Metropolis Programme Rio

Global cities put cable cars in the 'rapid transport' mix

By: Marcus Liddell, The Information Daily Metropolis Programme
Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 - 08:12 GMT Jump to Comments

Long associated with ski resorts, gondolas and cable cars are becoming a viable form of mass transit in cities, offering both environmental and economic benefits.

Cable cars have been around in various forms for a long time, but the idea that they can form part of an integrated transport system is relatively new. Nick Mitchell, of Cities Today, says South American cities have led the way in using cable transit as a clean means of connecting poor and isolated neighbourhoods.

Steven Dale, founder of the Gondola Project, agrees. He credits the Metrocable in Medellin, Columbia, as the earliest fully integrated cable transit system. It opened its first line in 2006, serving the impoverished neighbourhood of Santo Domingo.

Before the Metrocable, Santo Domingo was very isolated, writes Dale. Few had their own transport and private bus cartels ran the only public transport. Commutes could take up to two and a half hours each way. But today, thanks to the Metrocable, the main thoroughfare, Andalucia Street, is flooded with street merchants and commerce. Dale says ‘it brought the community back to life.’
 
Cable transit is especially suitable for connecting poor slum neighbourhoods writes Nisha Kumar Kulkarni, in Beyond Profit. She says many informal settlements are established on steep hillsides which are often unreachable by car or bus. In these situations cable cars can bridge the gap. The City Fix blogger, Megan McConville agrees. She writes ‘They are especially useful where inclines are too steep for conventional mass transit’.

Nick Mitchell says Medellin’s success has inspired other cities, in particular, Rio de Janeiro - which is about to open its second cable car route. Its first line opened in 2011 and is capable of carrying 3,000 passengers per hour. Local use is encouraged, with residents entitled to two free journeys a day. Mitchell says it has greatly reduced transport problems in the area served by the line.

Cities outside of Latin America are taking notice as well. Michael McDaniel, senior designer at Frog Design, has been publically advocating a cable transit system for Austin, Texas. He argues cable transit is a relatively cheap and clean way of connecting our cities. According to his figures, a cable car costs just $3m-$12m per mile. This compares $35m per mile for trams, $132m per mile for elevated light rail, and $400m per mile for underground rail.

McDaniel is also excited by the capacity of cable transit. His proposed system would be capable of moving 10,000 people per hour, the equivalent of 200 buses. The continuous movement offered by gondola systems is another advantage, says McDaniel, as it eliminates waiting time. Ultimately, his ambitious plan envisions a hub and spoke model connecting the whole city.

London, of course, has the Emirates Air Line. Built at a cost of £60m, it was designed to be a both a tourist attraction and a route for commuters. But so far, the figures have been disappointing writes Kate Allen in the Financial Times Data Blog. She calculates that the Emirates Air Line is running at just 7% capacity. The blog also cites analyse by The Scoop which found as few as 16 people were using it as a commuting route. Allen concludes it is ‘mostly used by Londoners as a way of entertaining the kids’.

There are also concerns over privacy. Systems under construction in Brest and Toulouse avoid passing over private property so as not to compromise residents, notes Sophie Landrin, in The Guardian. The New York Times’ William Yardley points to similar concerns following the opening of Portland’s aerial tram.

Still, this does not deter, The Gondola Project’s, Steven Dale. He writes ‘any city with any combination of hills, mountains, ravines, parks, rivers, inlets, bays and harbours could be a viable urban gondola project.’ Nisha Kumar Kulkarni agrees, arguing that if developing cities like Medellin and Caracas can overcome the challenges richer cities can as well.

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