If the cable car were a bus route, it'd be London's 407th busiest

Look at all those happy punters. Image: Scott Heavey/Getty.

Great news, everyone! London's favourite cable car has hit a major milestone!

 

Five million people! Isn't that brilliant?

Let's put that amazing number in context, shall we?

Over the last year, just under 1.6m people have used the cable car. That's so many it's approximately one tenth of the number that used* London's smallest tube line, the Waterloo & City line shuttle.

Approximately 50,000 passengers a week use the nearby Woolwich Ferry to cross the Thames; that means that the cable car is attracting nearly 60 per cent as much traffic as that.

And if it was a bus route, it'd be London's 407th busiest! Take that, H14 from Hatch End to Northwick Park Hospital. How’s it feel to be in 408th place? Loser.

To sum all this up, here's the passenger traffic on the cable car compared to selected other transport routes in London:

Here’s another version of the chart which includes the Central Line. That’s London's busiest route, and even that only receives a mere 168 times as much traffic as the Emirates Air Line.

And it only did that well by having 49 stations and cheating by actually going to places people want to go. Watch your back, Central Line!

But we shouldn’t just think of the route itself of course: we should think of the stations, too.

Those 1.56m people each, presumably, used both Emirates Greenwich Peninsula and Emirates Royal Docks stations once each. (If they didn't, that raises some worrying questions.) That gives each of them an annual consolidated "entries + exits" figure of, yes, 1.56m.

Compare that figure with those published for the London Underground network, and you'll find that, if the cable car's two terminals were tube stations, as the tube map seems to think they are, they'd be joint 248th most popular! That’s ahead of around 20 other contenders, including such big names as Mill Hill East, Chalfont & Latimer and Upminster Bridge. Amazing.

To finish up, let's check out the long term passenger usage trends on the cable car route. Here's a graph showing average weekly passenger numbers over the past three years:

And here’s another version, this time using a 10 week rolling average, so you can see the long term trend and the effect of the seasons more clearly. 

 

Two things jump out at you here. One is that the cable car's traffic is seasonal, hitting its peak in summer.


The other is that nearly a quarter of the people who have ever used the Emirates Air Line did so in its first three months of existence – a period which, coincidentally, included London's Olympic Games. Since then, passenger numbers have been gently, but gradually, falling.

But never mind all that on this joyous day. Congratulations, to Transport for London and the Emirates Air Line, for hitting this amazing milestone.

The Emirates Air Line cost an estimated £60m to construct and £500,000 a month to run.

 

*Incidentally, tube passenger figures are for 2011-12, the most recent year we could find. Given the network-wide trend towards growth, it's almost certainly an underestimate. 

 
 
 
 

How spurious imperial science affected the layout of African cities

Freetown, Sierra Leone. Image: David Hond/Freetown From The Air/Wikimedia Commons.

As the European powers spread across the world, systematically colonising it as they went, one of the deadliest enemies they faced was disease. In 1850s India, one in twenty British soldiers were dying from such diseases – on a par with British Empire casualty rates during World War II.

When Europeans started dropping dead the minute they got off the boat, the scientists of the day rushed to provide their own, at times fairly dodgy, solutions. This era coincided with a key period of city planning in the African colonies – meaning that there is still visible evidence of this shoddy science in the cityscape of many modern African cities.
For a long time altitude was considered a protection against disease, on the grounds that it was far from the lowland heat associated with putrefaction. British officials in India retreated to the ‘hill stations’ during the warm season; this practice continued in the African colonies established by all sorts of European powers in the late 19th century.

So it was that one bunch of imperialists established the capital of German Kamerun at Buea, high on the side of Mount Cameroon. The city still has a population of 90,000 today. Evidence of this height fetish can still be found in the ‘Plateau’ districts of Brazzaville, Dakar and Abidjan as well as the ‘Ridge’ district of Accra.


Malaria, particularly, was an ever present fear in the colonies, and it did much to shape the colonial cities. It’s a sign of the extent to which 19th century medical science misunderstood how the disease was spread that its name comes from the French for ‘bad air’. By the late 19th century, knowledge had managed to progress far enough to identify mosquitoes as the culprits – but views still wildly diverged about the appropriate response.

One solution popular in many empires was segregation. The Europeans had incorrectly identified Africans as the main carriers of the disease; African children under five were believed to be the main source of malaria so they were to be kept far away from the colonists at all times.

And so, many powers decided that the European settlers should be housed in their own separate areas. (Of course, this wrong headed but at least rational response wasn’t the whole explanation: often, sanitary concerns were used to veil simple racial chauvinism.)

The affluent Hill Station – a name reminiscent of the Indian colonies – in Freetown, Sierra Leone was built as a segregated suburb so Europeans could keep well clear of the local children. Today, it’s where the home of the president can be found. Yet despite all this expensive shuffling of Freetown’s urban landscape, inhabitants of Hill Station came down with malaria at about the same as those who lived elsewhere.

 

The Uganda Golf Course, Kampala. Image: Google Maps.

In Kampala, Uganga, a golf course now occupies the land designated by the British powers to protect the European neighbourhood from the African. A similar appropriation can be seen in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of The Congo, where a zoo, botanical garden and another golf course can be found the land earmarked for protecting colonial officials and their families.

All this urban juggling was the privilege of immensely powerful colonial officials, backed up by the military might of the imperial powers. The indigenous peoples could do little but watch as their cities were bulldozed and rebuilt based on the whims of the day. Yet the scars are still visible in the fabric of many modern African cities today.