Are Dwell Times A Problem?

Post by Steven Dale

Are dwell times the real problem? Image by flickr user smatheson.

Sometimes we try to solve a problem because we were the first to spot the problem. Or we try to solve a problem simply because we want to solve the problem, not because it’s a problem that really needs solving. We all do it.

But trying to solve a problem no one has is a short trip to frustration and defeat. After all, no one likes to be told they have a problem – especially when they don’t seem to think what you seem to think is a problem. If you’re the only one that seems to the think the problem exists, maybe it isn’t a problem at all.

For example:

This week old post from last year on the subject of dwell times suddenly became the most commented upon post here at The Gondola Project. At issue was how to solve the issue of excessive station dwell times and off-line stationing.

In the post, I suggest that dwell times NEED to be reduced to make it a viable transit technology. The community concurred and a few brave souls set out to solve the issue. The discussion is long, involved and very engineering-specific. So engineering-specific I was kind of out of my element (as my lack of participation demonstrates).

Not to discount all the work and energy people put into this discussion, but to what end did they serve? Not too much, I suspect. Why? Because the cable industry does not believe they have a dwell time problem.

And they’re right. At least from their perspective.

From the industry’s perspective one needs dwell times of a minute or more because their paradigm is based upon a ski resort worldview. And when their attention shifts to the urban market, they see a paradigm that is barrio-based, topographically-challenged, economically depressed and centred on the developing world.

In the first situation (ski resorts), one needs long dwell times. In the second situation (developing world), the existing technology is more than sufficient to meet the needs of the market. Why, therefore, spend any more time, energy and money developing better technological solutions for the urban market? This is an especially apt line of reasoning when one understands that the urban market makes up a very small fraction of the cable industry’s revenues – roughly 10% of annual sales.

If you were in their shoes, you’d behave in much the same way. And if not, your shareholders would find someone who would.

Developments and innovations in a product need to match their setting – which is a factor of both time and place. Overshoot or undershoot in with either and you’ll likely miss the boat.

Do dwell times need to come down? Not in a 2 km long system in Medellin where – even with excruciatingly long dwell times – the system cuts residents’ travel times in half.

Move that system into North America or Europe, however, and then the situation changes. Suddenly the market is not characterized by winding, unplanned streets; extreme topographies; and few, if any, who can afford private transport.

Suddenly the market is about (reasonably) efficient traffic flows; families who can afford one, two or three cars at a time; and a culture of almost obscene impatience. In that setting and/or marketplace, dwell times do, indeed, need to come down.

But remember, the cable market is not centred on developed, western nations. It is centred on ski resorts and urban barrios in the developing world.

Oftentimes, it’s more important to develop the market before developing the innovation. If the market is screaming at the industry you must have shorter dwell times!!! you can be rest assured the industry will develop shorter dwell times.

Maybe we should spend less of our time trying to solve the problems the industry doesn’t have right now and more of our time spreading the idea into the markets we know will eventually result in the innovations and developments we dearly would like to see.

