London's brand new £60m 'flying bus' route opens


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The Independent Online

Having been waved off by a group of north London delicatessen workers, one of a rotating smorgasboard of sectional groups beaming out from an enormous screen in the “terminal building”, a jolt of acceleration begins one's journey on London's brand new £60m flying bus route. “You are cruising at an altitude of 295 feet. Please remain seated at all times,” informs the piped in stewardess.

Then, spread out against the earth below, is everything you never wanted to know about London, but were to afraid to ask.

The curving white tarpaulins of the David Beckham Soccer Academy – before it went bust; the jagged scaffold exterior of the Billingsgate Fish Market; whole Serengetis of car park – whoever knew they were there? - rubbish tips, an industrial bakehouse and the metallic guts of the Isle of Dogs pumping station (think le Centre Pompidou, only without the Kandinskys, just raw sewage).

When, in 2005, Jacques Rogge opened his envelope on stage in Singapore, and read out the word “London”, this is what the “toxic swamp” that is the Olympic Park looked like.

Now the crashed red rollercoaster of the Orbit sticks out of the sky to the east. For the Mayor, if no one else, who five minutes prior to my ride, swooped in to the Northern terminus, and ground slowly past the waiting photographers, like George Bush and Gordon Brown in a very hi-tech golf buggy, it is an affirmation of the possible.

“Some might say it's not a very attractive view,” Boris Johnson said, disembarking from his third consecutive round trip. “I think it's a staggeringly beautiful view of London. It's a panorama of some of the most opportunity rich areas in the city, one of the great growth opportunities in the whole of Europe. People coming from all over the world are coming to London in the next few weeks. I want them to see these places, these sites that they can invest in. People are already showing showing an interest in buying into it.”

Emirates airlines have certainly already bought into it. £36m of the £60m cost has come from their coffers.

In return, naturally, the terminals and the carriages are smothered in their branding which, them not being an Olympic sponsor and this already having been dubbed the “Olympic cable car”, they can only be ecstatic about.

A further £8m has come from the EU's “Regeneration Fund.” “Better value for money than paying off the Greek debt,” the mayor claims.

The side of the red pods each read “Hello Korea”, “Hello Sydney” or hello to some other Emirates destination. None say hello to North Greenwich or the Excel Centre however, the only two places they will ever greet.

The TfLCommissioner Peter Hendy called its opening a “historic day for the UK and a momentous day for London.” Not being the world's most popular ski destination, we have been lagging behind in the cable car stakes for some time. Not any more.

The new route, the first to open across the river since the once rather shaky Millennium Bridge, very efficiently connects two Olympic venues, the Excel Centre and the o2, so if you're an Olympic official with limited time to get round all 26 venues, this is arguably better than a Zil lane.

Or if you are among the many millions who have tickets for the gymnastics and the taekwondo on the same day, you have also had quite a result.

It is now officially open. A five minute one way trip costs £4.30, a return £6.50, if you're doing it just for fun and not getting off.

It can carry 2,500 people per hour in each direction, the equivalent of 30 buses. The mayor hopes “people will come and ride it as a great tourist attraction. They will bring their families and their friends for a great day out.” He may be right, but 30 bus loads an hour is still quite a lot.

For the final moment of the return journey, the Dome, and the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, and the City – which are rapidly increasing in number, not least the Shard - all come into perfect alignment, a little corridor of London that is pure Manhattan.

I was not alone in succumbing to the temptation to ignore instructions to stand up and take a photograph, at the precise moment passengers are told “thank you for flying”, and dispatched back into their seat with an aggressive brake and a gently violent jolt as the cable car glides you back in to the terminal, where right on cue, the frantic waves of the delicatessen workers are back again.