Advocacy Issues



Congrats Zied Masmoudi! Winner of “I Like it on Top Contest” (SFU Burnaby Gondola)

A few weeks ago we learned about the I Like it On Top contest held by Simon Fraser University. Through submissions of their own work, students were invited to help raise awareness about the merits of the Burnaby Mountain Gondola. The contest ended on April 7th and last week Zied Masmoudi was declared the winner. Congrats!

He earned a well-deserved $2000 while 2nd and 3rd place prizes of $500 and $250 went to Kurtis Chow/Jeremy Mamisao and Markham Burnham respectively.

I gotta say that the submissions were all excellent. I can’t imagine how much time each and everyone of them must’ve spent making the videos! Combine that with the stress of exams and finals, and it becomes even more impressive.

While the contest is over now, if you want to learn more about the project and check out their amazing work, be sure to see the videos below. Once again, congrats to all the winners!


Winner: Zied Masmoudi

2nd Place: Kurtis Chow & Jeremy Mamisao

3rd Place: Mark Burnham

Honourable Mentions

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The 5 Most Common (and Cynical) Arguments People Use Against Urban Gondola Transit


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 and here about the potential for an Urban Gondola in Calgary 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 cynical arguments I hear most commonly about urban gondola transit . . . and suggest a few ways of dealing with them. Enjoy!

Read more

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Gondola Project Brochure – Now Available For Download

Over the past week, we’ve been working on the site to make it more user-friendly and accessible to people.

Regular readers will notice significant changes in the header bar, the drop down menus and the ability to access old posts.

We’ve also opened the Gondola Project Forums, so for everyone whose been asking for them (you know who you are ) – get moving!

We also wanted to make it easier for Gondola Project readers to spread the idea of Cable Propelled Transit and Urban Gondolas. As such, we’re making available for download an information brochure about The Gondola Project and cable transit.

The brochure is from last year and is already a bit dated, but does a good job of summarizing the strengths and characteristics of cable transit while similarly dispelling many of the common misunderstandings that exist with the technology.

You can access The Gondola Project brochure via the red link below. Feel free to download the brochure, copy it, share it and do with it as you want – just please don’t alter it.

Download the Gondola Project Brochure

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Is Gondola Transit Crossing The Rubicon?

Right now, there are two groups looking at urban gondola transit solutions: Developing World cities and Developed World cities. Pretty broad classification, I know, but bear with me.

Curiously, in the Developed World the technology gets little attention from the public sector. Typically it’s the private sector that pushes these systems as little more than touristic attractions. Sure there are exceptions like the Burnaby Mountain proposal in Vancouver, but the proposed Hamburg and St. Louis gondolas are more typical examples.

And yet in the Developing World, governments are all over the technology. This is where the technology’s major growth is coming from. As we’ve said before, the growth in South America is awe-inspiring.

Then there are the hybrids; those systems like the London Cable Car (Gondola) that have been spearheaded by the government but will be paid for by the private sector (presumably).

As I’ve argued before, the London Cable Car (Gondola) isn’t going to be a watershed moment for cable transit. But it may very well be the system that allows cable to cross from being seen in the eyes of western governments as nothing more than a Toy for Tourists and being viewed as fully-integrated parts of their local transit network.

This could very likely be the system that allows cable to cross the Rubicon into respectability and allow the industry to fully realize its first Medellin-esque “silver-bullet” system in the Developed World.

We’ll soon find out; the London Cable Car (Gondola) will be open in just over a year’s time.

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Are Dwell Times A Problem?

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.

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Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Failures’

Any man who finds himself on a bus over the age of 30 can consider himself a failure in life.

Image by flickr user Renée Turner.

The above quote is generally attributed to former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. And while the exact wording is up for debate, the sentiment remains: The use of public transit represents failure. It is a mode of travel for infants, children and students, nothing more.

The phrase captures almost perfectly the zeitgeist of the Reaganite 1980’s and the aggressive push for deregulation, reduced government and market forces that precluded the collapse of communism in Europe.

I suspect it’s also a sentiment still-shared by much of the western world, akin to renting a home instead of owning one in North America; there’s a stigma attached to it that suggests you’re a loser in the game of life.

It’s not a sentiment I share, but it’s a sentiment that exits.

The question is this: Why does the sentiment exit – indeed, why does it persist? – and how can it be changed? How do we make public transit desirable?

