A Response to Streetsblog’s Gondolamania

With a title inspired by—one can only assume—this month’s WWE Wrestlemania spectacular, Streetsblog writer Angie Schmitt recently let fly an invective against all things gondola. The piece, titled “Enough with the Gondolamania Already” is the kind of fact-free op-ed column one expects from a lesser publication than Streetsblog. It’s the kind of piece that’s meant to provoke simply for the sake of provocation. It appears to exist for little reason other than to act as a counter-point to the growing interest in urban gondolas throughout the world. 
That, in itself, wouldn’t be a problem. 
I’d love to see a well-researched, reasoned and thought-out opinion piece on why American cities should stop exploring cable-propelled transit. That would be interesting, challenging and altogether thought-provoking. Unfortunately, Schmitt’s piece isn’t that. 
Schmitt’s column is a visceral repudiation of urban gondolas supported by three thin-as-wet-kleenex premises: That gondolas are only for complex topography, are a distraction from bigger transit problems and rarely get realized. 
Schmitt begins her piece by citing how interest in the technology may have been spurred by the “tremendous success” of Medellin’s Metrocable system. This is not controversial. While cable cars in urban environments predate Medellin, that city’s network of cable cars is generally seen as the urban inflection point for the cable-propelled transit industry. 
What is, however, controversial is her implication that the success of Medellin’s Metrocable is “an unusual case where gondolas make a certain amount of sense because of the city’s tricky geography.” In American cities, she states, they are nothing more than “a distraction from bigger problems.”
Schmitt makes two critical errors in thinking here: 
Firstly, by discounting cable car technology’s potential role in solving bigger transit problems, she subtly equates the technology as being useful in areas of difficult topography with being not useful in areas of simple topography. And yet the two things have nothing to do with one another. 
Just because a cable car is capable in challenging topography does not mean it is incapable in undemanding topography. By way of analogy — if a 4-wheel-drive Range Rover is capable in off-road safari environments, does that make it incapable in urban streetscapes? 

(Image via flickr user Dave Connor)

