Emirates Air Line, the first urban cable car in the UK, has opened ahead of schedule and in time for the start of the London 2012 Olympics. The gondola lift runs the 1km distance across the river Thames between the Royal Docks and the O2 in North Greenwich.

London Mayor Boris Johnson was there for the grand opening of the project, and called the cable car essential to improving transport infrastructure in the surrounding area.

"It is a staggeringly beautiful view of London. It is a panorama of the most opportunity-rich area of the city and people are already showing a real interest in buying into it. People are coming from all over the world for the Olympics and I want them to see the areas they can invest in. As the world's eyes focus on our city, I can think of no better message to send out across the globe."

Cable span of 1,100 metres, supported by three helix towers, the service will operate throughout the week from 7:00 until 21:00.

34 cabins arrive at each station at intervals of just 30 seconds, with journeys set to vary between five and ten minutes, depending on peak times. During the most demanding periods, the service can transport up to 2,500 people across the river per hour.

Both the Excel Centre at the Royal Docks and the O2 will host Olympic events, and London's latest transport development not only will provide greater access between the two venues, but astonishing views of the city along the way.

As the gondola lift travels up to 90 metres above the river, passengers can see various iconic landmarks across east London, including Canary Wharf and the Thames Barrier.

Transport for London secured part-funding from Dubai based company Emirates Airline to sponsor the project on a 10 year deal for £36m. The sponsorship deal not only has the Emirates Air Line branded on the cable car, but it will now feature in London's iconic tube map as well. Similarly to the British Airways sponsored London Eye, airline language is used with the journey referred to as a 'flight', and tickets labelled as 'boarding passes'. The total cost of the project was £60m with around £45m of that going towards construction.

Criticism has been levelled at the fact that Transport for London has had to pay between £18-26m of the costs of constructing the cable car, even though Johnson initially promised that the taxpayer would not contribute, saying, "The aim is to fund the construction of the scheme entirely from private finance."

Transport for London has also been criticised over the cost for customers to ride on the cable car. A one-way ticket costs £4.30, almost a pound per minute on its quickest journey. The cost for Oyster card users is £3.20, and a 'frequent flyer' pass, offering 10 single journeys, can be purchased for £16.

Written by Alfred Joyner