5 Cities that are Using Ski Lifts as Public Transit


Image by Flickr user digitizedchaos.

Cable Propelled Transit. Image by Flickr user Rian Castillo.

Think ski lifts are only used on ski hills? Well think again. Over a dozen cities have now ported this technology into the urban environment and we’ve selected the top 5 that will force you to rethink cable cars and public transit.


#5. Rio de Janeiro — Teleférico do Alemão

Ah… Rio de Janeiro, the “Marvelous City”. A place world renowned for its samba, beaches, women, carnival and now an urban gondola. That’s right, an urban gondola.

You’re probably more familiar with the Sugarloaf Cable Car, but more recently in 2011, the city installed the Teleférico do Alemão — a purely transit oriented cable car.

City Tour no Complexo do Alemão

152 cabins capable of transporting 3000 passengers every hour in each direction. Image by Flickr user Sebástian Freire.

Residents now connected to rail line and have improved mobility options. Image by Flickr user Sebástian Freire.

This system was built as part of a larger social development project called PAC or “Growth Acceleration Program”. The federal government created this plan of action in hopes of advancing economic growth through special policies and infrastructure investment.

Today, the Teleférico do Alemão stands at 3.5km long with 6 stations, making it one of the longest and most sophisticated urban gondolas in the world. It serves the estimated 85,000 residents of the Complexo do Alemão favela and connects them to a nearby suburban rail line.

To improve mobility, neighbourhood residents are entitled to two free tickets each day. However, while it was designed as a public transit system, many tourists have also flocked to the cable car to catch a glimpse of favela life.


#4. Portland, Oregon — Portland Aerial Tram

Number four on our list is the Portland Aerial Tram. This 1.0 km long cable lift connects passengers from the city’s streetcar network in the South Waterfront District to the top of Marquam Hill — also known affectionately as Pill Hill as it’s home to the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU).

Aerial Tram

Metallic award-winning cabin. Image by Flickr user Shadowfoot.

View of Marquam Hill from cabin. Image by Flickr user Michael Andersen.

Since the Tram opened in 2006, OHSU employees and visitors now have a direct and fixed transit link to the university. Instead of waiting and sitting on an infrequent bus that worked its way through a winding road, passengers now enjoy a smooth, airy cable car ride that has reduced travel times from 15 minutes to only 3 minutes.

However, the Portland system was not built without controversy. Originally estimated to cost only $15.5 million to build, scope creep saw it’s final price tag end up at $57 million.

While it was indeed costly, the high price resulted in one of the world’s most stunning and beautiful examples of cable transit. The Tram’s highly customized metallic cabin and tower design has seen it become nominated and win multiple architectural and engineering awards.


#3. Caracas, Venezuela — Caracas Metrocable

A list of the top 5 public transit ski lifts wouldn’t be complete without honouring the Caracas Metrocable. This system was built in 2010 and serves the San Agustin barrio community. Similar to many South American urban gondola lifts, the Caracas Metrocable was built to spur economic and social development in the once isolated and neglected barrio.

Thanks to the cable car, residents are now connected to the city’s metro network and have reduced travel times.

While it’s not the world’s longest nor is it the world’s fastest, this system does feature the world’s first known instance of a cable car includes two separate 90 degree turns.

Two 90 degree turn stations. Image by CUP.

Caracas Metrocable. Image by CUP.

Turning station. Image by CUP.

While this may seem insignificant to the layman, how many ski lifts do you know of that do that? Thought so.


#2. New York City – Roosevelt Island Tram

Yes, that’s right. New York City has a cable car for public transit. Don’t believe me? Google it — Roosevelt Island Tram. Don’t feel like clicking? Here are a few pictures and a video of the system in operations.

Roosevelt Island Tram

Modernized cabins can fit upwards of 125 people. Image by Flickr user Ricardo Zappala.

Roosevelt Island Tram over 2nd Ave

System travelling above Manhattan traffic. Image by Flickr user Drew XXX.


Passengers enjoying aerial views while soaring above East River. Image by Flickr user seandalai.

To this day, despite transporting over 2 million passengers annually, the Tram is still somewhat of a hidden gem — even to the millions of New Yorkers.

In fact, the Tram is one of the first fully integrated cable lifts in the world and has operated gracefully and safely over the Big Apple’s East River for almost four decades.

It was originally built and designed in 1976 as a temporary transit solution to ferry passengers from Roosevelt Island to Manhattan. However, it wasn’t long before Tram’s uniqueness, reliability, and beauty captured the hearts of all island residents.

The system was soon converted into a permanent facility and even when a subway stop finally opened on the island in 1989, the Tram remained heavily used.

As the system aged and operated past its intended lifespan, it experienced a few service interruptions. As a result, to improve passenger service, the Tram underwent a $25 million modernization program where most system components were upgraded.

Today, the 1km Tram system continues to transport passengers across the East River while providing them with sweeping panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline.


#1. Medellin, Colombia — Medellin Metrocable (Line J, K & L) 

Medellin, once one of the most violent cities in the world thanks to drug lord Pablo Escobar, has now rebounded and is one of the world’s great success stories. Tied to the city’s revival is the revitalization of its poor barrio communities located on its hillsides.

To help rebuild and reconnect these neighbourhoods, the city has built three urban gondola lifts. Decision-makers chose to install cable cars as buses and rail were unable to climb the steep inclines found throughout the barrio communities.

The first system — Metrocable Line K — opened in 2004 and effectively “re-weaved” the Santo Domingo community back into the urban fabric. Soon after in 2008, the second urban gondola line — Metrocable Line J — was inaugurated.

Line K. Image by CUP.

Line J. Image by CUP.

The city, perhaps tired of building cable cars for commuters, decided to install a 3rd urban gondola lift in 2010. But this time it was purely for recreational purposes. The 4.8km Metrocable Line L was put into service and was used to connect citizens to Parque Arvi, a greenspace once accessible only by wealthy Colombians.

Line L. Image by CUP.

To this day, the Medellin Metrocable network remains the world’s most successfully implemented urban gondolas. Together, Line K and Line J manages to transport more than 17 million passengers annually. Not too bad for a community that even police were once too afraid to enter.


The Gondola Project is a website dedicated to educating netizens, transport professionals, and decision-makers about Cable Propelled Transit (CPT/Cable Cars/Gondolas). It is one of the many urban applications created by Creative Urban Projects Inc, a boutique planning shop located in Toronto, Canada and Central Switzerland.