Posts Tagged: Idea Spreading



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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