Boris Johnson: who gains most from his cable car deal?

Not for the first time questions are being asked about the cost to taxpayers of a London mayor sponsorship deal

The more dedicated Boris-bashers won't agree, but a generous historian might judge Mayor Johnson's New Bus for London as representing the best aspects of his time at City Hall: optimism, enthusiasm and measured investment poured into a project that combines a sense of history with modernising technology and also strikes a popular chord. By contrast, the Emirates Air Line - that's the new Thames cable car, to you and me - looks on course to exemplify some of the less impressive characteristics of the Johnson era.

The cable car, which commences operating on 28 June, could turn out to be fine fun for tourists, and tourism is, after all, a big part of London's economy. But the project has taken a large sum out of Transport for London's shrinking purse at a time when core public transport services are under strain and fares escalating annually. Does it represent good value for money?

In a written answer to new Labour London Assembly member Fiona Tywcross, the Mayor has denied that the scheme's cost has risen from £25m to around £60m, but confirms that the budget for it was set at £62.6m, adding that the actual cost is "expected" to be within that figure. He goes on:

As you will be aware TfL already has £36m of sponsorship funding in place with Emirates and an application in for a further £8m of European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) which will cover a significant portion of the capital cost of the project and minimise any cost to the taxpayer. It is envisaged that the revenue generated will, over time, cover all costs.

This is a long way from where we started. Two years ago the Mayor said, "The aim is to fund the construction of the scheme entirely from private finance." It is now re-confirmed that TfL will cough up between £18m and £26m, depending on how obliging the ERDF is. That's two or three times what TfL spent on the development of the far more substantial New Bus. Shades too of the Mayor's cycle hire scheme, which was also supposed to cost the taxpayer nothing.

The need to generate revenue to cover all cable car costs "over time" might explain the price passengers will have to pay to use the cable car. A single trip with Oyster pay-as-you-go will hit an adult for £3.20, which is more than even the most hostile predictions. The Mayor enthuses that the cable car will enhance the area and so help attract investment. Perhaps. But Emirates has already done nicely out of the deal, securing a high profile branding presence on both the Thames and the London Tube map.

As with Barclays' cycle hire and superhighways, Londoners are entitled to inquire of the value-for-money Mayor if they or the sponsors are getting the best part of the deal.

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Publication Date: Wed, 20 Jun 2012 13:43:37 GMT
Source: The Guardian
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