Should Urban Gondolas be Integrated into a Public Transit Network?

The world’s largest network of urban gondolas, Mi Teleférico, carries over 150,000 daily passengers but is only partially integrated with the city’s overall public transit network. Transfers to private vehicles and local buses (PumaKatari) require an extra fare. Image by Dan Lundberg.

In a recent article, a Swiss transportation planning professor from the University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil, suggested that to maximize its usefulness for passengers, urban gondolas should be fully integrated into a city’s transit network.

While Professor Büchel does not precisely describe what he meant by integration, it seems logical to think that he is advocating for full fare-integration. In other words, the development of a ticketing model where it does not cost riders an extra fare to transfer to and from a Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) system.

For most transit planners, this is a seemingly straightforward undertaking as full integration has the potential to ease and simplify the transportation experience for passengers — an incredibly important goal for any transit agency hoping to attract more riders. In fact, for the majority of public transport systems, applying this model is standard practice and non-controversial. However, when it comes implementing urban gondolas, whether or not they should or should not be integrated may not be as simple.

Unlike traditional transit systems and technologies (such as buses and rail) where a large percent of passengers are commuters, the unique aerial nature of a cable car ride means that they have the ability to attract a sizeable number of leisure riders.

Of the Portland Aerial Tram’s annual ridership of 2 million passengers, approximately 10% are non-commuters who pay a $4.70 roundtrip fare. Image by David Wilson.

This means that no matter how commuter-oriented an aerial ropeway is, there will always be a percent of passengers who will ride the system purely for the “joy of the journey itself“. And herein lies an often misunderstood and under-appreciated advantage that urban gondolas have over traditional transit technologies.

The novelty and attractiveness of panoramic views on an aerial gondola means that unique fare model opportunities will likely exist where higher tourist/leisure rider fares can be captured to help subsidize a local transit system.

A quick google search reveals that CPT lines are incredibly popular attractions in it of itself. TripAdvisor reviews indicate that systems such as the Portland Aerial Tram, Roosevelt Island Tram, Emirates Air Line Cable Car, and Medellin Metrocable are all frequented by visitors. Comparatively speaking, unless there was a unique ride experience, boarding a standard ground-based or underground vehicle (e.g. bus and rail) would hardly register as a “top thing to do”.

Hong Kong’s Ngong Ping 360 cable car allows locals to receive a 10% discount on regular fares (see bottom left hand corner). Recently, the cable car released a promotion where residents can board the system for free on their birthdays! Image by CUP.

Exactly how a transit agency can leverage tourist dollars to benefit locals should be carefully assessed to ensure that it is appropriate and acceptable in the local context. What may work in one city, may not be applicable in another.

Nevertheless, mass transit gondolas around the world are starting to realize their tourism potential. For instance, as mentioned earlier, Portland charges non-commuters a $4.70 roundtrip fare while La Paz will soon implement a “tourist circuit” where visitors receive headphones and other amenities to enhance revenue generation opportunities.

Ultimately, perhaps the question transport planners should ask, is not whether urban gondolas should be integrated into a public transit network — rather, how can transport planners better design CPT fare structures and programming so it can leverage tourist dollars that benefit local riders.


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Has Urban Gondola Technology Finally Gone Mainstream?

In the last fifteen years, over fifty urban ropeways (recreational and mass transit) have been built. Systems pictured (from left to right, top to bottom) are the Metrocable Line J, Metrocable Line K, Roosevelt Island Tram, Portland Aerial Tram, Ankara Cable Car, Mi Teleferico Yellow Line, Koblenz Cable Car, Emirates Air Line Cable Car and Gaia Cable Car.

By and large for the past quarter century, urban gondolas have been considered a fringe transport technology in the minds of many North American transit professionals. Over this past decade however, attitudes over its application in the urban environment have shifted dramatically and it seems that the tides are finally turning.

Last week for instance, the mayor of Los Angeles committed publicly to building a Dodgers Stadium gondola by 2022 and this week, the Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board (ETSAB), admitted in a seemingly reluctant fashion that, “It [cable transport] actually is a valid mass transit option.”

If that wasn’t enough positive news, the Toronto Star reported two days ago that the Burnaby Mountain Gondola (first proposed in 2009) will be subject to detailed analysis as part of TransLink’s Phase 2 plan. Basically, what this means is that a mayor, a transit advisory committee and a major transit agency all within a single week — in North America — came out in support of urban gondolas! Needless to say, that’s not an insignificant event in the world of cable transport.

Essentially with these new projects, we’ve been able to track over two hundred urban ropeways proposals worldwide — and from our estimates, there are nearly forty public transport gondolas which are currently operational (i.e. Metrocable Line J, Red Line Mi Teleferico, Ankara Cable Car and etc).

In fact, this number increases to nearly a hundred systems if you include urban ropeways built for recreational purposes (i.e. Emirates Air Lines, Ngong Ping 360, Singapore Cable Car and etc). All of these systems can be viewed in the map below.

