Never Mind The Real World

Post by Steven Dale

If I gave you the choice between a transit technology that could carry 20,000 people and a technology that could carry 6,000 which would you choose? Clearly, youd choose 20,000.

Or what if I gave you the choice between a transit technology that operated at 100 km/hr or one that operated at 35 km/hr? Obviously youd opt for the faster one. Faster is better because faster means you get where youre going sooner.

And thats the problem.

Humans are irrational – no secret there – and were so hard-wired to grab the most of anything, well almost always opt for that which gives us the most. It doesnt matter that we dont even like three-quarters of whats on the Mandarin’s all-you-can-eat buffet, we just like to know the option is there.

So too with transit planners.

Theoretically, Light Rail carries between 6,000 – 20,000. Just ask Professor Vukan R. Vuchic, one of the only people to ever write a textbook on transit planning. His Urban Transit series of textbooks constantly state that LRT carries between 6,000 and 20,000 people. He also states that they operate at “maximum speeds (of) 70 km/hr or higher.”

Never mind that there’s no LRT system in North America that carries more than 4,000.

Never mind that there’s never been an LRT system built that carries 20,000 people.

Never mind the cost involved in staffing and purchasing vehicles that arrive every 1-3 minutes; the figure necessary to reach 20,000 people.

Never mind that the posted speed limit in most cities is 40-50 km/hr. To Vuchic, what matters is that Light Rail emcan/em go 70 km/hr or higher.

Never mind that Vuchic himself says that the average operating speed of LRT is as low as 15 km/hr.

Never mind that LRT stations are spaced 300 – 1,000 meters apart, completely preventing vehicles from reaching those top speeds.

Never mind stop signs, traffic lights, jaywalkers, slow-moving grandmothers, speeding teenagers and streetcar drivers who stop to grab a coffee while on the job.

In other words: Never mind the real world. Completely ignore what actually happens in cities and instead focus solely on what is theoretically possible. Focus on the text book and the equations in it, not the city block and the people on it.

Numbers like Vuchics are constantly used to justify technologies like LRT and we flock to them because they promise us the fastest, biggest, best technology around. It doesnt matter that the numbers prove otherwise. If you give people a narrative that appeals to them, they’ll believe it. Its cheap and easy politics and it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is. Nobody ever said life was fair.

When you’re talking about billion dollar contracts and thousands of jobs, should you really expect government and industry to play fair?

Cable can carry more people than the industry publishes. It can also travel at speeds faster than what they publish. Ridiculously simple innovations like double decker vehicles would double the capacity over night. But the cable industry seems to want to play fair. They only want to talk about what they’ve done in the past, not what they’re going to do in the future.

That’s admirable, but it hurts the industry’s chances.

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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.


