TfL spends £150,000 on cable car opinion polls

Image: TfL

Image: TfL

Transport for London has spent more than £150,000 polling local businesses, residents and passengers for their views on the Thames cable car.

Earlier this month TfL issued a press release in which it cherry picked favourable information from a recent survey of users, claiming that an undisclosed number of respondents gave the cable car “a score of 93 out of a possible 100”.

TfL’s press office has since declined to back up the claims with evidence.

The body has also refused to provide full copies of the surveys requested by this site under the Freedom of Information Act.

In a delayed response to the FOI request, TfL has claimed exemption from providing copies of the surveys on the grounds that it will publish the “results” from each by June 28th.

However it was unable to block a related request for the number and cost of such surveys.

Between July 2012 and March 2013, seven surveys were carried out, including three quarterly Customer Satisfaction Surveys. These surveys involve face to face interviews with at least 600 passengers as they exit the cable car. To date these have cost £58,979.

A separate user survey was also carried out between 1 October and 3 December 2012 to provide “understanding of travel behaviour, attitudes, demographics, wider travel patterns and other aspects of user’s trips.”

TfL says this exercise “is required to monitor the access mode share of users for the Travel Plan targets required to meet a planning condition from London Borough of Greenwich and monitor two indicators as part of the conditions of the European Regional Development Fund”. The cost was £25,196.

A poll of 250 local businesses in September, with follow-up work involving 30 businesses carried out in November, was carried out to provide “background evidence for the European Regional Development Fund monitoring on the impact of the Emirates Air Line on the local economy. “

This cost a further £41,285.74.

Pre and post-opening surveys were carried to obtain the views of local residents in Greenwich and Newham where the cable car’s stations are located.

TfL claims these surveys were also needed to support its bid for EU funds after it failed to deliver on promises by it and Mayor Boris Johnson that the scheme would be built at no charge to taxpayers and a sponsorship deal with Emirates raised just half of the £40m construction costs.

The cost of this survey was £25,500.50.

In all £150,961.24 has been spent on the polling, equivalent to the revenue TfL would receive from 35,107 users each paying the full cash fare of £4.30.

Post-Olympic usage of the cable car has fallen to as low as 14,755 passengers per week, with the best weeks co-inciding with school and public holidays.

Commenting on the sums spent by TfL, Green party London Assembly Member Darren Johnson said: “It is disappointing that TfL felt the need to spend £150,000 polling businesses, local residents and passengers trying to understand why passenger numbers on the Thames cable car are waning. As I have argued many times, the unaffordable fare structure is the reason why people are staying away – this much is clear without the need for expensive polls.

“As long as a trip on the Emirates Airline continues to be excluded from freedom passes, daily travelcards and the Oyster pay-as-you-go cap, it will not represent a cost-effective way for commuters to cross the river. The cable car is a clean and modern way to cross the Thames, but it must be made affordable for ordinary Londoners otherwise passenger numbers will continue to slide.”

Liberal Democrat AM Caroline Pidgeon commented: “It must be possible for Transport for London to find out what passengers, local residents and businesses think about the cable car for a fraction of the public money they have spent.”

“However, if they insist on conducting such extensive polling they should at the very least ensure the public can see all of the information they have paid for. It begs the question what are they hiding?

“It is simply wrong for a public body such as Transport for London to spend a fortune on polling and then cherry pick the results they publish.”