or the other way around). All the other passengers will use the installation for amusement rides - the fare integration offers only a faster ticketing system with less staff. http://www.london.gov.uk/thelondonplan/images/maps-diagrams/jpg/map-3c-3.jpg There also is a foot tunnel very near and if necessary to go by alternative transit, the bus is also there. If however you'd like to see a good opportunity for a cross-river-connection, then take a look at the suggested blue line here: http://www.london.gov.uk/thelondonplan/images/maps-diagrams/jpg/map-3c-2.jpg That is an excellent point for a cable car installation!
  7. @John Biggs: "We already have quite a good public transport network, based on subway and light rail, in this part of London." A cable transit system is only of interest, if no other public transport network exists or does not function (buses inside a traffic jam), probably at cities in underdeveloped countries, where no public transport network was growing more than a century like in developed countries. A ropeway into favelas at Medellin or Caracas has success, but not at the saturated market of traffic networks at cities like San Francisco, Totonto or London?
  8. Guenther, I think it is even possible in the mentioned cities. But I guess you are talking about gondola-alone-transit, and that simply doesn't work in those big cities due to capacity. Though as a helping addition, functioning as a feeder or a special line outside the city centers, where train would be too expensive, too difficult to built, I think that would do. In particular for London: take a look at the last link above your postings. The Croydon Tramlink Options or the Cross River Tram (all of them around 7 km long). (hope I'm getting my advance for suggesting those information here) ;)
  9. Cross River Tram and Croydon extensions are not current policy, more political footballs I'm afraid, although the Mayor is now warming to the idea of the Crystal Palace tramlink extension he previously put on hold. Cross River Tram would have been an intensively used city centre LRT route, throughput somewhere well over 5000 per hour. An important benefit would have been level access for wheelchairs etc, which most of the Tube won't offer for decades yet. If it followed the streets (probably essential for emergency access) it would need frequent direction changes. These and the frequent stops would be very intrusive in elevated configuration as well as increasing access time to the extent that Tube or bus would be faster. Gondola might possibly work for a Crystal Palace extension of Tramlink, though you'd lose the benefit of through service to the rest of the Tramlink network. Crystal Palace is on a steep hill and the engineering is a bit marginal for light rail. Can't say what the predicted passenger flow would have been for this route.
  10. Edwin, do you mean for the extension just to the crystal palace of a few hundred meter ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EastLondonLineRouteMap.png )? One of the benefits of a Gondola-Cable-Car-in-the-air is its short getting down and coming up and going over topography. Yes, connecting to another form of transportation would result in switching vehicles. Seeing it standalone and maybe as a strong feeder-line (hopefully with great characteristics, such as long line, huge development area - which means a few more stations than just 2, good amount of passengers, better times than by bus - and of course independent though not separated from other infrastructures) I can't see why it shouldn't work. I think I remember seeing some LRT-lines around in the southern sub-urban areas or even sub-sub-urban areas of London on maps.
  11. A fascinating film about this project: http://hatton.luminova-web.com/ (but 72 MB download !)
  12. The same film with not so much megabytes here: http://www.london.gov.uk/media/press_releases_mayoral/mayor-announces-world-class-consortium-construct-london%E2%80%99s-cable-car scroll down!
  13. Good to see/read. Thanks Guenther. I have to admit I'm a little excited about it - howsoever the infrastructural circumstances are.

Leave a comment

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.