With the immense successes seen throughout the globe, especially in Latin American cities, it appears that the few remaining cynical transport planners have little ammunition to support their biases against cable cars. Gut-based arguments that ropeways are too slow, too dangerous and too unworldly have largely fallen by the wayside.

After all, it’s hard to argue that gondolas aren’t a serious form of mass transit when they consistently operate with reliability levels of more than 99%, transport commuters in more than a dozen countries, and can function as the rapid transit backbone of an entire city.

Of course, while we believe Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) can offer solutions to urban transport challenges, it is important to reiterate that ropeway technology is not a silver bullet. City planners must simply be cognizant that it is merely one tool in their toolbox that they can use to address contemporary transport problems.

As gondolas find growing acceptance in the transit planning circles, let us know what your thoughts are on these major events taking place in the world of urban ropeways.


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Next-Gen Gondola Education: Virtual Reality and 360° Videos

Perhaps it’s a little hard to imagine nowadays, but nine years ago when we first started this blog, easily accessible information on urban gondolas was difficult to find. Valuable materials were mostly hidden away in educational depositories such as the Colorado School of Mines and/or in untranslatable foreign language articles.

However, as the internet has by and large democratized and decentralized the flow of information, being able to collect, analyze and disseminate data has never been easier. In fact, we’ve discussed in the past that today’s worldwide growth on Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) may not have been possible without the internet.

If we take a moment to pause and reflect upon the evolution of ropeways, the historical lack of knowledge and expertise in the urban sphere was not coincidental. Traditionally, the development of the technology was primarily concentrated in rural areas where its application was centred around recreational and mining usages.

Even if urban transit ropeways existed — which it did as early as the turn of the twentieth century — chances are that even the most informed city planner in the “pre-internet age” would not be able to tell you that aerial lifts have been used successfully for transit purposes in far-flung places such as Algiers, Medellin, and Chongqing.

The Kohlererbahn was built in 1908 to connect Bolzano and Kohlern. It is considered one of the first aerial lifts built for passenger transport and public transit. Image from

Compounding these difficulties was the reality that most of the manufacturers, and therefore, expertise in the industry was located in the European Alps where English is not the dominant language.

However, with resources such as Google, Google Translate and YouTube (and of course Gondola Project), immersing yourself in ropeway vernacular today is just one quick click away.

In particular, YouTube, has been an incredibly useful tool for research since many users now upload entire videos of a ropeway’s journey (see Green Line, Yellow Line and Red Line). These videos allow analysts to personally witness and experience the conveniences of urban ropeway transport.

As the next stage of camera and virtual reality (VR) technology is basically ready for mass adoption, it appears that 360° videos will become the next medium for research and analysis. Comparatively speaking, since 360° videos allow the viewer to fully control the viewing direction, viewers can feel as if they are literally sitting in the cabin. No amount of still videos and photos could match the degree of realism in comparison to 360° videos. We can’t help but to imagine what VR could do to help educate users, especially critics, on the possibilities and feasibility of urban ropeways.

From a preliminary search, there are now dozens of 360° gondola videos already on YouTube. And to say the least, the experience is almost unworldly. As an example, we’ve compiled some of the best ones for your viewing pleasure below.

But what do you think? Could 360° videos and VR be used to foster greater appreciation and understanding of ropeway technology? And what kind of consequences could it have on ropeway development in the urban market? Let us know in the comments below or find us on Facebook / Twitter.

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Being Feasible

What is feasibility? Image from pixabay.

Years ago, a colleague once remarked to me that feasibility analysis is nothing more than complex marketing — a tool used to advocate for that which has already been decided upon. It’s a comment that stuck with me over the years and has recently taken on new relevance to me.

As we’ve repeatedly pointed out over the past year (here, here and here, to name just a few examples), the cable car industry is living in a golden age of people not only paying attention to the industry but also actively researching and studying potential projects.

That’s no small thing.

While I have no clear statistic to back up this claim, I’m quite certain that there has never been a time in human history where more government and private sector entities have been actively developing cable car projects.

That development process, more often than not, begins with some form of feasibility analysis. And as we’ve also pointed out (here, for example) those analyses are oftentimes lacking in the intellectual rigour necessary to advance the projects.

From what we’ve witnessed, however, the problem is not one of insufficient diligence, but rather the direction those inquiries take. It’s a problem of not asking the right questions — or perhaps not understanding what the questions are in the first place.

When journalists report on a government or corporation commissioning a study (whether that be for a cable car or any other program or piece of infrastructure) to “determine whether X, Y or Z is feasible,” it’s oftentimes written in a way so as to suggest that the study is impartial and binary — that the project Will-Be or Will-Not-Be deemed feasible as though judgement were to be cast down from the heavens.

But what does Being Feasible even mean?

Read more

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Reaction: Cable Cars Are Changing the World

Image by Darren Garrett.

