Assessing User Experience on Urban Cable Cars via Social Networking (Yelp, Tripadvisor)

For many of us, we use social media and online review sites to make everyday life decisions. Websites such as Yelp or TripAdvisor can be great resources that help indecisive people, like myself, decide whether or not a restaurant deserves my Friday night patronage.

My personal experiences with crowd-sourcing websites has generally been quite positive — more often than not, a quick scan of reviews can paint a fairly accurate picture of the business.

And since we’re a transit blog built on fun and inquisitiveness, I decided to carry this notion to the world of Cable Propelled Transit. So a few days back, I asked myself: can we use social networking to assess the general receptiveness and desirability of urban cable cars?

Reviews of RIT on Yelp. Screenshot from Yelp.

Reviews of RIT on Yelp. Screenshot from Yelp.

My hypothesis, if you can call it that, is: if these systems are undesirable (i.e. unattractive, a rip-off, poorly designed etc.) in a city, as many detractors claim, surely this will be revealed in crowd-sourcing websites such as Yelp.

While the initial thought of compiling and analyzing user experience data from these websites sounds outright featherbrained, it occurred to me that the findings/implications might actually be the complete opposite. As regular viewers of Kitchen Nightmares know, online reviews can sometimes make or break a business (I won’t post the link here, but if you must know what I’m referring to, search Amy’s Baking Company).

So for my little back-of-the-envelope analysis, I decided to look at the a handful of city-oriented cable cars from across the globe which had reviews, namely: Portland Aerial Tram, Roosevelt Island Tram, Teleférico Madrid, Téléphérique de Grenoble Bastille, Singapore Cable Car, and the Emirates Air Line.

6 urban cable cars reviewed.

Six urban cable cars reviewed – Portland Aerial Tram, Roosevelt Island Tram, Teleferico Madrid, Téléphérique de Grenoble Bastille, Singapore Cable Car and Emirates Air Line. Images from Flickr – Creative Commons Commercial.

Before I began my research, I expected to find a mixed of reviews, both positive and negative. However, what I found was quite surprising — the average overall rating (out of 5) was 4.25 where the lowest was 4 and highest was 5. If you carefully read the reviews, there are very few 1 or 2 star ratings, with the majority of responses being praiseworthy. I quickly noticed that several common themes were emerging — most of which revolved around aerial views, price, and ride quality. A lot of the remarks are quite funny and appear indicative of the general issues surrounding a particular system. For example, my favourite one is from London’s Yelper Tom E. who had this to say about the Emirates Air Line:

Tom E's take on the Emirates Air Line. Screenshot from

I say that’s a fairly accurate assessment. Screenshot from Yelp.


Of course by this time, some of you are probably thinking, crowdsourcing reviews are inaccurate and can’t be trusted. While this is true in certain cases, I can’t honestly fathom why a user would take time out of his/her schedule to give a cable car system a fake review.

For the conspiracists out there, could a cable car operator potentially hire people to provide false accounts? Possible, but unlikely. Given the aggregate nature of Yelp where thousands of users write unfiltered reviews, it is likely that if a system is “problematic” in any way, shape or form, the amount of real reviews would counteract the fake ones. Also, I think most individuals are smart enough to weed out the garbage reviews.

So what does this little analysis mean for urban cable cars? My initial feeling is that online evidence reveals that user experience on the CPT system surveyed thus far are overwhelmingly positive. Even in situations where the initial system planning and design was controversial, once these lines become operational, most of these issues are forgotten.

Perhaps due partly to the novelty/rarity of these transit systems and the general “fun factor” of cable cars, CPT lines really do a great job in uplifting people’s spirits while offering them the opportunity to experience their city in a totally different manner.


In the future, for a more accurate and detailed assessment, it would be interesting to examine quality of the reviewers, analyze if opinions change over time, expand the sample size and analyze reviews from other websites like TripAdvisor. 

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Can Chairlifts, Pulsed Gondolas and Cabriolet Gondolas be Used for Urban Transit?

