Posts Tagged: Nomenclature



The Problem With ‘Téléphériques’

One of the challenges urban gondola transit and cable propelled transit must overcome is the issue of nomenclature. This is something we talk about a fair bit here at The Gondola Project (here, here and here, for example) and it appears to have contributed to some of our own confusion about the Algerian Gondolas.

Let me explain.

Algeria’s official language is Arabic. Owing, however, to the North African’s history of French colonization, a majority of Algerians also speak and understand French with much business, media and education conducted in that language. As such, when we’ve hunted for information on the Algerian Gondolas, we’ve tended to do so in French. Granted, pursing research in Arabic would likely yield better results than in French but sometimes you’ve just got to work with what you’ve got.

Now . . . Anecdotally speaking, the most common term for cable transit systems in French is Téléphérique. This initially presented some challenges.

Google something like Téléphérique + Constantine (go ahead, we’ll wait) and you’ll find no shortage of images, videos, pages, etc. showing something like this:

Image via SkyscraperCity.

Now to any regular reader of The Gondola Project, you’ll immediately recognize this as a simple Monocable Detachable Gondola system (more specifically, it’s a 15-seater). But look what happens when you google something like Téléphérique + Algiers:


The Alger Téléphérique El-Madania. Creative Commons image by Poudou99.

Clearly the El-Madania Téléphérique in Algiers is an Aerial Tram not an MDG system.

Which means the French word Téléphérique is more akin to the English phrase Aerial Ropeway instead of Gondola. In other words: As we’re researching the Algerian Gondolas, we have to recognize that most of them will be referenced using the umbrella term Téléphérique. Which leads to the problem:

Without any clear indicators (by way of a photo or something else), it is very difficult to determine what technologies have been or will be implemented across Algeria’s slew of 23 Téléphériques.

We also see the term Télécabine used in reference to the Constantine, Skikda and Tlemcen gondolas, but there doesn’t seem to be any exact agreement on what that term means (see the English translation of the French Wikipedia page to get an idea of the confusion). Télécabine seems to be used most commonly to describe a detachable gondola but there isn’t any clear consensus.

As such, we’ll just have to figure out each one individually, one at a time.

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The London Thames Cable Car / Aerial Tram / Gondola / Whatever

Alright. I know I complain about the nomenclature issue a lot, but this is getting ridiculous.

Planetizen published the following update on the approved London Thames Cable Car (Gondola):

London Approves Aerial Tram Over River

An aerial gondola system will be built over the Thames River in London ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

“Expected to complete by July 2012, the cable cars would run 50m above the water and, according to Mayor Boris Johnson, would be ‘as good as a bus route with 30 buses on it’.

Johnson, said: ‘With permissions signed and sealed we are now a significant step closer to being able to cruise the east London skyline via an elegant cable car spanning the mighty Thames.'”

Officials estimate that the gondola system will be capable of transporting 2,500 people per hour over the river.

I’m not going to bother breaking it down for people. It’s pretty straightforward. A Gondola is this; an Aerial Tram is this and; a Cable Car is either this or this. They are different. This wasn’t my decision, it’s just the way it’s been for decades.

Gondola, Aerial Tram and Cable Car are not synonyms for the same technology. And every time they’re used as synonyms, it only complicates matters for people who are actually trying to understand the technology.

Planetizen should know better.

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The San Francisco Teleferico: Why Gondola Transit Nomenclature Could Be An Issue

The world famous San Francisco Cable Cars. Image via Muni Diaries.

San Francisco’s California Street Cable Car line is under-going a major rebuild. As such, Muni (the San Francisco Transit agency) felt the need to inform the public via signs, press releases, websites etc.

The Spanish translation of the press release, however, referred to the cable cars as “telefericos.”

As any regular reader of The Gondola Project knows, teleferico translates directly to gondola. Muni rider John A. spotted the error and whipped up the above image in an act of transit humour geekery so specific that it’s probably funny to only 3 dozen of the world’s entire population – and will simply confuse thousands of elderly tourists looking to ride the Muni Teleferico in the coming months.

And while the entire situation allows us all to have a lot of fun at the expense of a translator’s mistake, it does touch on a difficulty cable transit has as it begins to grow within the urban environment. That problem is nomenclature.

As I pointed out a long time ago there are dozens of names for cable technologies in English alone. Add in foreign languages, and the situation becomes positively absurd. Teleferico, telepherique, teleferik, seilbahnen . . . the list goes on and on.

That people insist on using erroneous terms to describe installations only frustrates the matter further.

The proposed London Thames Cable Car, for example, isn’t a cable car. It’s a gondola. Full stop. That complicates matters for researchers, planners, journalists and policy-makers. Why not just call the new gondola the “London Thames Underground”? It’s not accurate, but neither is the “London Thames Cable Car.”

After all, you wouldn’t call a Honda Civic an “SUV”, would you? Or how about calling a Macbook Pro a “desktop computer”? Imagine if you invited your family over to visit your brand new house in the suburbs and asked them how they all liked your new “condo.”

"This puppy is the cutest poodle I've ever seen." Image by flickr user Nick LoCiero.

Whether we like it or not, the reason we classify things is so that we can understand them. Yes, it can be annoying. And yes, it can seem ridiculously anal at times. But we as a species have agreed that to foster communication amongst us we must call things by their proper names.

Sure the concept of a “proper name” is subjective and slippery. Anyone whose formative years took place in the 1990’s was probably forced to debate ad nauseum the true meaning of the term “alternative music” and no one ever came to a clear consensus. How we choose to use the term “light rail” is equally debatable and problematic.

Yet when we have a collection of technologies such as cable that make explicitly clear their defining features and, therefore, their exact names, it seems ridiculous that such a situation persists.

I’m not sure the problem will ever be resolved (it won’t), but it’s important to point out the problem for what it is: An unnecessary irritant that only complicates the further spread of the idea.

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.