Maybe more important: How do we make public transit something to be coveted rather than something to be scorned?

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Ten Gondola Transit Talking Points & Tactics

Image by flickr user Invattur

If you’re into Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit (and you are or you probably wouldn’t be here), you’ve likely tried to ‘chat up’ the idea at your local pub, council meeting, industry association or sock hop (those things still exist, right?).

You’ve likely also been met with blank stares, dismissive nods and the terrifying realization that suggesting ski lifts as public transit maybe wasn’t the career-launching move you’d thought it would be.

But don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Here are ten things to get you out of that particular jam:


ONE. Admit from the very beginning that using ski lifts as public transit is the most ridiculous idea you’d ever heard of, too.

This is a particularly effective strategy if you’re met only with the aforementioned silence and dumbfounded expressions.

People respond and empathize with people that share a similar experience and worldview. By admitting this was the dumbest thing you’d ever heard – which it likely was – you’ll make an instant connection with that person. It allows you to move the conversation from this is stupid to let me tell you why it isn’t stupid.


TWO. Cable Transit is one of many tools.

No one likes a zealot – except zealots who only actually like zealots that share their particular worldview. If you come off as a cable zealot – and they exist – no one will pay attention to you. Monorails, anyone?

Cable isn’t the be all, end all, best technology around. It has it’s strengths and its weaknesses just like every other transit technology in the world. It’s a tool. And like any tool, you have to match the right tool, for the right situation.


THREE. Resist the urge towards frustration.

When people ask if cable works in winter – and people will ask – you’re immediate reaction is likely to be It’s a !@#%@^#$% ski lift!!!!

Resist that urge. You won’t make any friends calling someone out on their ignorance.

People don’t need you flying off the handle like some latter-day Howard Beale. Instead, just laugh it off and tell the person how many times you’ve heard that question before (likely dozens). Then remind them politely that cable transit was developed primarily in ski resort situations. Let them put two-and-two together for themselves.


FOUR. Remember: This isn’t your idea, it isn’t your invention.

This isn’t your idea. This isn’t my idea. This isn’t anyone’s idea. This is simply something that’s happening around the world.

Cable’s been around for more than 2,000 years. This will ease any concerns people may have about blatant self-promotion.


FIVE. Find out who skis.

Figure out who the skiers and snowboarders are in your group. Talk to them. They’ll get it. Almost immediately.


SIX. Local comparisons work.

If you have time and are really committed to this, find ways to compare the technology to transit in your local area – or the local area of the people you’re speaking with.

I do this all the time with my hometown of Toronto.

For example, when discussing the speed of cable, I tend to use the example of Toronto’s famed streetcars. They’re built to travel at speeds up to 100 km/hr, yet they average only 12. Gondolas may only reach a maximum speed of 25 – 35 km/hr (depending upon technology choice), but they actually do reach those maximum speeds.

Another example from Toronto: The 501 Queen streetcar in Toronto is the longest streetcar line in the world at roughly 25 km length. It moves 40,000 riders per day. The Medellin Metrocable moves the exact same number of people – along only 2 km of length.


SEVEN. The Safety Dance.

You’re going to be asked about safety at some point. Probably best to simply say something to the effect of “when was the last time you heard about someone dying in a gondola or aerial tram?”

This might end that conversation, it might not. If not, use the safety arguments we’ve compiled here – they work.


EIGHT. Don’t debate. Engage.

Except for the small handful of people who actually enjoy making others look foolish in front their peers, no one likes a debate. People don’t like conflict and will do everything in their power to avoid it.

Instead, engage people and listen to their concerns and questions. Answer them and wait for others. Tell stories and use examples. You’re not trying to change people’s worldview, you’re trying to broaden it and add another tool to their arsenal.

Be prepared, however, because every group has at least one individual who does like to debate, and they will come at you guns blazing. They may even like the idea but like the hunt more. These people won’t let you off the hook for a second. Probably best to deal with their myriad of questions in isolation.


NINE. Don’t try to change people’s minds.

It’s worth remembering that if someone has an interest (vested or otherwise) in transit, they’ve probably already decided whose team they’re on. Trying to get them to flip from one mode to yours isn’t likely to happen.

Worse, they may take your advances as an attack and find ways to cut-off the discussion before it even begins.


TEN. The Gondola Project.

Lastly, Send them to this site . . . we can always use more traffic. Please excuse the shameless self-promotion.

What talking points and tactics have you found that work?

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