Posts Tagged: Montjuïc



Barcelona’s Montjuïc Cable Car, Part 2

Montjuïc Cable Car midstation and maintenance facility. Image by Steven Dale.

Montjuïc Cable Car midstation and maintenance facility. Image by Steven Dale.

Last fall I had an opportunity to tour and document Barcelona’s Montjuïc Cable Car and Funicular. This is the second of two parts documenting the Cable Car system. For the first part, click here. And to learn more about the Barcelona Funicular, click here

Perhaps what’s most interesting about the Montjuïc Cable Car is its ownership structure. Unlike the overwhelming majority of cable car systems around the world, the Montjuïc Cable Car is owned by a public transportation agency.

While this isn’t entirely unique—look at London and San Francisco—it is still an anomaly in the world. Public Transit agencies the world over are, almost without fail, dedicated to providing public transit to the local commuting public and shun tourist-oriented systems.

The reasons are as much ideological as they are financial.

With their layers of bureaucracy and unionized staff, transit agencies generally aren’t built to successfully (profitably?) run a tourist attraction. That’s not a criticism of transit agencies, it’s simply to state what should be obvious to most—transit isn’t about making money, it’s about a piece of civic infrastructure that enables mobility.

Sure, there are a handful of transit systems around the globe that operate profitably but those are the exception rather than the rule.

And then there’s the Montjuïc Cable Car. According to estimates I was given, the system experiences roughly 1.3 million riders a year at an average price of €7 per rider.

Operations and Maintenance costs were estimated to be between €2-4mm per year. The entire system, rebuilt in 2007, was completed for less than €16mm, all in.

Having said that, these figures come with three major caveats:

Firstly, this installation was a rebuild of a previous system. Rebuilds are almost always cheaper and easier than new builds for the simple reason that the heavy-lifting of permitting and land acquisition (among other things) has already been completed by the previous system designers.

Secondly, Spain has a low cost of living relative to other major western cities. Comparing the costs of a system (both capex and opex) built in a Spanish city to other major, developed cities (such as London) isn’t entirely fair.

Lastly, we don’t have hard confirmation of those numbers, so they should be taken with a grain of salt. They are, however, within the norms that we’ve observed in other installations and therefore have no reason to doubt their veracity (within reason, of course). Furthermore, it’s important to remember that this is a system with three stations, rather than simply two—and the general rule in cable transit is that the marginal cost of extra stations is far more than the marginal cost of extra length.

This system, in other words, was a bargain.

Notwithstanding the previous caveats, do the math and you quickly understand that this system is more than likely profitable to a very high extent—a fact confirmed by my tour guide.

Apparently TMB (the local transit agencies) funnels profits from the Montjuïc Cable Car into the wider public transportation system to help offset the costs of running its more standard systems. It’s certainly not enough to cover the entire costs of the rest of the system, but even a few million euros in additional revenue a year helps.

It’s an interesting model that introduces a question:

Just because a public transit agency is designed in a way that limits profit, shouldn’t agencies look to profit-making ventures as a means to offset their continually rising costs? Some might argue that such ventures are best left to the public sector and are not within the mandate of a purely public transit system.

The Montjuïc Cable Car, on the other hand, argues—rather effectively, I might add—otherwise.



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.



System Profile: Montjuïc Funicular, Barcelona

Montjuic Funicular Barcelona

Image by Steven Dale.

As we know, public transit agencies rarely implement cable transit solutions within their networks (hence this website), and when they do, they tend to implement them not as fully-integrated components of their network but rather as isolated, independent components (here or here for example).

They’re treated kind of like that awkward, sticky-fingered step-cousin you only see at certain holidays—kept off to the side and left to fend for themselves.

That’s what makes the Monjuïc Funicular in Barcelona so wonderful. It isn’t an afterthought or at the kiddie’s table.

Montjuïc Funicular. Image by Flickr user lisaeeeee.

The system, originally built in 1928 to serve the hilltop Expo of 1929, was rebuilt by Leitner in 1992 so as to cope with the increased traffic to and from the hilltop due to the wildly successful Barcelona Summer Olympics. 

While only a modest 758 meters long and ostensibly built solely for tourists, the system is fully-integrated into Barcelona’s wider transportation network and is operated by TMB, the city’s local transportation agency. There are no additional fares to ride the system and the station platform is a mere 30 second walk down the hall from the nearby Paral-lel metro station platform.

You could, if you wanted to, pay your metro fare at the top of the funicular and then transfer directly to the metro without going outside, paying an additional fare or even passing through a turnstile—it’s that wedded into the overall system.

Montjuic Funicular Barcelona

The station platform of the Montjuïc Funicular. Image by Steven Dale

Currently, the system operates at approximately ten minute headways with a trip time of only two minutes. But during the Olympics, the system was operating at full-tilt: 10 m/s speeds, with three minute headways and cabins packed to the brim with 400 passengers.

Do the math and you quickly realize that during the Olympics, the Montjuîc Funicular was moving 8,000 pphpd. For those who are keeping track, that’s thought to be the most number of people a funicular had ever carried in history and is a record that stands to this day.

Unfortunately, the headways between vehicles experienced back then are not experienced now.

The current wait times for the vehicles are not exactly prohibitive—after all, at ten minutes they’re still within the tolerance of most urban frequent service bus schedules—but they do feel excessively long for what is such a short ride. Certainly it is possible for the system to operate at shorter frequencies, but to do so would only increase the wear-and-tear on the system.

That’s one of those operational trade-offs that causes problems. From a rider’s perspective, a ten minute wait for a two minute journey hardly seems reasonable, but does it make sense for a transit agency to operate a system in an inefficient manner so as to provide for a greater level of customer satisfaction? 

Hard to say.

Notwithstanding that one minor issue, the Montjuïc Funicular is exemplary in its overall function and integration. It’s not the typical cable car bastard child of the transit network; it’s part of the family. That’s what makes it valuable as a case study. The Montjuïc Funicular teaches you that if you treat a cable car system as transit, then it is transit. That’s the (easily remedied) mistake that London is making with their cable car line.

Perhaps most interesting?

Its upper terminus is right next to another urban cable transit line and what must certainly be one of the world’s most interesting urban gondola systems—but we’ll talk about that next week.

Montjuic Funicular

See that black box to the left? It’s in there. Image by Steven Dale.

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.