Secondly, while it isn’t entirely clear what Schmitt is referring to when using the phrase “tricky geography,” one can presume she is talking about the natural environment and topography by way of her reference to Medellin’s “mountainous landscape” in her preceding sentence. 
Yet this is a misunderstanding of what geography and topography is.
Topography is not just the natural landscape, but the man-made built urban environment as well. And remember — man-made topographical complexity includes such things as stop lights and rush hour traffic. I would argue that man-made topography is far more challenging than natural topography. It moves, it changes, it adapts. Mountains, meanwhile, stay put. 
In our work over the years this is something we see people repeatedly misunderstand about Medellin. The Metrocables were not just about the mountains. They were as much about navigating complex man-made topographical challenges as they were about ascending hillsides. 
Linea K (Medellin’s first Metrocable system which is emblematic of its other systems), for example, is only 2 kilometres long and acts as a feeder into the wider transportation network. The difference in elevation from top to bottom station is only 400m – hardly mountainous. In fact, the difference in elevation is less than the the difference in elevation between Los Angeles’ Venice Beach and some of the more developed areas of nearby Bel Air. 
We ain’t talking about K2 here, folks. 
Granted, in the Linea K context, the degree of inclination is an average of 20%. While this is a degree of inclination that no self-propelled rail technology could handle, it is an inclination that is easily handled by buses, particularly given Medellin’s favourable climate. 
What the buses could not easily handle, however, was the complex arrangement of man-made streets, buildings and all of the traffic those things cause. This, in combination with the natural topography was the real motivation behind the Metrocables. In past interviews with the designers of the system I’ve had, some even stated that it was the man-made complexities that presented more of a challenge than the natural ones. 
And man-made topographical complexities exist in every city on earth. 
Yes, the number and degree of man-made topographical complexities varies from city-to-city, but they all exist on a continuum — and that continuum applies to all cities. There is not a single transit technology or system in the world that does not have to contend with man-made topographical complexity, full-stop. 
When Schmitt discounts a cable car’s capabilities as something only appropriate to natural topographical features, she entirely ignores its capabilities at navigating man-made topography as well. And while I don’t wish to get into any modal comparisons here, it’s useful to point out that a cable car’s ability to operate without regard to man-made topography is matched only by under-or-aboveground railroads but at a fraction of the price. 
The author’s erroneous perspective basically boils down to oh sure, if the mountains are a problem, then yes, of course — of course, I know that! — gondolas, but otherwise this isn’t serious transit for cities without hills. 
Schmitt’s second premise is that gondolas are a distraction from bigger transit problems. 
The appropriate response then, is this: How does one define a transit problem? Seriously. That isn’t a rhetorical device, it’s an honest question. And who arbitrates on the matter of the problem’s scale and size? 
More problematic is Schmitt’s contention that gondolas as a whole are a distraction from bigger transit problems. It’s as ridiculous a statement as saying that steaks have served mainly as a distraction from world hunger. One has nothing to do with the other. 
Were Schmitt to have opened debate about specific gondola proposals in specific cities with specific transit problems that would be a different story altogether. Let’s debate the respective (de)merits of the various proposals across the continent. Let’s see which ones are good, which ones are bad and which ones are, indeed, a distraction from bigger problems.
But shouldn’t that level of discourse exist with all transit proposals, instead of just gondolas? Are there not streetcar, light rail, driverless car and subway proposals that are as much, if not more of a distraction from so-called bigger problems? In Schmitt’s world it would seem so. 
Schmitt paints the entirety of cable car technology as a distraction by cherry-picking a handful of ill-conceived proposals. That’s disingenuous at best. That’s like saying streetcars as a whole are a distraction from bigger transit problems because Cincinnati’s Bell Connector is experiencing ridership that’s short of its target by almost 50%.
What these “bigger transit problems” are is never defined. Following on that — once one defines a transit problem, how does one go about solving it? 
Generally, transit problems are solved by way of some technology — whether that be bus, light rail, streetcar, subway, bike share, gondola, skateboard or whatever. Even pedestrian transit solutions require technology. Shoes, sidewalks, crosswalks and the like are all technological solutions we’ve developed over the centuries to solve the most basic need of getting people from here to there. 
Schmitt’s comment that gondolas “have mainly served as a distraction from bigger problems facing urban transit systems” implicitly excludes gondola technology from being in a position to actively help solve those bigger problems. By discounting an entire technological category before even defining what the transit problem is speaks to a modal bias on Schmitt’s part that most transit agencies got over a generation ago. 
