Reviewing the Five Most Cynical Arguments Against Gondolas As Transit

Post by Steven Dale

Four years ago, Steven Dale assembled the most popular themes he notices when people dismiss the idea of cable car technology as an accompaniment to urban transit. It culminates in the famous Simpsons parody of The Music Man. The following was first posted in 2011 and the arguments haven’t evolved since. Take it away, Steven …

One thing I love about cable is the questions and discussions it creates.

Generally speaking, people are curious creatures and when confronted with the strange, bizarre and not-so-everyday, they want to know more. They ask questions, ponder and – for better or for worse – they come to their own conclusions.

Those people are amazing because, as I’ve discussed before, they’re skeptics not cynics. And skeptics are amazing. The cynics, not so much.

But what does one do about the cynics? Not much, I guess. These are people who’ve already passed judgement on something the moment they hear about it despite knowing virtually nothing about what they’re passing judgement on. Just look at the comments here about the potential for an Urban Gondola in Toronto and you’ll see what I mean.

They’re cynics not skeptics.

But for the sake of curiosity, I thought it might be fun to bring together in one place the 5 most cynical arguments I hear most commonly about urban gondola transit . . . and suggest a few ways of dealing with them. Enjoy!



This argument is based purely on ignorance, nothing more.

I suspect most people who make the argument have absolutely no idea what a gondola system costs. How do I know that? Because it’s virtually impossible to actually look at the numbers and not conclude that cable is a cost-effective technology in comparison to standard transit technologies (bus notwithstanding). It’s just that overwhelmingly lop-sided.

Look closely when someone states definitively that gondolas are too expensive because there’s virtually nothing to back it up.

Easiest way to counteract that argument? Ask them how much a gondola costs and wait for the silence.

Variation on The Argument: Watch out! The Portland Aerial Tram cost $57 million and was only one kilometer long!


That’s true, Portland did go massively over budget, but that’s the exception, not the rule.

The reasons for this were due to unanticipated geological conditions; excessive customization; last-minute changes; and bureaucratic delay.

Portland also opted for an Aerial Tram rather than a Gondola-based technology – Aerial Trams have one of the poorest cost-benefit ratios of any aerial cable transit technology.


The standard Creepy Dude Argument assumes that the world is positively littered with pedophiles, gang-bangers, mafioso, vagrants and pirates and they all want nothing more than to ride a gondola with you and your children!

It’s an argument built on fear and one that is unsurprisingly effective because, despite the fact that crime rates have been dropping throughout North America, people are hard-wired to mistrust strangers and to believe that everyone is out to get them.

The standard rebuttal is to suggest that one’s personal safety in a gondola is no worse than in other similar situations – like in an elevator, for example. But that argument doesn’t hold. Saying you’re no more dangerous than the other guy is akin to saying you’re just as dangerous as the other guy!

There’s a difference there. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

Instead, it’s best to be proactive about the situation and design in solutions like those ideas outlined in this previous post. Rather than just slough-off the problem, we suggested a series of tactics that should ensure personal safety on any urban gondola system.

Rather than ignore the problem, transit agencies should design around it.

Variation on The Argument: This Thing Is Going To Make a Wicked Hotbox!

As much as overly-ambitious potheads and stoners would like to posture on about using a gondola as a hotbox, remember the following:

  • There will be other people in the vehicles.
  • There will also be closed circuit cameras monitoring the vehicles.
  • There will be attendants at each station.
  • Each station will be no more than a few minutes ride away.

In other words: Using an urban gondola as a hotbox would be about as practical and effective as using a fish as a raincoat.

Go for it, Harold and Kumar.


This argument is somewhat justifiable. Most people’s experience with a gondola comes in the form of a ski lift – and those lifts are rarely heated.

This is logical of course, as skiers tend to wear incredibly warm, thick gear and the nature of skiing is such that it elevates body temperature. Furthermore, the body heat generated by riders in a gondola has the effect of warming the interior of the vehicle just fine.

Regular skiers are all too familiar with having to open windows in a gondola as it’s simply too warm, even in the dead of winter.

But we’re not talking about ski lift gondolas, are we? No we are not. We’re talking about urban gondolas for public transit; and presumably there won’t be many people commuting to work in an Arcteryx snowsuit and a pair of Head ski boots – though I’ll readily admit to the comedic potential of such a situation.

So for those disbelievers out there, let’s make this explicitly clear: Heated chairlifts are already a common and standard technology in the cable industry and heated gondolas are becoming more and more popular. I can name two right off the top of my head – The Mont Tremblant gondola and Whistler’s Peak 2 Peak gondola.

Finding heated gondolas is about as easy as googling the words “heated” and “gondola.” Try it.

Variation on The Argument: Those gondolas will be too hot in the summer!

Similar to the heating argument, this one is somewhat justified as cooled gondolas are even rarer than heated gondolas – but they do exist.

I once argued that just because you’d never heard of Canadian prosciutto, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The same holds true for air-conditioned gondolas. Maybe you’ve never heard of them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

I know this issue invites some controversy – especially when systems such as the Sentosa Island gondola curiously lacks A/C – but in a past post we’ve shown A/C to exist. We also recently discovered that the Funchal Gondola in Madeira, Portugal is also equipped with A/C . . . Details to come.

We’d like to believe this will convince people that air-conditioned gondolas exist, but we know that’s nothing more than blind optimism. Maybe a United States birth certificate proving it will help.


It’s a ski lift.

If you need further clarification, see this post.

Variation on The Argument: Algeria, Caracas and Medellin may all have urban gondolas, but all are warm weather cities. This therefore cannot possibly work in a cold-weather city such as (blank).

It’s a ski lift.


Never buy transit from this guy.

For those not up on the last 20 years of pop culture, The Simpsons once broadcast a near-legendary episode about a traveling salesman / con artist who sells the good City of Springfield on a Monorail, which – of course – turns out to be a death trap and a money pit.

It is a lesson to policy-makers and transit planners everywhere: Never buy a transit system from a man in a boater hat and bow tie.

Bringing up this particular episode is such an amazingly common argument against urban gondolas and so exhaustingly predictable I thought it important to address – which I did a year and a half ago for The Gondola Project’s fourth post.

Don’t get me wrong, I love The Simpsons. But using a 20 year old musical number from a fictional cartoon show as evidence to back up a questionable stance is lazy, lazy  rhetoric.

Even worse: Everyone’s already made the joke, it’s completely unoriginal and not even your first year college dorm-mates find Simpsons references funny anymore.

Variation on The Argument: Singing A Part Of The Monorail Song!

See above.

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.

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