12 Trends That Work To Urban Gondolas’ Advantage

Post by Steven Dale

I’m sure there’s plenty more trends that work to Urban Gondolas’ and Cable Transit’s advantage, but these are the first 12 I could think of. Feel free to contribute your own in the comments.
  1. The Rise of The Private Automobile. As the price of cars decrease rapidly due to Chinese and Indian manufacturers, private car ownership is likely to increase dramatically the world over. In turn, street level traffic will become even worse than it already is now. Street level transit solutions like Buses, Streetcars, LRT and BRT will be just as stuck in (and contributing to) this traffic, thereby offering no competitive alternative to the car.
  2. Western Democracies are Broke and Getting Broker. As governments around the world grapple with the conflicting and urgent needs to increase transit infrastructure and tackle crippling budget deficits/debt, lower cost transit solutions become a necessity.
  3. The Rise of Conspicuous and Convenience Consumption. 75 years ago people would accept a streetcar every 15 minutes and adjust their schedules to meet their transit service. But that was well before the world of iPods and “I Want My MTV.” Today, however, people are fixated on their own schedules and needs. Transit that can offer reliable on-demand service or LT1M wait times are at a distinct advantage.
  4. Growth in Telecommuting and Off-Peak Commuting. As more and more people choose to work from home (either part-time or full-time), and micromultinationals become normalized, the need for mass capacity transit into Central Business Districts will become less and less relevant in all but the most important financial centers. The construction of underground Subways and Metros have already ground to a halt in Western Democracies, and these new commuting patterns are likely to hasten this trend. Massive capacity transit will become obsolete.
  5. The Continued Failure of PRT. Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) has often been idealized as public transit’s future savior. Yet, despite more than 50 years of attempts, PRT has never been implemented. Could it sometime? Yes, but not in the near future. Cable Propelled Transit (CPT), however, offers many of the attributes of PRT, but is actually on the ground, in operation. Those who’ve been frustrated by PRT’s lack of progress may find themselves gravitating towards CPT.
  6. New-Urbanism and The Rebirth of the Town Square. Despite 60 years of the onslaught of suburbia, suburban communities are beginning to grow denser. The rise of telecommuting, increasing gas prices, and New Urbanist ideals are likely to spur the creation of villages within cities. People will, however, still need to get around those villages and low-cost, medium-capacity circulator systems will likely fill that role.
  7. Master Planned Developments and Incorporated Towns. Multi-billion dollar “Master Planned Developments” and incorporated towns that function more as businesses than as cities are not yet common, but they do have a noticeable presence in North America (check out Las Vegas CityCenter, Celebration Florida and Sandy Springs Georgia). As towns and villages are structured as investment ventures instead of as towns and villages, public transit becomes a selling point to potential customers. But as public transit would be nothing more than a line in a balance sheet, investors are likely to look towards more cost-effective and eye-catching solutions.
  8. Free Public Transit. Is this one a trend? I don’t know, but the movement towards Free Public Transit is catching people’s attention. Should Free Public Transit catch on, transit operators will be under intense budgetary pressure to deliver services in a more cost-efficient manner from both a capital and operations & maintenance perspective.
  9. The Cost of Labour & Union Strength. Bus drivers in New York can’t be outsourced to China.  And since labour is one of the largest budgetary items in any transit operator’s balance sheet and as transit unions ensure that cost continually rises, it’s reasonable to expect moves by transit systems towards automation, and driver attrition via retirement.
  10. The Mainstreaming of Environmental Concerns. Cable is thought to be one of – if not the – most energy efficient public transit systems in existence. Should peer-reviewed research demonstrate this fact categorically, expect to see the environmental movement adopt the technology.
  11. Continued Advances in Cable Technology. In less than 10 years time, cable has doubled its capacity; increased its speed; added numerous amenities; and driven down costs on a per rider basis. There’s no reason to believe these advances won’t continue, making the technology all the more appealing for cities around the globe.
  12. Immigration, The Internet, Globalization and Mass Tourism. Good ideas move quickly nowadays. 800 years ago you needed Marco Polo, two decades and a Caravan of Merchants just to get the idea of pasta from China to Italy. Today, you’d just look it up on Wikipedia and Flickr. Even 20 years ago, cable didn’t have much of a chance, but due to the internet, that’s all changed. Great ideas now spread like wildfire.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.


