Branded the Emirates Air Line (get it?), the cable car opened on June 28 in time for the forthcoming Olympics. The gondola lift, designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, connects the Royal Docks north of the river Thames with North Greenwich to the south.
An off-peak one-way trip takes 10 minutes, but before 10 am and after 3 pm the electric motors are ramped up reducing the journey down to 5 minutes. This allows its 34 gondolas, which arrive every 30 seconds, to move up to 2500 people per hour.
The views take in the Millennium Dome, Canary Wharf and, in the distance, the Olympic Stadium; but mostly one sees the grimy face of East London's industry and infrastructure replete with Portakabins, rail lines, warehouses, and a charming waste disposal facility (feel free to interpret that as sarcasm, but some of us genuinely enjoy this sort of thing).
Pricing seems firmly intended to dissuade locals from using the thing on a whim. An adult single fare is £4.30 (US$6.66), though a return can be had for £8.60 - a generous saving of zero percent. In fairness, this is in line with current London Underground prices, and there is a 25-percent discount to holders of an Oyster card, the contactless card that is Transport for London's payment method of preference.
However, there is good news for commuters for whom the cable car is a practical option (which I think would necessitate living at one end and working at the other). Ten single fares can be bought at once for £16 ($24.85).
Regular travelers are at risk of losing patience with the pretense that one is catching an airplane rather than a cable car. Thanks to the Emirates sponsorship, tickets aren't tickets, they're "boarding passes," the staff is dressed in flight attendant uniforms and a giant faintly-Orwellian video screen welcomes you back to terra firma after a pleasant flight.
Though usually associated with ski resorts (or Bavarian fortresses), urban gondola lifts are increasingly popular, having already cropped up in Medellín and Manizales (Colombia), Portland and New York (USA), and Caracas (Venezuela).
Source: Transport for London