  1. in a sort of way: everybody does this, even cpt-system sellers ;) well but there are two other major points not really mentioned: 1. if a cable car for instance with a capacity of 6.000 is necessary for the demand why should you invest in a LRT or else? will it still in 20 years be enough to supply the demand? if so: there is no way to argue for a LRT. 2. rush hours. if lt1m is your goal (i like that idea, but to be a little bit more efficient i'd say it is okay to wait even up to 4 or 5 minutes, if the amount of saved time of the whole transportation is worth it). but as you can see while taking a look at almost all urban transport systems in the cities of this planet: you need to have more capacity to be prepared for those "high times". yes, it hurts seeing trams in my city running by about 20 % the whole day, but as i can imagine being in those trams during rush hour while there is 120 % for about 1 hour in the morning ... that hurts too. maybe there's an option in between.
  2. I do not like the Term LRT, it includes everything from a Streetcar to a fully automatic light metro. And it only exist in English. Why not use the good old terms like tram, streetcar, interurban,light metro etc. It is much clearer which standard the system uses. BTW in Europe many transit projects are built within time and budget. And there are no doubtful textbooks needed as there are enough cities to compare. So if you like to build a tram you will find a similar sized city with a tram system. Same for metros or bus. AFAIK many builders of rolling stock (Alstom,Bombardier,Siemens)are more eager to sell their automated systems that trams. So need to make it look better than it is. Automated system be it CPT or not are the way of the Future. Most new metros are automated. This allows for shorter trains and stations and lower cost. Also capacity can adapted easily by adding more train at peak hours.
  3. I'm not big on the term LRT either, but it is what it is. I think the problem is that people don't realize that LRT comes in a few different forms, and the stats people use to describe systems in Fully-dedicated rights-of-way are often used to justify systems that are being built in semi-dedicated rights-of-way. As far as I'm concerned, LRT should only include fully-dedicated. And in that configuration, LRT is an excellent technology. Semi-dedicated systems are nothing more than gussied-up streetcars.
  4. A Doppelmayr Cable Car, Leitner Mini Metro or any Funicular are also light, run on rails and are transit. So they are just fit into the LRT category like trams, light metros and automated guideway transit. So if a city wants a LRT the cable industry should also make a proposal.
  5. I like how you think, Matthais. Problem is, we both know that when a city says they want Light Rail proposals, they mean Light Rail. They would probably disqualify cable from the very beginning. Better is to convince cities to produce technology non-specific Requests for Proposals (RFPs), so that any technology can compete. Sadly, I don't think that'll happen any time soon.
  6. make it popular! people believe what they see. everbody is orientating on the neighbour. but so far i haven't seen one good looking proposal for an urban aerial cableway. they were all brutal and it seemed like they were imported directly from the alpine areas. that can't be the solution. same story, different title: the smart-fortwo car became popular after a decade!!! when suddenly the gas price began to increase and parking space tendended to rarities even in NY City it became hip to drive that car and all out of the sudden smart was doing cash-positive business. i remember reading a few amusing articles about the sudden attention and attraction to these "elephant rollerskates". and to make my point clear: remember what you wrote a few days ago about the star architect calatrava. as far as i remember there was another cable car concept of a famous german architect somewhere. if i will find it again i will let you know.
  7. I agree with LX. I am pretty skeptic about this gondola idea, and you keep pushing it in a somewhat biased way. Most of the arguments above could be used against Gondolas and for LRT, just stated the other way round. And most of the existing systems (except maybe for a few latin American ones) seem to be servicing a small set of roles (up the mountain, across the river), with fairly low capacity and speed. So maybe seeing some proposals (presented with a pro/cons view) would be nice.
  8. If he want to promote CPT he needs to be biased. Any salesman is biased towards his product. The point is even while capacity and speed are low gondolas are good enough for many applications. Means they are equal or better than other forms of transit on that particular route. And by crossing rivers a gondola has a lower cost than any bridge, and going uphills is another strength. So it is only logical that CPT is mainly built for this purposes. In this blog gondolas or CPT where never praised as a cure. For all transportation worries. Instead there is a great emphasis to integrate CPT with all other means of transit. There are many other sites which only promote their solution while bashing all others.
  9. Ant6n, I'm not really sure that I'm pushing it in a biased way. I think I try and be really fair in saying that cable is one of many transit options that very few people have considered in the past. I'm quite clear when I say that BRT, LRT and subway technologies all have their place. What I am, however, asking is that people recognize that statistics used to justify things like Light Rail are often purely theoretical, not actual. If we look at what cities actually need and use, rather than what a technology can theoretically accomplish, we quickly see that many arguments in favor of Light Rail don't hold up as well as people think. I've also been quite clear about using alpine/resort systems as models for translation and extrapolation, not direct examples. Just because the technology is typically used to cross rivers and climb mountains doesn't mean that's all they can be used for. After all, trains were never originally meant to be used as intra-urban public transit and they certainly were never meant to be used underground. But now look at where we use them? Things change. People are innovative and creative and most of human progress has come from people applying unfamiliar solutions to familiar problems. That's how I see cable. Furthermore, to disregard the "few Latin American ones" is to disregard the very epicenter of this growing technology. It would be like having a discussion about computers but ignoring Microsoft. The Latin American systems are key to exploring this topic. In the future, we very much want to start discussing proposals. As more and more cities begin to discuss the technology and how they could use it in their cities, you can be certain that we'll discuss them more. And trust me: I'll make sure to come at it from a pro/con view. As you are skeptical of the idea, let me ask you a question: Why can't the technology work? What are your con points? Feel free to argue as vigorously as you want.
  10. I like the conversation so far. Would also agree with most of what Steven and Matthias were saying. Though I'd say the latin american systems were just "sold". That was the perfect chance to show how interesting that might have been. Chance not taken - maybe next time. Portland Aerial Tram ... it's a little single minded too, although it definatley went towards the right direction. Which brings me to this case here: It's very easy to discuss whether or not a CPT would or is the right solution. Get the statistics of bus lines and people being moved on your proposed CPT area. Compare with capacities of cable cars. Then do the math for bus lines: how much costs a bus line? You have to invest in a bus - i'm sure we are talking about multiple busses for one line. Add the gas or any source of energy a bus would need by it's costs. Further costs: the drivers, the service (supply and tires and cleaning and and and...) Usage of the street: heavy cars demolish streets by far more than smaller ones. I don't know if this is a reason in Toronto, but at least you will have more space for other ways of transportation - and since I read a few articles about Toronto trying to promote biking and walking you would have more space for those absolute clean ways of transportation and movement. Last point: sustainability - less noise, less danger, less carbon footprint. and now compare to calculation of costs of the CPT system. Now. If there will be a crystal clear answer in the end: excellent. If not: become an attraction of visionary solutions and get into an vanguard position with toronto. paris got the temporary installation of a tower, london wants to do the same by building an ugly olympic tower (but they also have the temporary installation of a huge ferry wheel) and there are plenty of others.
  11. A bit off topic: The very first rail cars where used in mines, even before the steam locomotive was invented powered by humans or animals. So railways where used to run underground right from the beginning. Same with gondolas. The first detachable gondola was not a tourist ride but a freight line to transport ore.
  12. definately off topic too but matching your point ;) and first computers were made to calculate (and not to replace human relationships in the 21st century) and mobile phones not to calculate, take pictures, play music, message and navigate.
  13. I think that's a perfect example, LX. Innovation is what's important. I we accept that we can only use Product X for Purpose Y we would never have developed the society we live in. Adaptation and innovation is key.