This is a guest post by Billy Beasley.

Urban gondolas are revolutionizing the field of urban transportation today. Cities across the globe are utilizing this technology to improve the transit system in their community. However, the Urban Gondola idea may be impractical or impossible for some cities to implement due to a number of reasons, one of them being money.

Urban gondola installations, similar to other transit technologies, can be subject to unanticipated and/or unforeseen implementation costs. For example, the Emirates Air Line in London went over budget, suggesting that although useful and innovative, urban gondolas can sometimes be impractical. Living in Colorado and being an avid skier, I used ski lifts many a time to head up the slopes. So why aren’t these types of lifts being talked about for urban applications? In my opinion, there are three types of lifts that are typically used in skiing and could be used to transport people in a city.

#1 Pulsed Gondolas

Kadenwood Gondola, Whistler, BC is used to transport guests from the mountain base up to a private neighbourhood of 60 homes. Image from kandenwood.

For those unfamiliar with pulsed gondolas, this type of cable technology involves fixed grip cabins that travel in groups or “pulses” along the line where the entire line slows down or comes to a complete stop when cabins arrive at stations. Pulsed gondolas are most often used by ski resorts today to provide transport between a real estate development and a mountain.  The Kadenwood Gondola in Whistler Blackcomb, Canada, the Wildhorse Gondola in Steamboat, Colorado, the Waldorf Gondola in Canyons, Utah and the Highlands Gondola in Northstar, California are all pulsed gondolas which serve real estate developments.


Waldorf Gondola, Canyons, Utah. Image from luxurycondoparkcity.

All of these systems are also primarily in place to provide real estate access to a lodge or condo development from a base and are mostly used for pedestrian transportation, both uploading and downloading. Two other notable pulse gondola systems are the Iron Mountain Gondola in Glenwood Springs, Colorado which is built to serve a mountaintop amusement park and cavern which has uploading and downloading and the Sky Cab in Snowmass, Colorado. The Sky Cab does go up a ski hill but its main use is to be an aerial shuttle bus between two of the base areas at Snowmass, thus the name Sky Cab. This system also has both uploading and downloading capabilities.


Iron Mountain Gondola, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Image from glenwoodcaverns.

A pulsed gondola would be a great and economical solution for a city with less money and for transporting people over short distances. The only drawback to this type of system is its capacity, a pulsed gondola has a very limited capacity and wouldn’t be a good option for a city that needs a capacity of say 2,800 people per hour as the Sky Cab, a six passenger pulse gondola with four pulses, has a capacity of 530 people per hour.




#2 Cabriolet Gondola

Village Cabriolet, Winter Park, Colorado can transport 2,800 people per hour which makes it just as effective as a gondola. Image by Billy Beasley

A cabriolet gondola is a gondola that has open air cabins instead of the usual enclosed cabins. The cabins can fit 8 people and allow guests to experience the open air. Other than the cabins, cabriolet gondolas work the exact same as a regular, Monocable Detachable Gondola, right down to the grips and stations. Cabriolet gondolas are used mostly at ski resorts for transporting guests from parking areas to the main base village. This way, the base village can have no cars and guests can experience the scenic alpine base village. A superb example of a cabriolet gondola is the Village Cabriolet in Winter Park, Colorado. This cabriolet gondola takes guests from Winter Park’s main parking lot to its base village where the lifts are a short walk away and replacing an overused bus system. Although they are used mostly at ski resorts, they are almost solely used for transport and foot passengers with one exception that I know of, the Cabriolet in Mountain Creek, New Jersey. Other examples of cabriolet gondolas include the Cabriolet in the Canyons, Utah and the Cabriolet in Mont Blanc, Quebec. Both of those cabriolet gondolas are also used for transportation to the base of the ski lifts and the base village. Since these systems feature open air cabins, they would be better suited for urban areas with warmer climates.


#3 Chairlifts

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado. Image by zoochat.