  1. I contest your No. 3. Argue as you might that the Morgantown PRT system is not true PRT (which it isn't), it did prove the technology hurdles could be overcome 35 years ago. Yes, it had teething problems as the two modern PRT systems about to go into service are also having. However, the New York Times was not mistaken in characterising Morgantown as "A White Elephant turned into a Transit Workhorse." 2getthere's Rivium system and Critical Move's Coimbra system are further proof that the technology hurdles can be overcome. Urban gondolas no doubt have their place as a tool in the transportation toolbelt. However, they will never provide the type of widespread transportation network needed in many situations. PRT has this potential. I believe it is wise to develop all promising options, including PRT and gondolas, and work to find ways in which they can complement each other. I think we can all agree that new and better forms of transportation are deperately needed. Visit www.prtconsulting.com to learn more about PRT.
  2. Hi Peter, We obviously have a difference of opinion here, which is all good and healthy. But I find a few things odd with what you wrote: You say urban gondolas will "never provide the type of widespread transportation network needed in many situations" yet you say that "PRT has this potential." My question is this: The world now has far more fully-integrated urban gondolas (on both a kilometers-built and systems-built basis) than PRT. Even if we include half-PRT systems like Morgantown, gondolas still win out. The London Heathrow PRT (debatable whether it is actually PRT or not) is having more than just teething problems (it doesn't work) and the Madsar City PRT appears to have been scaled back to a point where it may never actually get built. How then can you say that PRT has the potential to provide a widespread network and gondolas cannot? And speaking of Morgantown: You, yourself just said that it is not true PRT. So isn't using a New York Times comment about it being a "Transit Workhorse" actually a bit of bait and switch? You can't have it both ways: If it's not true PRT, then the New York Times is not calling PRT a Transit Workhorse, it's calling an Automated People Mover (which is really what it is) a "Transit Workhorse." I suspect you're using the term "widespread network" assuming a single-technology network blanketing an entire city. In that case, yes, you're right: Gondolas will never accomplish that. But neither will subways, buses, streetcars, ferries, bicycles, ponies or light rail. And given that all of those technologies already exist in cities (well, maybe not ponies), it's highly unlikely that any single technology will waltz in and convince an entire city to convert to it. Transit just takes too long and too much money for such a thing to happen. Multi-modality tends to be how transit works. I'm not suggesting we put gondolas everywhere. Instead, I see it as a great additional technology but at no point in time have I ever suggested a "widespread network" of urban gondolas and evidence thus far suggests such a thing won't happen for PRT either. That may change. And if it does and the technology works, I'll be right there with you cheering it on (and I'm being completely genuine when I say that). I just need to see more than one "not true PRT" system in 60 years of development before I get too excited.
  3. I'd add in the likely rise in price in diesel relative to electricity. There are still a lot of basic diesel buses out there which are likely going to be increasingly expensive (in relative terms) to operate, and under the right circumstances it seems to me that urban gondolas may be competitive with the other notable alternatives to basic diesel buses (including hybrid buses, natural-gas buses, trolleybuses, and so forth). I'm not sure I entirely agree with the claims regarding telecommuting and off-peak commuting. Those forces are pushing in one direction, but at the same time other forces like the global urbanization trend and the related transition of mass employment from agriculture to industry to services may be more than adequate to keep CBDs from becoming less relevant. Similarly, it isn't clear to me how the aforementioned likely energy price trends will affect local population-distribution trends. Obviously they will encourage denser suburbs, but I think the question is going to be whether that will be enough. For example, people may still want cheap, rapid, physical access to the amenities associated with bigger metropolitan areas, amenities which even denser, small-town-like suburbs can't provide on their own (think sports arenas, or vibrant nightlife areas, and so forth). That ongoing desire for physical access to metro-area-scale amenities plus increasing relative prices for petroleum-based fuels may encourage concentration on a metropolitan level, not just the local municipal level. I don't think all that is necessarily bad for gondolas--indeed I think there is probably a wide range of scenarios in which demand for inexpensive rapid electrified public transit would be increasing at the expense of cars and diesel buses, without reaching the point at which much more expensive, higher-capacity systems were justifiable as a rival alternative. But I'm not sure it is true the demand for the latter will actually be declining overall.
  4. "Convenience Consumption"? I like that. :) Importantly, the increased frequency allows the ability to always see movement (on top of that, in the case of gondolas, movement from afar) and the constant presence of the vehicles in the skyline. This does heaps to a user's perception of ready availability. Can you add apps to that gondola? Of course, where that transit goes is still 90% of the "convenience" decision...(As with any transit endeavor, near-term land use decisions on that route are and should always be front and center of the planning process).
  5. Less than one minute wait times . . . there's an app for that :)

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