If Schmitt thinks the dozen or so urban gondola proposals in North America that are meandering through various stages of analysis and planning are distracting from bigger transit problems, she’s giving urban gondolas far too much credit for their ability to garner people’s attention. Maybe she’s right. But if so, perhaps it’s because these systems are successful. 
The idea that gondolas have mainly served as a distraction is insulting to the millions of riders who utilize the Roosevelt Island Tram, Portland Aerial Tram and Telluride Gondola as a means of public transit every day. Those cable car systems aren’t distractions to those commuters, they are an essential link in their daily commute. It’s also insulting to the dozen or so systems operating around the world as public transportation that move hundreds of thousands of people a day. Are those a distraction as well? Or are they successful case histories that transit agencies are increasingly looking at so as to address their bigger transit problems in a different light? 
In La Paz, Bolivia, their urban gondola network moves an average of 60,000 riders per day. It transports more people per day than 72% of all Light Rail/Streetcar systems in the US. It has a 0% operating subsidy. 
I want to repeat that — Zero. Percent. Subsidy.  
According to the Portland Aerial Tram’s website, daily ridership of their system is around 10,000. This system is only 1km long and requires an additional fare to use unless you are a student, staff or patient of the Oregon Health & Science University. That ridership number, meanwhile, is higher than all three individual Portland Streetcar lines and 75% of their combined total ridership.
New York’s Roosevelt Island Tram is the only economically self-sufficient part of the entire MTA network and moves 2.4 million riders per year. 
And then there’s Medellin which Schmitt herself calls a “tremendous success.” 
These aren’t distractions. They are inspirations. 
If we define gondolas (or any cable car for that matter) as a transit technology, then they are not a distraction to a transit problem; they are a potential solution. No different from subways, buses and light rail systems. The fact that they are being studied in much the same way as standard transit technologies is a cause for regard not scorn. 
Finally, Schmitt implies that we shouldn’t be studying gondolas because most gondolas don’t get built. Why bother, in other words.
She makes this point by beginning her column with an image of Austin’s Wire One proposal, captioned with the phrase “like almost all gondola proposals, this one for Austin, Texas, will never get built.” Okay. Fine and basically true. As was reported widely last month, that proposal is unlikely to move forward any further
Schmitt carefully phrases this in a way that it is 100% factual but leads the reader in a direction so as to believe that the fact that the majority of gondola proposals will never get built is somehow intrinsic to the technology. We saw this tactic used before in the case of the Sydney monorail and careful readers shouldn’t get fooled by the author’s attempt to reframe issues that are extrinsic to cable cars into intrinsic features of the technology.
Alternatively, Schmitt could’ve also easily written . . . 
“Like almost all public transit proposals, this one will never get built”
– or –
“Like almost all real estate development proposals, this one will never get developed.”
– or – 
“Like almost all screenplays, this one will never get produced.”
. . . and she would’ve been completely right. But transit still gets built, real estate still gets developed and screenplays still get produced.
Failure is the default of all human endeavours and yet we endeavour still. 
That the majority of gondolas do not get built is not intrinsic to cable car technology but is instead intrinsic to almost all urban infrastructure and development. You’d think someone who’d been writing for Streetsblog for six years would understand that distinction, but apparently not. 
The Western, Developed Nation model of urban planning is largely and generally built upon the following process:
1. Generate an idea
2. Convert that idea into a proposal
3. Test that proposal through research
4. Use that research to gain buy-in and approvals
5. Leverage those approvals to attract financing
6. Deploy that financing to build the project 
The majority of developments, pieces of infrastructure or transit projects will never make it past the first few stages of analysis. Yet we still have to study them because that’s how things get built in our world. Do we study too much and build too little? Perhaps, but that’s an entirely separate discussion for another time. 
And even when infrastructure projects do eventually break through and actually get built, a large minority of them won’t even see the results that were originally envisioned. Ridership will fall short, square footage will go unrented and costs will be higher than planned. That’s just the way it is. 
Urban infrastructure is like a professional baseball player — you can fail 70% of the time and still wind up in the Hall of Fame. 
Are the odds against you? Of course they are. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try. Our entire civilization was built on that mindset and I see no reason to stop thinking that way when it comes to gondolas or any other technological innovation. 
Ending her piece, Schmitt states that “too many cities are wasting too much time and money on gimmicky distractions instead of the meat and potatoes of running a functional transit system.”
Without a single hint of self-awareness, Schmitt then immediately follows her conclusion with a link to a report on “a new bus line that didn’t deliver what riders in Mount Rainier, Maryland were hoping for.”
Apparently Ms. Schmitt’s understanding of urban gondolas is roughly equivalent to her understanding of irony and editorial juxtaposition. 