This is the most radical of the three ideas.  Chairlifts can come in two models: Detachable Chairlifts work just like a detachable gondola except that instead of sitting down in an enclosed cabin, passengers sit down on a chair that faces up the lift line. Meanwhile, Fixed Grip Chairlifts stay fixed onto the cable the entire time which makes them travel at slower speeds. Chairlifts are known for being used primarily at ski resorts for transporting passengers up slopes since skiers don’t have to take off their equipment to ride them. However, some chairlifts are used for applications not involving skiing. Many chairlifts at ski resorts operate in the summertime while some chairlifts are also open for downloading from the mountain for skiers who aren’t able to make it down the mountain.

Orange Bubble Express, Canyons, Utah. Image from canyonsresort.

Several chairlifts are also used outside of ski resorts. At the Blizzard Beach Water Park at Walt Disney World, there is a fixed grip triple chairlift to take people up to the top of the water slides. There is also an urban chairlift at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado where the Mountaineer Sky Ride takes guests over zoo exhibits and to a scenic overlook. Chairlifts can also be outfitted so that the rider is not exposed to the elements as much. Two good examples of this are the Orange Bubble Express high speed quad in Canyons, Utah and the Bluebird Express high speed six passenger chairlift in Mount Snow, Vermont. The Orange Bubble Express and Bluebird Express both have a bubble over the chair to keep the elements out. Bubble chairlifts on an urban chairlift could provide the comfort of a gondola at a lesser price. Chairlifts can also have mid stations like the Peak 8 Superconnect in Breckenridge, Colorado. These mid stations could be applied in urban applications for unloading and loading at certain destinations and for the lift to turn around major obstructions. Chairlifts also have similar capacities to gondolas as the Bluebird Express at Mount Snow has a capacity of 2,400 people per hour. Chairlifts also take less time to load then a gondola and would streamline the unloading and loading process. Fixed grip chairlifts are less expensive and have a lower capacity so they would be better for shorter, less crowded applications while detachable chairlifts could be used in the same situations as a detachable gondola.

That’s it from me. All statistics about the individual ropeways are from , a great website about all sorts of aerial transportation. Check it out! Feel free to comment about what you think of the ideas and have a nice day.

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What Can We Learn From Elevators?

Image by flickr user wilding.andrew.

The elevator is the world’s most used form of transit. Full stop.

Arguably, it defines contemporary urban culture even more than the private automobile. It is so common, so normal, we never even think about it. It is ubiquitous to the point of invisibility.

According to a wonderful article about elevators in the New Yorker, there are eleven billion elevator trips taken in New York City every year; 30 million every day.

Meanwhile, Otis (the world’s largest manufacturer of “vertical transportation” devices) claims their elevators move the equivalent of the world’s population every nine days.

Basically, without the elevator cities as we currently know them would disappear and be replaced with something entirely different than what we currently experience. Low-rise, European cities of no more than 6 stories would become the norm. And because density couldn’t be packed into one or two spots surrounded by a sea of bungalows, places like Tampa would be replaced with places like Vienna overnight.

Hong Kong would cease to exist entirely.

And yet they’re as safe as can be. Elevator accidents are incredibly rare. Cabins free-falling towards the ground (as one might see in the movies) for all intents and purposes just don’t happen.

Says the New Yorker: “An average of twenty-six people die in (or on) elevators in the United States every year, but most of these are people being paid to work on them. That may still seem like a lot, until you consider that that many die in automobiles every five hours (emphasis mine).”

So next time someone says to you that gondolas and cable transit aren’t safe, just remind them that elevators and gondolas are virtually the same technology – that is, a box attached to a very, very strong rope.

And like elevators, gondolas are about as safe a transit technology as there is.

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What’s The Problem?

We live in a marketplace of ideas, and right now cars win because that idea is better than what public transit has on offer. It isn’t better for everyone, but it’s better for most. That might change in the future, but right now, that’s the game.

