Post by Steven Dale
Back in January I drew attention to the Funivia del Renon in Bolzano, Italy. I suggested that it was likely a strong Urban Gondola system for teaching us about how to blend the stations into the surrounding urban fabric. Those comments, however, were made second-hand based on the few images and videos I could find of the system.
This past weekend, however, I had the opportunity to visit the Bolzano 3S in person. This is what I found. Note: This is Part 3 of a 3 part series of posts. Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 2.
Both Over Capacity & Under Capacity
A 3S gondola system is a beast. It’s fast, it can achieve LT1M wait times, it carries a lot of people and can operate in all but the most inclement of weather conditions.
So why does the Funivia del Renon only carry 550 pphpd? It seems totally strange to use the current king of cable technologies to move so few people. Build an MDG or BDG instead. At those low capacities, it seems like a complete waste of money to build something so robust.
But that’s not even the worst part of it: The system as implemented only carries 375 – 450 pphpd.
Sure, the signs in the stations claim to carry 550 pphpd, but that’s based on 35 person vehicles arriving every 4 minutes. Problem is, I observed the station attendants only loading 25-30 people into a vehicle at any given time. That causes a reduction in offered capacity of 14 – 28%.
This wouldn’t be a problem if not for the fact that the system as currently designed is way over capacity. Wait times observed were an excruciating 30-40 minutes. This makes utterly no sense and is easily fixed.
(Granted, I did tour the system at noon on a Sunday afternoon in the height of tourist season. However, when I asked a station agent if it was always this busy, he nodded his head ‘yes’.)
Beyond the obvious remedy of actually filling vehicles to capacity, the designers could double their capacity simply by adding more vehicles (which is one of the lowest cost items in any cable system). By doubling system capacity, wait times would – essentially – be eliminated (because at any given time, more seats would pass through the station than passengers arriving to the station).
And yet, even at a doubled capacity of 1,100 pphpd, you still wouldn’t need a 3S . . .
Wait times are made more uncomfortable by having people wait in a crowded queue in a narrow stairwell. Given the nature of the system, children, the elderly, adults and strollers were all crammed into one stair well that was meant to serve both boarding and alighting passengers.
Ironic that the system is fully accessible because the queue design is so atrocious that it makes it almost inaccessible, uncomfortable and more than just a little bit dangerous for all but the hardiest of souls.
During my visit, one man was so incensed by the situation, he started yelling at the station agents about the lack of professionalism on display and how his children and grandparents were being crushed in the stair well queue.
Swell & Not So Swell Dwell
Station dwell times are also a huge concern with this system. Vehicles enter the station and stand for 1 full minute while people alight. The vehicles then proceed around the bullwheel for another minute and then stand for two minutes to allow for boarding.
Suffice it to say, a 4 minute dwell time is absurd. More absurd is that the attendants would not allow passengers to proceed onto the platform until the vehicle was in its final boarding position, thereby wasting valuable minutes. This is not so much of a problem in a two-station situation but would be completely unacceptable in a multi-station arrangement. In this situation, however, the dwell times only compound the problems highlighted above.
There is, however, a bright side to all this. If you were paying attention, you noticed I said that the vehicles stood in their stations. That’s right: Boarding and alighting of the vehicles occurred when they were totally stationary. In the future, such a design flourish could have the potential to reduce dwell times in a multi-station configuration.
The Funivia del Renon is not transit nor is it intended to be. It is therefore unfair to judge it on the terms of mass public transit. The system, however, so aggressively tries to mimic public transit and fit into the urban environment such comparisons are warranted, if not entirely necessary.
In general, the Funivia succeeds from a design perspective. The systems look like transit and in many ways supersede design standards of our existing transit technologies. It’s easy to picture something similar in major cities around the world.
The problem, however, is not with the look of the system, but how it’s implemented.
Frankly, there’s just too many correctible problems with the system to judge it a success. Luckily, none of these problems are insurmountable. With minor staffing adjustments, training changes and a capacity upgrade, the Funivia could be well on its way to becoming a major landmark in cable transit.
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