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Urban Gondolas Take Centre Stage in American Media (Again)

Bloomberg and Wall Street Journey explores the urban cable car industry.

Bloomberg and Wall Street Journey explores the urban cable car industry.

This past week, urban gondolas once again took the centre stage as two major US media outlets — Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal — each wrote a piece on the rapid growth of cable transport systems.

As more than a dozen proposals are now active in the US (from San Diego to Baton Rouge), city-builders from across the world are now starting to pay serious attention to ropeway technology.

There are many reasons why this is happening but it is due in part to the internet and the many successful urban gondolas now being built worldwide. Sooner or later, even the toughest anti-gondola cynics may have no choice but to hop onboard the cable car bandwagon.

For the doubters, they should understand that for most parts, ropeways are not here as some sort of “silver bullet” that solves all urban transport woes — rather, as we’ve discussed many times in the past, they are often designed as complementary transit modes to enhance existing transport lines.

However with that said, given the right context, cable transit can undoubtedly function as the backbone of a city’s entire rapid transit network.

For instance, look no further to the recent triumphs aboard the Mi Teleférico in La Paz-El Alto, Bolivia.

  • ~50 million passengers in ~2 years of operations
  • time savings of 652 million minutes
  • >100% farebox recovery

Transportation practitioners are often amazed at how the Bolivian city added 10km of cable cars in just 2 years time and is now scheduled to add another 7 lines!

The achievements made by cable technology in these few years in incredible to say the least. Six years ago, skeptics would have likely laughed a proponent out of a room when a gondola was proposed. Nowadays, ropeways are met with fascination and intrigue.

Given the speed of change in the urban transport industry, perhaps it won’t be too long before gondolas, like other transit technologies, are met with a casual shrug.


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Hamilton Gondola — We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

NOTE: An earlier version of this post originally appeared on December 4th, 2009 (yup, that’s over 7 years ago, kids). At that time, the report “City of Hamilton Higher Order Transit Network Strategy” was available online. Unfortunately, it is no longer available. 

Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know and that’s really nobody’s fault.

For example:

In the spring of 2007 a working paper by IBI Group called City of Hamilton Higher Order Transit Network Strategy came out. For those who don’t know, Hamilton is a city in southern Ontario that is cut in half by a 700 kilometer long limestone cliff that ends at Niagara Falls. It’s called the Niagara Escarpment and has made higher-order transit connections between the Upper and Lower cities difficult.

You See The Difficulty

You See The Difficulty

In the IBI paper the writers conclude that a connection between the Upper and Lower cities is “physically impossible” and that the Niagara Escarpment Commission might “strongly resist” any new crossings of the escarpment. As such, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) became the focus and preferred technology of the report. That’s because streetcars and Light Rail can’t handle inclines of more than about 10 degrees. The only way for a rail based technology to work, IBI concluded, was if a tunnel or viaduct was built.

No where in the report, however, was Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) even mentioned, despite cable’s ability to resolve most if not all of the issues IBI highlighted.

It’s no real surprise. Back in 2007 there was virtually no publicly accessible research available on cable. Believe me, I know; I had just started my research in 2007 and it was incredibly difficult to find anything.

Should IBI have considered cable? Should they have known about cable? I don’t know . . . and furthermore, I don’t think it’s relevant to this discussion. What you don’t know, you don’t know and that’s all there is to it.

What is, however, relevant to our discussion is this:

Hamilton Gondola

Photoshop of a gondola traversing the Hamilton Escarpment. Image via Hamilton Spectator.

The City of Hamilton is now updating their Transportation Master Plan and they’re surveying the public on their opinions. And the survey includes a question on gondolas. Last summer, meanwhile, around half of the people that responded at Hamilton’s Transportation Master Plan public meetings said they liked the gondola concept.

So why does that matter?

Because in less than 7 years’ time, a large North American city made a complete about-face on this matter. They went from a place where they thought (incorrectly) that a specific transit problem could not be solved with a fixed link solution due to their topography; to a place where they are actively soliciting the public’s opinion on using a gondola to solve the very problem they previously thought couldn’t be solved.

I know people in the cable car industry think seven years is a lifetime. And it is. But not to a large municipal bureaucracy. To a city, seven years is a heartbeat. In a heartbeat, Hamilton went from basically not even knowing cable cars exist to considering it as a part of their overall Transportation Master Plan.

That’s progress no matter how you look at it.

Creative Commons image by John Vetterli

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Is the Emirates Air Line Cable Car a Failure?


Emirates Air Lines. Image by Steven Dale.

Unfortunately, the Emirates Air Line Cable Car in London is once again attracting attention for all the wrong reasons. Most recently, a leading mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan commented that if elected, he would freeze transit fares, allow unlimited bus transfers in a one hour timeframe and terminate public funding for the aerial lift.

While this kind of statement makes for good electioneering, it’s a bit of a red herring. See, the thing is the cable car actually doesn’t receive any subsidies. In fact, as 853blog revealed in December, the cable car actually earns a profit. Since opening in June 2012, the cable car has amassed a surplus of US$1.5mm (£1mm).

