Posts Tagged: Safety



Are Gondolas and Cable Cars Safe?

Perhaps the most common question we’re asked about Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit is the safety question. Namely, are they safe?

And while anecdotally we’ve always known them to be a remarkably safe technology, gathering clear statistical proof has been very difficult. Most countries don’t have readily available access to numbers on this and those that do make the mistake of combining ski hill chairlifts and gondolas within the same statistical category despite the two having fundamental differences in their safety statistics.

Nevertheless, the Switzerland’s Office fédéral de la statistique OFS recently put out some new statistics that help shed some light on the safety issue. While by no means definitive, we’ve compiled some of the important numbers in the tables below and our preliminary investigations suggest Cable Propelled Transit technologies such as Funiculars, Gondolas and Aerial Trams are amongst the safest public transit technologies around.

Take a look:

Compiled by CUP; Based Upon Numbers Gathered By Office fédéral de la statistique OFS.

You’ll note that during 2008 and 2009 Funiculars and Gondolas/Aerial Tram technologies consistently experienced the fewest number of accidents, injuries and deaths per 1,000 passengers. Rail-based technologies consistently experienced the most.

These numbers are important for a couple of reasons:

  • Switzerland has the largest number of cable transit systems in the world with a well-used and highly-developed multi-modal transit network across the country. If cable is to be compared to other travel modes, this is the place to make the comparisons.
  • These numbers necessarily did not include small, private gondola systems nor ski hill chairlift systems. This lack of inclusion makes the comparisons far more apt.

Notwithstanding the above, these numbers do come with a few caveats:

  • It would have been preferred to see numbers across a wider time period. Unfortunately the data series used did not include accidents, injuries and deaths for Tram, Trolleybus and Autobus technologies prior to 2008.
  • Owing to Switzerland’s almost complete lack of Subway/Metro technology, no statistics were available for those technologies.
  • While complete accident, injury and death statistics were available for 2010, passenger volumes were not available.
  • An additional comparison between modes by Passenger Kilometers Travelled would’ve been preferred as the distance travelled by cable is likely to be shorter than the distance travelled by the other modes. Such figures, however, were not present in the datasets for Gondola systems. Instead, gondola values were given in Hours of Operation.
  • All information was given in French. And while as Canadians we have a base understanding of the language, there is clear potential for error. Anyone with a greater grasp of the French language is invited to double-check our work.

Having said that, this is still a step in the right direction and more than a little bit eye-opening.

As always, additional information, corrections or amendments can be posted in the comments and we’ll be sure to correct any errors or omissions.

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.



Public Transit: Safety Should Never Be Compromised

Sometimes you forget how incredibly awesome and safe cable systems are – especially when entire systems are supported by a single cable the width of golf ball.

Note: this is a repost from an original article in 2012.

Last week, guest blogger Ryan O’Connor, wrote a brief analysis on the state of HSR (high speed rail) and the potential implications and lessons cable can learn from China’s recent love affair with rail. If you haven’t been keeping up-to-date with transportation news in China, last Saturday a tragic accident occurred when two HSR trains near Wenzhou collided.

Having just recently traveled to China and experienced the comfort and convenience of HSR, I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow that the victims and their families are experiencing.

Built partly to raise national pride and joy, the entire HSR network is now under extreme scrutiny as members of the public are demanding immediate answers from the government. Unfortunately, as China continues to build and develop HSR at such an unprecedented and feverish rate, quality and safety most likely will continue to arise. Hopefully this recent tragedy will serve as a grim reminder and lesson that safety should always be the paramount priority.

While the pace of HSR and CPT development are not nearly on the same level, the fact is, cable will also continue to grow. Let us hope that the growth of CPT technology continues to develop and evolve without any major setbacks.

In fact (although I don’t have the official statistics on hand) the safety record of cable technology since its inception is  nothing short of a remarkable achievement – probably one that is neither praised enough nor one that’s given the attention it deserves.

