Urban Gondolas, Cable Cars & Snow

Post by Steven Dale

An Aerial Tram in Val Thorens, France

An Aerial Tram in Val Thorens, France

I’m constantly asked how urban gondolas, cable cars and cable-propelled transit perform in bad weather.

It’s an odd question because the answer is so obvious. The technology was popularized, after all, in alpine ski resorts. I don’t, however, begrudge the question. When I began my work on CPT I wondered the same thing. The question bemuses me and I’m happy to answer: Cable performs well in inclement weather. New technologies allow cable to operate in winds up to 100 km/hr and are resistant to ice, snow and lightning.

I wonder though why we never ask that question when it comes to light rail, subways, people movers or buses.

Isn’t it bizarre that we don’t ask that? In my hometown of Toronto, the transit system grinds to a virtual standstill several times each winter due to weather. And yet, as the city prepares to build a whole new system of light rail lines (Transit City), no one seems to have asked how they’ll perform in -25 (-30 with the wind chill factor) with three feet of snow on the ground.

I suppose it’s a natural behavior. Insurgent Technologies are almost always held to a higher standard than Incumbent ones, even when the Incumbent is demonstrably inferior. It’s just a variation on the “devil you know vs. the devil you don’t” problem. (Apple users, for example, have this same problem when defending their choice of computer to a PC user.)

So here’s a challenge: If you have a question about cable transit, ask it. But then ask the same question about all the other transit technologies you’re already familiar with. Ask how well buses perform in snow (not great). Ask how safe light rail is (lethal). Ask how fast subways are (not as fast as you’d think).

Ask of the Incumbent the same as you do the Insurgent. It’s the only fair, reasonable and right way to make a comparison because it’s impossible to make a comparison of one. To make a comparison, you actually have to compare.

Creative Commons image by leo-setä

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