You want to get people out of their cars? Provide a better alternative, full stop. That doesn’t (necessarily) mean cable, it just means provide something that’s cheaper, more pleasant and more convenient than the private automobile. The technology/mode choice is somewhat irrelevant. Just do one small thing right.

Or design your cities so you don’t need public transit or the private automobile (unlikely, and a matter for a post in the future).

For the last generation we’ve been building transit lines ad nauseam in North America and little’s changed (to a lesser extent, the same holds for Europe). Car use increases, transit ridership stagnates (or decreases), communities sprawl and commute times increase. Traffic and delays have only gotten worse.

There’s a problem here and same-old-same-old solutions aren’t working. Until we’re willing to admit that, nothing’s likely to change.

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Six Common Uses For Steel Cables (That Are Perfectly Safe)

What if the cable snaps?

It’s as common a question as how does cable handle winter?

I can somewhat understand the concern about a snapping cable. After all, not only would it endanger those online, it could be devastating to the people on the ground.

And yet, it’s a concern that history judges to be somewhat invalid. The cables used in aerial ropeways almost never snap. It is such a rare and uncommon occurrence, it’s barely worth noting. That doesn’t mean they’re invincible, it means that proper care, maintenance and replacement scheduling will eliminate virtually all such concerns.

Nevertheless (and just to reassure everyone) here are six fairly common everyday uses for industrial-strength cables. They’re uses we think nothing of and all are perfectly safe:

Suspension Bridges. Image by law_keven.

Construction Cranes. Image by Samuel Stocker.

Elevators. Image by Thomas Hawk.

Roof Supports. Image by howzy.

Cargo Derricks. Image by Sebastian W.

Tightrope Walking. Image via flickr user, Perrenque.

So why again, should we be so concerned about gondolas? (Okay, maybe tightrope walking between the World Trade Center Towers isn’t exactly safe, but that has nothing to do with the tightrope itself. Incidentally: If you haven’t seen the documentary Man on Wire, where that photo comes from, you absolutely must.)

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Inflexible Inventory

Ultimately, the problem with public transit is one of economics. Our current transit systems have no ability to adjust the supply of their inventory levels (seats) to match a given demand (ridership) at a given time of day. Its inventory is completely inflexible:

  • Rush Hour: Too much demand, not enough supply.
  • Late Night: Some demand, no supply whatsoever (typically).
  • All other times: Far too much supply, not enough demand.

The problem is compounded by the unidirectional nature of the demand versus the bidirectional nature of the supply. During the morning commute, riders need to go from Point A to Point B. Point A being home and Point B being some form of central business district, whether that be a financial core or a suburban office park.

But for a standard transit technology to satisfy that need it must move from Point A to Point B and then back to Point A in order to service more riders. Trouble is, that means vehicles and drivers spend fully half their time traversing a route with near empty vehicles which are not generating revenue only additional costs. Too much demand in one direction, too much supply in the other.

So long as transit vehicles are expensive and drivers costly and necessary, these problems won’t disappear.

Solution: Drive down the cost of returning vehicles to origin so that it’s marginal rather than almost half. Far easier said than done.

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The Topography of Traffic

Far too often people talk about cable as a convenient technology for tackling topographical challenges. But that’s where it ends. It’s a niche technology, they claim, nothing more.

In other words: Cable’s ability to avoid physical obstacles is used as an argument against it. How much sense does that make?

The great irony is that topography is far less challenging to deal with than traffic. Mountains don’t tend to move; rivers don’t suddenly switch their direction of flow; ravines don’t come out of no where.

In other words: Topography is simple. What isn’t so simple is human beings and the traffic they generate.

Traffic is far more complex than topography. And if there’s one thing we’ve seen in the last 50 years, standard transit technologies such as buses, streetcars and light rail are miserable at dealing with traffic challenges.

But if you think of traffic and topography as one and the same – that is, they’re both physical obstacles that impede movement – you quickly realize the only way to deal with traffic is to treat it like topography: avoid it.

Go above it, below it or around it. Just don’t try and tackle it head on.

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