Image by Darren Garrett.

It’s no secret that with the rise of the 24-hour news cycle and the collapse of advertising revenues, journalistic standards and intellectual rigour have been on the decline across the publishing spectrum.

As such, when journalist Duncan Geere of How We Get to Next requested an interview of me on the subject of urban cable cars, I presumed it would be nothing more than a 300-word puff piece on the subject written in the time it to takes to write . . . well, a 300-word puff piece.

It was much to my surprise, then, that Greene’s piece “Cable Cars Are Changing The World” is nothing of the sort.

It is an exhaustive, engaging and otherwise top-notch article on the subject of Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) and how they are rapidly being deployed throughout the world. For anyone new to the subject matter, I’d suggest starting with Greene’s article. It is comprehensive with a view into the history of the technology that few reporters bother to delve into.

He even takes the time to highlight one of the central complexities of the technology — nomenclature. Green perfectly encapsulates one of our industry’s constant problems:

“Researching the topic can be difficult, primarily because there are seemingly hundreds of different ways to refer to slight variations on the same basic principle. Spend 10 minutes looking into the subject and you’ll find people talking about gondolas, aerial tramways, ropeways, cableways, téléphériques, funiculars, funitels, inclined lifts, and many more.” 

As I read the article, there were at least a handful of moments I had to pause and think to myself “wow, I didn’t know that.”

If you’re new to the subject of urban cable cars, read this article. And if you’re an industry veteran who thinks postures to know everything there is to know about the topic — read this article. I can assure you there are things in there that will surprise and delight you.

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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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The Irony of Cable Car Pranks on April Fools

For those who haven’t noticed yet, it’s April Fools today.

Of course, this means that a few media outlets have gone to great lengths to have a little fun and punk their audiences.

Hey look, it's a proposal that might potentially improve transportation. Ha ha. Jokes on you. Image from Isle of Wight Radio.

Look! It’s a proposal that might potentially improve transportation. Ha ha. Image from Isle of Wight Radio.

For gondolas, we’ve found two great stories so far: 1) A “green-lit” water-crossing cable car for the Isle of Wight, UK; and 2) A city-wide gondola network in Victoria, Canada.

The massive cable car proposal in Victoria is obviously ridiculous in that environment. But could maybe one or two strategically placed lines in the BC capital help improve transport and tourism? Of course. I see several interesting opportunities already.

As for the Isle of Wight prank, I honestly know nothing about the island. But from 30 seconds of Googling, it seems the island’s ferry system made 4.3 million trips across The Solent (strait) in 2012/2013.

Ferry routes. Image from

Ferry routes. Image from

There appears to be 3 ferry routes which range from ~6km (Lymington to Yarmouth, 40 minutes) to ~8km (Porsmouth to Ryde, 22 minutes) to ~11km (Portsmouth to Fishbourne, 45 minutes). The shortest distance between the island and the mainland is about ~4-5km.

For simplicity sake, we did a quick comparison between the Lymington to Yarmoth ferry route and a theoretical 3S system.

  • Frequency: Ferry @ 1 hour wait / 3S Gondola @ 35-person cabins every ~30 seconds
  • Travel Time: Ferry @ 40 minutes / 3S Gondola @ 12.5 minutes (assuming 6km, 8 m/s)
  • Capacity: Ferry @ 360 pphpd / 3S Gondola @ 4,000-5,000 pphpd

Judging solely on these three basic parameters above, a cable car can be designed to operate at a much superior level of service than the ferry. Furthermore in terms of environmental factors, average wind speeds of 27km/h may have little effect on a cable car’s performance.

Vietnam's Vinpearl Cable Car transports passengers

Vietnam’s 3.3km Vinpearl Cable Car is built with 9 towers (7 offshore towers in a seismically prone South China Sea) and transports passengers at heights of 115m. The cable car was actually built to replace the inefficient ferry system. Image by Flickr user gavindeas.

While it’s not possible to tell if a cable car can be economically viable at this time (depends on fare structure and volume), I suspect that adding another cross-strait transportation option may help drive down ferry ticket prices.

And this coincidentally might be important to locals and visitors since the strait is considered by many online commentators as one of the world’s most expensive stretches of water (single adult ticket costs US$14.25/£10).

I suppose the irony about this “joke” is there’s a good potential that there is significant technical and economical validity behind the idea. Despite the prank, this idea might actually deserve more analysis and attention.

Laughs and giggles aside, perhaps what is the most unsettling is this: while many of us in so called “developed” nations continue to mock and ridicule ropeways, many of those in “developing” nations have fully embraced the technology (see urban gondola map) and have decided to assess it based on its merits (rather than one’s preconceived notions).

For those who think a cross-Solent cable car is impossible, they might wish to take some inspiration from Vietnam’s 7.9km Hòn Thơm – Phú Quốc Ropeway. Best part is, the system has broken ground and scheduled to open in early 2017.

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