A £290million ‘cable car’ shuttle that will reach Luton Airport in around 30 minutes from central London has been unveiled.
The Luton Dart (Direct Air-Rail Transit) takes just over three minutes to whisk passengers 2.1 km (1.3 miles) from Luton Parkway Station to Luton Airport — meaning no more waiting for a shuttle bus must.
But it costs £4.90 per adult journey – more than double the price of the slower and less frequent bus – although children under five travel free and those aged five to 15 pay half price.
The fare per mile is reportedly higher than the Heathrow Express, but it’s still cheaper than the Zone 1 Tube fare of £6.70 for passengers paying in cash – and about a quarter per mile too the Oyster fare of £2.80 charged for the 400m journey between Covent Garden and Leicester Square.
Graham Olver, chief executive of Luton Rising, the regeneration agency that has overseen the construction of the Dart, said: “Yes, it’s a short distance but it’s quite difficult technologically.
“The rise in height is roughly the same as that of the Statue of Liberty. It’s like the Suez Canal – its value is in connectivity.”
He added: “Yes, it looks expensive per mile, but its value is tremendous.”
Work began in 2018 and was delayed by the pandemic. Luton Council, which owns the airport, has paid for the dart, which aims to boost passenger demand at the airport.
There are longer term plans to build a second terminal at Luton to maximize use of the single runway. The dart could also be expanded if required.
Council President Hazel Simmons said she was “delighted and a little amazed” to unveil the new shuttle.
“Passengers will notice a tremendous difference when traveling to and from the airport by rail,” she said.
King Charles was previewed during a visit to Luton last December. A “soft launch” began last weekend and passengers can use the connection for several hours a day before the official opening at the end of March.
Revenue from the airport, home to EasyJet, brings in around £30m a year to the community.
Luton residents can apply for half-price fares and free travel for the county’s pensioners.
Each driverless shuttle can carry 170 passengers in its four walk-in “cars.” There is an effort to increase Luton Airport’s passenger numbers from 18-19 million passengers per year to 32 million.
A shuttle drives back and forth on each of the two parallel tracks.
Journeys from St Pancras to the terminal can be made in 32 minutes on Thameslink services – and slightly faster on East Midlands Railway services from the same station. The East Midlands Railway operates a twice hourly express service direct to Luton Parkway station.
The shuttle bus, which costs £2.40, runs approximately every 10 minutes and takes 10-15 minutes depending on traffic, will continue to provide an alternative way to reach the airport.
The Dart, which is pulled up to the airport from under the train cars by a cable car cable system, runs every four minutes during peak times.
Passengers from London can purchase a ‘through ticket’ which includes the price of the dart.
Contactless cards can be used, but Oyster cards are not valid on either lanes or darts.
The broader aim is to boost Luton’s economy, which continues to be hit by the downsizing of the Vauxhall car plant from 35,000 to 4,000 employees, and to reduce the number of airport passengers traveling by car.
Currently, 29 percent of the airport’s passengers arrive by public transport. The aim is to increase this to 40 percent.