Yes, this is a poor financial showing for Wall Street — but we’re not talking about Wall Street. We’re talking about transportation and public transit infrastructure and should analyze and compare this system within that fiscal context. By this measurement, the system is an unqualified success. Nearly all publicly built transportation systems in the Western world, whether it be highways, rail, buses or what not, lose vast sums of money. The Emirates Air Line, meanwhile is profitable.

Marginally so, yes, and likely wouldn’t be without the sizeable sponsorship money endowed upon it. But still, it’s profitable.

Could detractors argue that the cable car money be spent elsewhere? Of course they could. Or that the cable car was incorrectly marketed as a “commuter link” when it was clearly a Toy for Tourists? Definitely. Or perhaps they just don’t like cable cars in general? Sure why not.

But let’s not pretend the system is hemorrhaging money, because it’s not.

Despite annual operating costs of ~US$7.4mm (£5mm), the system is profitable and yet attempts to defame the system continue without end. Now some readers may accuse us of being apologists for the London Cable Car because we happen to be cable car specialists. Fair play.

But let’s remember — we were the first people to (accurately) declare this the most expensive cable car in history and predicted (also accurately) that no commuters were going to use the system. Our track record has been consistent on this system from the beginning.

Even still, Mr. Khan’s stance may be good politics, but it’s dishonest. That’s bothersome.

For us, cable cars happen to be a good idea that’s we’re pleased to see are now catching on worldwide. But as the technology spreads, there is a dire need for responsible and professional analysis that assesses the systems based on their own merits rather than one’s perceived notions of cable car technology — or whether or not you happen to be a fan of a certain Mr. Boris.

If anything, the Emirates Air Line is fascinating case study that offers many important lessons on how cities should, and should not implement urban cable cars and public infrastructure. Aspiring gondola-cities would be wise to pay attention to and learn from its successes and failures.

Given past precedence and the optics of the cable car, it is unlikely that the controversy ends here. But regardless of what happens, we’ll be as excited as anyone else to follow what other bizarre stories are uncovered in the future.


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Medellin/Caracas, Part 1

Last week I travelled to Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela to tour five of the most important CPT systems in the world. This is Part 1 of a photo essay on those systems. In this part, a brief overview of the history of cable transit in this part of the world will be explained. Image by Steven Dale.


Modern Cable Propelled Transit started in Caracas, Venezuela with the Mount Avila Gondola. This system was originally built in the middle of the last century to carry people from Caracas to the top of Mount Avila where the luxurious Hotel Humboldt had been built. Political and economic strife caused the government to leave for neglect both the hotel and gondola. The gondola itself was not reopened until 1999, after a successful rebuild.

The Avila Mountain Gondola In Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

An Avila Mountain Gondola From Below. Image by Steven Dale.

A gondola passes over two original and well-preserved antique gondola cars at the Mount Avila Caracas Terminal. Image by Steven Dale.

The Avila gondola cannot, however, be truly classed as cable transit. It lacks integration to the local transit network and really exists more for tourists, not local commuters. It did, however, indirectly inspire the nearby city of Medellin, Colombia to pursue a fully-integrated CPT system to serve the impoverished and dangerous barrio of Santo Domingo. The system would take almost 5 years to open, from conception to fruition and would be the world’s first true CPT system. They would name it The Metrocable. The first line, consistent with the city’s existing Metro system, would be named Linea K.

A Linea K Metrocable Car in Medellin, Colombia. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable over top the Santo Domingo barrio. Image by Steven Dale.

Gondolas depart a Linea J Metrocable station. Image by Steven Dale.

Metrocable Linea K would be an enormous success. Crime rates in Santo Domingo plunged and area investment skyrocketed. In the four years since Linea K opened, crime in Santo Domingo virtually disappeared, jobs have increased 300% and 3 banks have opened along the Metrocable route. With such an obvious success story, Metro officials had little trouble convincing decision-makers to open Linea J.

Unlike Linea K, Linea J would connect several smaller barrios in the western end of the city. These barrios suffered from similar economic conditions but did not have the population density that Linea K had. This was considered a good thing as Linea K suffered from overcrowding almost immediately upon opening, a situation not witnessed on Linea J.