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. "Oftentimes, it’s more important to develop the market before developing the innovation." That might be the reason why all cities, especially the densed ones have CPT-Technology installed... Nobody wants to buy a 30 year old car if it wasn't for the lack of money or nostalgia. For instance Apple can not develop the mobile phone market with a computer (or a mobile phone which is 1998-state-of-the-art). At least one good working product for the exact use is needed to enter it. I do understand your opinion: deal with what you have! But again this brings me to my first own sentence. (Yes, the ironical one)
  2. I agree, but it's strange how something that seems so simple - such as decreasing dwell times - becomes so difficult in the cable industry. You'd think it'd be easy as flipping a switch and magically dwell times are cut in half.
  3. @ Mono, The issue is why would they want to? The industry - currently - has zero incentive to do so.
  4. Matt the Engineer
    I don't buy it. If we're right about the potential for urban gondolas, the first company that produces the right system has the potential to be the leader in massively expanding their market. Car companies were fine with just selling cars to those rich enough to afford them. Until General Motors looked at the huge untapped market of people that didn't have the money upfront to buy cars, and introduced financing plans. There's a huge untapped market for gondolas. The gondola company that finds a way to open up this market will do very well.
  5. @ Matt the Engineer, But you're assuming that the current systems are not the "right systems." I'd disagree. We've seen the technology already take off in South America and begin to make small inroads into the western, developed world. They're the right system for the right location/market. It's not a problem of the technology, it's a problem of people trying to use the technology in inappropriate ways in inappropriate locations. Let's face it: At this point in time, the technology is not appropriate for trunk line applications. So we can do one of two things: We can either engineer it to be appropriate for trunk line applications (which is costly and risky), or we can go after the markets in which it is appropriate such as small feeder lines in areas with last mile problems (which is cheap and lacking in risk). Once that initial "toe-hold" is gained, then it makes sense to re-engineer the technology for other settings and environments.
  6. @ Matt the Engineer, Another point. While I may disagree with you on the need for re-engineering (at this time), I don't disagree with what else you're saying. There is a huge untapped market here. But the example you use (General Motors introducing financing) had absolutely nothing to do with re-engineering their product. It had everything to do with changing the way they sold their cars and brought them to market. That's the essence of what I'm trying to say with this post. We may "want" to re-engineer this technology all we want, but that isn't going to get us anywhere. What we need to do his help figure out how to "sell" the product with an eye towards improving it in the future. Let's think of it as Urban Gondola v1.0.
  7. Just two questions (about that trunk line issue): who needs it and who wants it?
  8. Matt the Engineer
    I'd say the trunk line issue misses the point somewhat. A several minute slowdown in just one leg of a multi-leg commute is a big deal. If I'm walking to the gondola, riding it to a light rail, then walking to work from there, each of those steps take time. Saving a minute or two at any of those steps is a good thing. Is a several minute wait a deal breaker? Probably not. But I don't see the harm in thinking up fixes. (but then I'm an engineer and probably wouldn't be able to stop myself anyway) Fair warning: When I get some time I'll probably be bringing up the old *you can't make turns without massive machinery and a new rope* post to suggest fixes as well. Why not just detach the chairs before the turning pulley and reattach after the pulley?
  9. Ok, now with other words: name cities that need Urban Gondola v1.0 and on the second step want Urban Gondola v1.0. It really is that simple.
  10. @ Matt, I don't see the harm in thinking up fixes either. I'm not disagreeing with you, I simply think it's important not to look at the problem as an engineering one. Are there things that could be improved? Yes. But the assumption that simply "having the right product" isn't enough. There's no shortage of "right" products that never made it big. The Betamax format, for example. And in terms of your fair warning: Feel free to improve, riff on and imagine the technology in whatever ways you choose. I think that's very, very, very important. Is it something you'd like us to open the forum up to?
  11. Matt the Engineer
    Sure. If you have any technical details about why turns can't be accomplished on a single rope.
  12. not to "dwell" on the issue, but i think it was not GM that introduced cars for the people through financing, but ford, who reinvented the way cars were manufactured, so that the cost would go down so people could afford to own them since we see mostly gondolas in developing countries, the price isn't the issue in this case. it's the time. but as we all know, time is money. so yes, when this dwell/time issue is fixed it will open up cable tech to a much wider market
  13. Looking at the annual report publications, Doppelmayr (number one at the ropeway market) present itself with a good order position, urban traffic solutions are “only” about 20%. Leitner (number two at the ropeway market) expands at the growing market of construction of wind turbines. Research is very expensive and new solutions were often caused by improving the products on customers request ( increasing number of passengers per gondola or chair, improve the view, transport reliably at high wind speeds,…) Metrocable de Medellin came from the desire and the situation, to connect a district on a hill to the metro. “It’s not a problem of the technology, it’s a problem of people trying to use the technology in inappropriate ways in inappropriate locations” ( Steven Dale) An urban ropeway must only drive faster and more comfortable than the traffic beneath, to be successful. If you want to sell a product at a saturated market, your product must be better or cheaper. This is a guiding principle, selling cars, selling food or cable transit systems. And if the bus requires 20 minutes about a distance, than a gondola transit system must achieve this in only 15 minutes, and have to load more passengers at several middle stations. And if a customer requests it, a company will solve and offer it. Find the customer !
  14. Perhaps the climate debate and to avoid carbon dioxide emissions by traffic is an additional issue.
  15. [Matt the Engineer] it is completely possible to make turns in a gondola ropeway without separate ropes and drive stations. I believe Sunshine Village's gondola in Banff, Alberta (http://www.skibanff.com/themountains/trail-maps) is like this. It has one midstation where you can load/unload if you like, and one simple turning station (no loading) that is very sharp. Le Massif's de Charlevoix's new gondola in Quebec is also one rope I believe and includes a midstation (http://www.lemassif.com/en/montagne/pistes/carte). Cabins are removed from the line for the corners/midstations. This setup is rare in ski areas too however because often times there's a need to run sections of the gondola for more hours of the day than other sections. For instance in areas where the bottom 1/3 of the mountain involves marginal conditions during shoulder seasons and does a lot of downloading, limited summer operations, one section serves the village too, etc. So then you actually want more ropes, drive stations and flexibility. And another reason is the practicality of buying transporting and installing ridiculously long ropes. Urban areas may have an easier time with this than say Whistler's Peak 2 Peak where transporting heavy rope reels up to the tops of the mountains was a huge endeavor.

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