Can you think of the last time someone died in a gondola accident as a result of mechanical failure? Last one that comes to my mind is the Peak2Peak Excalibur Gondola tower failure, but no fatalities resulted.

So to all the cable engineer dudes and dudettes that may read this blog and the supporting staff that work day and night to ensure the safety of CPT passengers, on the behalf of the Gondola Project and myself, my hat goes off to you.


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.



Weekly Roundup: Riding A Ski Lift Is Safer Than Skiing (Or Driving A Car)

A few highlights from around the world of Urban Gondolas, Gondola Transit, and Cable Propelled Transit:

  • Safety’s always a big issue when discussing the concept of using cable cars and gondolas as mass public transit because most people incorrectly assuming the technology to be terrifyingly dangerous. As such, it was more than refreshing to see a recent article in the Wall Street Journal explicitly discuss the safety of the technology. Among other observations, the article observes that “skiers are more likely to be injured or killed while driving to the slopes or skiing down the mountain than riding the lifts.” Thanks, Wall Street Journal!
  • Notwithstanding the above, the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car in Hong Kong left up to 400 passengers stranded in their vehicles for roughly 13 minutes. While by no means a cataclysmic event, this is the third such event in the past three weeks for a system that has a long history of malfunctions, human errors and accidents (here and here, for example). Until authorities and officials finally get to the bottom of what’s happening with the Ngong Ping 360, it might be best to skip that sight if you’re ever in Hong Kong.
  • Environmentalists are upset by Thailand’s Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation intention to build a gondola in Phu Kradung National Park. Environmentalists insist this project will increase usage of the Phu Kradung and therefore cause more damage to the park. Government officials insist, however, that while the gondola will increase usage, it will decrease overnight stays. As is always the case in such a situation, the logic presented by both sides appears to be a bit fuzzy and more than a little self-serving.

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.



The 5 Most Common (and Cynical) Arguments People Use Against Urban Gondola Transit


One thing I love about cable is the questions and discussions it creates.

Generally speaking, people are curious creatures and when confronted with the strange, bizarre and not-so-everyday, they want to know more. They ask questions, ponder and – for better or for worse – they come to their own conclusions.

Those people are amazing because, as I’ve discussed before, they’re skeptics not cynics. And skeptics are amazing. The cynics, not so much.

But what does one do about the cynics? Not much, I guess. These are people who’ve already passed judgement on something the moment they hear about it despite knowing virtually nothing about what they’re passing judgement on. Just look at the comments here and here about the potential for an Urban Gondola in Calgary and you’ll see what I mean.

They’re cynics not skeptics.

But for the sake of curiosity, I thought it might be fun to bring together in one place the 5 cynical arguments I hear most commonly about urban gondola transit . . . and suggest a few ways of dealing with them. Enjoy!

Read more

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.



Woman Spends Night In Gondola Cabin

Last week in British Columbia, a 25 year old woman spent 12 hours overnight stuck in an Excalibur Gondola cabin at the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort.

The woman was unharmed and the incident was chalked up to “human error.”

Problem is, incidents like this will always put a damper on things. Anytime a city wants to explore a gondola transit project, there’s always going to be some guy in some room who stands up and points out the story of the woman who was trapped in a gondola for three days before anyone noticed.

Note how 12 hours is inflated to 3 days when dealing with some guy in some room retelling a story he’s using to reinforce some point he’s trying to make to someone.

It doesn’t matter that the protocols one implements in an urban setting (such as cctv, intercoms and daily vehicle cleanings) would preclude a problem like this from ever happening. The fact that it did happen is too good a story for people to pass up.

As cable grows in the urban market, you can be sure that people are going to pay more and more attention to the moments when it doesn’t work as planned. The fact that cable does what’s it’s supposed to do 99.98% of the time just isn’t that good a story. Reliability is a good selling point, but unreliability is a better story.