A Linea J gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela was not to be undone. The opening of the second Metrocable line in Medellin made Chavez lust after a similar system in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Within 2 years, Chavez’s dream would be realized with Caracas opening their own cable transit system in early 2010. It was also to be named The Metrocable.

Like the Medellin systems before it, the Caracas Metrocable would provide transit to under-serviced barrios with a history of crime and poverty. But unlike the Medellin systems, Caracas would feature enormous stations that included social facilities such as gymnasiums, police stations, community centres and markets. The Caracas Metrocable would also be the first in the world to feature extreme 90 degree turning radii at stations.

Gondolas enter and exit a station in Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

The Caracas Metrocable. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable loop between Medellin and Venezuela came full circle in early 2010. While Chavez was opening his first system in Caracas, Medellin was opening their third Metrocable line. But this time, the line looked more similar to the original Mount Avila system from Venezuela circa 1999.

While still fully-integrated into the Medellin Metro, the new Linea L services the Parque Arvi at the top of a nearby mountain in Medellin and requires an additional fare of 1,550 Colombian Pesos (roughly $1 US dollar). Linea L would give quick, affordable access to wilderness and parkland facilities that had previously only been accessible to wealthy land-owners in Medellin. This was a welcome change, given Colombia’s historically wide gap between rich and poor.

A Linea L gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Medellin as seen from the Linea L, Parque Arvi nature preserve. Image by Steven Dale.

Both cities are engaged in major plans to expand their Metrocable offerings and cities throughout Latin America are embarking upon cable transit plans of their own.

Read Part 2.

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Reviewing the Five Most Cynical Arguments Against Gondolas As Transit

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.

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It’s a ‘Disruptive Game-Changer’ But Still There’s Much Ground to Cover

Last month, Dopplemayr made a big splash is the ropeway transit industry. They inked a deal worth nearly a half billion US dollars, for six new ropeway cable car lines in the neighbouring Latin American municipalities of La Paz and El Alto. Another 20km will be added to the existing ropeway system over the next four years. That will triple the system’s current reach, providing greater access for thousands of commuters. So it’s ‘a big deal’ for everyone.

In the public transportation sectors —where project costs routinely cost billions of dollars—this may not seem like a lot, but in the world of cable-propelled transit, it’s huge. Never has the industry signed a single deal of this size. “This second phase of the network in La Paz/El Alto is a milestone for urban applications of ropeways,” agrees Dopplemayr’s Marketing Director, Ekkehard Assmann.

Before the signing, Dopplemayr was already unquestionably the biggest player in the ropeway engineering industry. However you could have argued whether they dominated this specialized and uniquely challenging arena of urban cable transit. Now you cannot. This deal not only reinforces Dopplemayr’s market dominance, it positions them very well for the growing urban transit market.


This Is Good News For the Whole Sector, Not Just Dopplemayr

Make no mistake: a deal of this magnitude will create far more interest and growth in urban ropeways. Competitors are likely very envious at the moment, but they will benefit too. Remember the old saying, ‘A high tide floats all ships’. In other words, when a deal of this size goes through it’s good for the entire industry. Major contracts like this tend to increase momentum and the likelihood of future deals. Better still, all of us in the industry will learn a great deal from the next four years.

This deal is what the international business press would call ‘disruptive’ or a ‘game-changer’.

Note that we said ‘would’. A quick Google of the news revealed no attention from the major players, despite that it is the biggest deal of its kind, ever. So why is there this deafening silence?


“Next Stops, Europe and North America”

Currently this specialized industry is growing at a healthy rate. However that growth is almost exclusively in Latin American countries like Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia. There is still ‘much ground to cover’ in prime markets — in the developed world. Cable-propelled transit needs to be sign as a solution for all congested cities.

The press has not picked up on the importance of the deal but should soon. Remember another popular saying, from Isaac Newton, “An object in motion tends to remain in motion.” With a project of this size on the go, congested and important cities in developed countries will start to notice. Indeed, they already are. This project positions Dopplemayr well to seize those prime opportunities on the near horizon. Ekkehard Assmann couldn’t agree more: “Many new business inquiries from cities worldwide underscore this point.”

For now, the whole industry is looking forward to answering those inquiries.

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.