Why there's room at the top top?

There are huge queues for the London Eye, but there are always empty capsules. Is it a victim of its own success? Or of mismanagement?
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The Independent Online

The London Eye doesn't exactly spin round. So why, when the whole world wants to be 450 feet up in the sky with a 25-mile panoramic view of the city, are so many capsules empty for every 360-degree revolution?

The London Eye doesn't exactly spin round. So why, when the whole world wants to be 450 feet up in the sky with a 25-mile panoramic view of the city, are so many capsules empty for every 360-degree revolution?

Take a look up at 32 capsules spinning round like bobbins then count the ones without passengers. In each half-hour revolution you will find three or four empty ones, even when there are ticket holders champing at the quay below. Each of the capsule guides will tell you that the question they most get asked by the 70,000 or so tourists each week since its opening on 1 March isn't "Which way is Buckingham Palace?" but "Why are there are so many empty cars ?"

With almost 1 million tickets already sold, BA hopes to carry more than 2 million visitors on the £35m wheel in its first 12 months, but it still doesn't answer the fact that getting 27 passengers per capsule off and another 27 on while the wheel is still turning, albeit slowly, is a headache. They can stop the wheel, but only for disabled passengers to get on, or in the case of a heart attack on board. At weekends the crowd grows mutinous. What was once a nice jogging route along the South Bank is a furious mêlée between ticket holders unable to board on the time printed on their ticket, and stragglers hoping to purchase tickets in 2001. Meanwhile, the observation runs on partially empty.

Crowd controllers who patrol the barriers erected to keep ticket holders in place will tell you that the London Eye is a victim of its own success. They blame the pavilion into which ticket holders are herded before embarkation to hear a blast of BA advertising and have their picture taken. The £5 print-out is for sale at the end of the ride, but herding the groups into position takes too long. They need to get a thousand people every half an hour through this seven-second photo-booth, and in line behind barriers which are lifted as the wheel draws up to the docking platform.

Paul Bates, BA's London Eye project director, will have to find ways of getting people on and off quicker, and keeping those queueing for future tickets separate from those who have already purchased theirs. Now that cities around the world like Toronto, Johannesburg and Sydney have expressed an interest in buying their own London Eye experience, he may have to come up with a smoother take-off. Or fewer passengers.

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