Politics and advocacy is as much about stories as it is about stats, polls and votes. The cable industry has to learn how to manage those stories and understand that as they become the new kid on the block, there’s going to be more and more people waiting to use stories like these for their own political, financial and personal gain.

And you thought your hotel room was small. Image by flickr user Andrew Smith.

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.



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.

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.



Public Transit is Scary for Women

One of the most common arguments against urban gondolas I hear is the issue of women’s safety.

The argument goes that women will not want to “be trapped” in a small box in the sky for fear of having to ride with another “sketchy” individual. Fair enough.

(I actually see this as a huge opportunity, but let’s get back to that problematic argument first.)

There are two common arguments used against this, both are useless:

  • Argument 1: This issue is no different than waiting for a bus on a darkened corner; riding an elevator; riding a subway late at night; etc. The argument is useless because it is equivalent to saying “we’re no more scary than the other guys!”
  • Argument 2: Urban gondolas are now equipped with closed circuit cameras and intercom systems. This argument is useless because it is a measure designed to deal with a problem after it’s already occurred.

The thing is, most public transit agencies use the exact same arguments and they never work! (Check out this article at Grist, to see how well those arguments hold up.)

These arguments tell people (women in particular) that their emotions are wrong; that statistics prove they are foolish for feeling the way they do. Telling people that their emotions are illegitimate is not the way to convince them of a product’s effectiveness and the entire public transit industry is complicit in this. I made that very mistake here.

Transit agencies love to demonstrate that public transportation is faster, safer, cheaper and better than the private automobile. So much so that telling people transit is good is an industry unto itself. And yet there isn’t a single city in North America where public transit is the transportation mode of choice for the majority of commuters.

Telling people what to think and how to feel just doesn’t cut it.

So here’s the opportunity: Why not design your cable system so that it actually makes people feel safer. And don’t use tricks, gimmicks or signage. Make it clearly, demonstrably safer than all the other options. Here’s how:

  • Tactic 1: Fully automate your ticketing operations. This is already standard practice with a lot of transit systems, but should be standard practice with cable.
  • Tactic 2: Use attendants at every station. This helps with loading, off-loading and passenger requests. You can afford these attendants because your cable transit vehicles are driverless and your ticketing operations are automated (Tactic 1). It should be noted, station attendants are standard on all urban gondola systems.
  • Tactic 3: Use slim-profile stations. Small stations are easier to police and attend than large stations. Think streetcar platform small.
  • Tactic 4: Stay low to the ground. Keeping your vehicles as low to the ground as possible increases access to emergency services.
  • Tactic 5: Provide all-women cabins during daytime hours. This is a low-cost, easy policy to implement that has been used in cities around the world on traditional transit systems.
  • Tactic 6: Provide single-rider/group cabins during evening hours. This, again, is a low-cost, easy policy to implement. Provide some means to communicate which vehicles are currently in “single-rider” use to prevent new passengers boarding at other stations.

Station Attendants are standard practice in all urban gondola systems. Image by Steven Dale.

Station Attendants not only provide increased security, they can assist those who require assistance entering and exiting a vehicle

Station Attendants not only provide increased security, they can assist those who require assistance entering and exiting a vehicle. Image by Steven Dale.

Tactic 6 is the most important because it increases both perceived and actual levels of safety for all because riders can self-segregate as they see fit. It is also a tactic that only CPT can offer. The reason cable alone can offer this is simple: Drivers are too busy driving to be attendants. And if you have drivers, you probably can’t afford attendants.

Furthermore, during off-peak hours, transit vehicles are mostly just empty seats. Because there are no drivers in the vehicles, there is little additional cost in providing single-rider/single-group cars. The small vehicle size of cable increases this capability.

Such tactics and policies are simple to create and easy to execute with almost no additional cost. By doing so, public transit can finally stop telling people they should feel safe and get to the real work of making them safe.

Creative Commons image by moriza.

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.