The Psychology of Urban Gondolas

Post by Steven Dale

As Rio de Janeiro’s Complexo do Alemao Teleferico finally moves into full service operations, Rio Times Online has a great little column by Michael Kerlin. The column basically questions what transformative, psychological impacts the system may have on the favela residents it services.

Says Kerlin:

“The psychology of the gondolas can also inform smart policies in the future. Without sufficient maintenance, the gondolas could suffer breakdowns and become a source of frustration, at best, or cynicism and embarrassment, at worst. The gondola operators shouldn’t be shy about charging more for the transport. That will help pay for ongoing maintenance, and it will ensure people continue to value the gondolas.”

In other words: An unintended benefit of the gondola would be a city-wide move towards proper preventative maintenance programs both in transport and other civic amenities.


“If the ridership numbers stay up, perhaps it’s time to speed up gondola investments in other favelas, if the quantitative cost-benefit analysis also comes through positive. If they don’t, then let’s be prepared to double-down on making the gondolas work for Complexo do Alemão residents, and perhaps slow and revamp plans in other areas.”

In other words: We’ve built this thing. It it works, let’s build more. If it doesn’t, let’s figure out why and make it work.

Makes sense to me.

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 would treat the so-called psychological benefits argument with caution. It's no doubt an interesting perspective, and I think that it does have some affect on the "place" as a concept, but I think it's a stretch to claim that the teleferico will reduce violence or improve education. The teleferico in Alemao is nice, but it's not the end-all be-all. Here is a blog post I wrote that addresses the issue: http://favelissues.com/2011/11/03/resistence-to-rios-celebrated-gondolas-fetishizing-the-teleferico/
  2. I think what Michael Kerlin is saying here is that positive change is cumulative. It doesn't have anything to do with gondolas necessarily, but is instead about the snowball effect that occurs from positive experiences building upon one another. Before I get to your column, I'd like to say this: I have no opinion on the Complexo do Alemao Teleferico. I've never ridden it, nor have I seen any hard numbers on it. But as this is a site about urban gondolas, it clearly has a place on the site. Until, however, I see more numbers on the system, I'm reserving judgement. Having said that: I strongly disagree with the main thesis of your column. I have a particular problem when you state that:
    "Viewing public transport as the solution or even as part of the solution, to the favela problem is of course a fallacy; for the so-called favela problem is largely one of geographical stigma and socioeconomic discrimination. Those are problems that have roots outside of the favela, not within. It’s also not the first project meant to help residents reach their homes to be widely publicized as the right thing to do. Decades ago it became fashionable for charities to raise money in order to fund the construction of concrete stairs climbing up the wet hills of Rio’s favelas [3]. At least with steps, the poor and marginalized wouldn’t have to trek up through mud and raw sewage. The projects made for great press in Life magazine, but had little long-term effects. Who’s to say that the teleferico isn’t just some really fancy concrete steps?"
    So what you're saying is that having proper accessibility (i.e.: STAIRS?!?) and public transit is not part of the solution to the problems of favela life? Please. Great, then if you'd like we can just let them "trek up through mud and raw sewage" forever. Even if the act of "fashionable" charities funding the construction of stairwells up the hillsides got them a cover story on Life magazine, who cares? The idea of villifying something like that seems positively absurd to me. And when you say stuff like "the transport network does not, however, solve social problems such as inadequate schooling and healthcare or employment discrimination" I'd respond by saying touché. You're absolutely right. A transit system does do a terrible job of teaching children how to read. But then again a free school for the poor does a terrible job of moving people from Point A to Point B. The point is, they're two completely and entirely different things. It's like saying steak is bad because it does a terrible job of being chicken. You're argument seems like nothing more than an argument for the sake of argument.

Leave a comment

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.