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. 

 
 
 
 

Marseille and Paris are crawling with rats. But it’s your problem too

A Parisian rat. Image: Getty.

You can very easily have a fine time in Marseille, but it is likely to be interrupted by rats.

The bloated and brazen beasts are so utterly convinced they own the place that they barely register any human presence to distract from their hedonistic excesses – throwing wild street parties, burrowing holes in overflowing bins, and darting in and out of exclusive harbourfront restaurants. We only really intrude when the occasional, blissfully oblivious rat is splattered across the cobblestones by a scooter.

For many residents, the whiskery foes have gone some way beyond a nuisance to represent a genuine menace. Rats have infested schools and taken over canteens. Pest control services claim they have broken into cars and gnawed through cables, which may have contributed to accidents. It is also alleged that they have caused Internet outages by attacking fibre-optic cables – continuing the venerable horror movie tradition of cutting the power seen in Aliens and Jurassic Park. Rats are also infamous and prolific traffickers of disease and have raised the threat of Leptospirosis.

Rat populations are fiendishly difficult to quantify, given their nocturnal lifestyle and that many live off-grid in the sewers; but by some estimates they now outnumber Marseille’s human inhabitants. Distress calls from the public to the city’s sanitation department and pest control services have increased, and the unofficial fifth emergency service has expanded its operations in response, laying poison traps and sweeping the gutters.

Several factors have contributed to the rat supremacy. Marseille’s Mediterranean climate has always been hospitable to rats, and a series of unusually warm summers – often passing 30°C – have made it more so. (Rats tend to stop breeding when it’s cold.)

City officials also bemoan the wanton waste disposal habits of their citizens, which have allowed large and easily accessible piles of appetising trash to accumulate. Marseille’s councillor for hygiene Monique Daubet recently complained the city has become a “five-star restaurant for rats”.

Others have suggested a series of strikes by garbage collectors gave the rat population a turbo charge it barely needed. A single pair of brown rats can spawn more than a thousand descendants within a year.

That formidable birth rate is one indicator of what the city is up against: the urban rat is almost a perfect predator. Millennia of human ingenuity has failed to remove them from our midst or negate the threats they pose. Rats are supreme survivors – scientists marvel at their survival on nuclear test sites – and they thrive in the most inhospitable environments. They can eat practically anything, but are neophobic, meaning they shy away from all but the most devious poison traps. The rodents are intelligent, resilient, and their ability to colonise new habitats rivals our own.

Faced with this adversary, the local authority has assigned more resources to the fight, through both the city’s sanitation department and the private extermination service A3DS. Both are reluctant to discuss their tactics and whether they are having an impact. But officials are also taking a tough line on public responsibility, insisting that residents dispose of trash after 7pm in sealed bags or face fines. The city has also proposed measures such as mobile dumps and new model bins that rats should find harder to access.

The Marseillais are also keeping a close eye on events in the capital: Paris’ rat problem may be even more severe, driven by flooding from the River Seine that has forced the rodents to seek higher ground. In recent years, rats have overrun the Louvre and forced the closure of public parks, as well as starring in viral video nasties that do little for the city’s image as the capital of romance.


Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has sounded the alarm and invested millions of euros in a campaign against rats, which has seen thousands of raids in hundreds of parks and buildings, as well as the introduction of more secure bins, and fines levied against people accused of feeding the enemy. Her administration has also despatched an envoy to New York to study the city’s approach to its own notorious rodent community.

An international approach makes sense given that rats are on the march all around the world. Reported sightings have shot up in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington. One study estimated that rats inflict $19 billion of economic damage each year in the US alone. London has also seen an increase in reported sightings. Leading rodentologist Bobby Corrigan says the same patterns are playing out in the major cities of the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

And for much the same reasons. Contributing factors include “too few resources allocated an organised program for rat control,” says Corrigan. “Also, more people in our cities means more refuse, more overloading of the city’s sanitation budgets, less thorough removal of the kind of food shrapnel that escapes typical garbage collection. Each rat only needs about 30 grams of food per 24 hours to thrive and reproduce.” A warming climate also plays a part.

Poison traps and culls can only go so far, says the rodentologist, arguing that a holistic approach is required to head off the growing threat. “The best measure is a city organised in addressing the rats across all agencies,” says Corrigan. That means mobilising departments of sanitation, parks, housing, health, and sewers, as well as mayoral administrations themselves.

Society-wide civic participation is also essential. “Controlling rats takes everyone: every homeowner, shop owner, restaurant, grocery store, airport, and so on. Not to do so invites the risk of a “new and/or highly virulent virus” developing among our old enemies, he adds.

Research into sterilisation programmes offers some hope of a new weapon to repel and reduce the rodent hordes. But not enough for us to evade responsibility while rat populations grow and the threat increases. “If we don’t work together as the wise species we claim to be and present a scientific, multi-faceted organised effort against this very smart and organised smaller mammal, we can have no hope of defeating it,” says Corrigan. Time to man the barricades.