Sydney, Absurdity & Queues

Post by Steven Dale

Colin writes:

I’ve been following your blog for a little while, and although my immediate impression was that the idea was absurd, that quickly morphed into “well why why hell not?”

I’ve been a skiier/snowboarder for almost 35 years, and have ridden a lot of gondolas. One question I have is to do with queue control. I’ve found that unless there is a dedicated and authoritarian staff member controlling the queue, groups of friends are reluctant to be split into separate cars, and, to a lesser extent, strangers are reluctant to ride together.

What tends to happen is that the majority of cars leave the station less than full, and that this occurs even when there is a lengthy queue. In fact it’s much of the reason for the lengthy queue in the first place. It seems reasonable for friends to travel together – a journey together is often part of the goal, and not just a utilitarian way to arrive at a destination. How is this problem solved in urban transport gondola systems like in South America?

Also, I note that the gondolas can turn corners only with the help of a large (and expensive) turning station – otherwise they have to run in a straight line. When I look at my home city (Sydney, Australia) I note that almost no roads run in straight lines – they’re all curves, bends and corners. Combined with your advice to never put gondolas over private property, it seems the opportunities for gondolas in Sydney would be very limited.

There’s two parts to your email, Colin, but before I get to them first let me begin by thanking you for being open-minded enough to move from the absurd to the “why the hell not” position. I think everyone who first encounters the idea goes through a similar process of de-bugging. I also think it’s just plain easier for skiers to wrap their minds around.

As for queue-control, you’re totally right. Station attendants are a complete prerequisite. During rush hours, people wouldn’t be allowed to ride separately, vehicles need to depart at capacity. Though it would be wise to implement a dual queue strategy such that women could ride in female-only cabins should they desire.

Interestingly, Medellin implements a rush-hour dual queue strategy for a different reason: If you want a seat, you wait in the long line. If you don’t mind standing, you wait in the short line. It works well. But as I’ve mentioned before, the original Medellin Metrocable line suffers from over-crowding during rush hours and they’re planning a second parallel line to relieve congestion.

During off-peak hours, congestion and queues aren’t a problem and a vehicle is no more than a few seconds away.

Strangely, Medellin actually implements a policy whereby a vehicle cannot depart with only one person in it. This is meant to increase safety and decrease vandalism. It seems counter-intuitive, but they’ve found it works well. I’m not sure how well such an idea would fly in an English-speaking country.

As for Sydney: I don’t know, Colin, I’ve never been there. Currently cable systems do require angle stations to execute turns. However, they don’t have to be as large and imposing as you think (the Grindelwald-First is a great example of a slim-profile turning station).

I think that Sydney is so carved up by waterways that cable might lend itself beautifully to the city in point-to-point water-crossings. But again, I don’t know.

One of the goals of The Gondola Project was to help people understand that cable is just one of many options. In fact, I hope people understand that when considering any technology. Cable isn’t a cure-all but neither is LRT, BRT or PRT. Maybe cable isn’t right for Sydney, maybe it is, I don’t know. I think it more important to empower people to consider this technology in their own backyards and on their own terms.

It would be impossible for me (or anyone else) to know everything about every city. Instead I hope the information in this site is used by people like yourself to imagine unique and creative ways to use the technology in their own hometowns. That way, everybody wins.

So maybe I should turn your question around: How would you use cable in Sydney?

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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. For the dual issues of "groups of friends are reluctant to be split into separate cars" and "strangers are reluctant to ride together", has any studied the experience of Whistler's P2P system? With a capacity of 28 people per gondola, I suspect most groups fit into a single car and you always have to be with strangers (like on a bus) so there's no choice. There must be some optimal size of the cabin that mitigates both problems.
  2. Without counting mast people can differentiate up to seven people or things on the first view. If there are more they need to count. This means if there are more then seven or lets say ten people we do not recognize them as single persons anymore but as a group. So maybe gondolas should be rather large to give the impression you travel with a group instead of single persons. In fact more people are safer some trains have special marked wagons for night /off peak service that people gather there. If there are a group of people the chance is less that a bad guy will harass people.
  3. I think the group problem wouldn't be as big of an issue as you think. If the gondola line is truly used for commuting purposes, many people will be traveling alone. And if the system is part of the larger network of public transit, they'll be used to sharing space with strangers during the morning commute. Not that it isn't a relevant issue.... but it might not be as big of a deal as compared to a ski-resort, etc...
  4. Jeff, I tend to agree. Skiing, is after all a recreational activity. Commuting to work is . . . . well . . . work.
  5. Sam, I think things like the 3S solve this problem very, very well. The vehicles are around 75% the size of your average bus. I don't see any reason that all people cannot get on the same car . . . resort or commute application.

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