15
Jun

2015

Porto/Gaia Part 1, Teleférico de Gaia

Post by Gondola Project

Teleférico de Gaia at bottom station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Teleférico de Gaia integrated into the urban environment. Image by Nicholas Chu.

The Teleférico de Gaia graces Portugal’s second largest city, Porto – a charming, old-world burg built on the steep banks of the Douro River. The system has been operational since 2011, but has yet to catch people’s attention outside of Portugal — and arguably even within Portugal itself.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly why, but there are many possible reasons. For one, there’s nothing particularly controversial (for better or for worse) about the system from a reporter’s perspective. So naturally, the media hasn’t picked it up.

After all, in this day and age of instant gratification and internet rage, a news story about a well designed and integrated gondola isn’t exactly headline material for major media outlets. This is unfortunate since the Teleférico de Gaia deserves a lot more credit and attention that it has garnered so far.

Maybe this system tour will help break the silence and shed some light on an important urban cable car.

JOURNEY BEGINS

Like many tourists, I started my journey in the picturesque and compact Ribeira district, Porto’s historic city centre and UNESCO Heritage Site. From here, it was a short 10-minute walk across the river on the lower deck of the Dom Luis I Bridge to the system’s bottom station in Vila Nova de Gaia (a separate municipality, but largely considered de rigeur on any Porto visitor’s itinerary).

Unlike other highly commercialized European destinations, Porto remains “unspoiled” (at least for the time being). The character and composition of its neighbourhoods have largely remained untouched. They are as they were hundreds of years ago. Portugal, with its comparatively lower prices and offerings of a “genuine” tourist experience, has made it one of Europe’s top 10 destinations where tourism has exploded in recent times.

LOCATION




As mentioned earlier, the cable car is located entirely within Vila Nova de Gaia or simply Gaia – a municipality south of Porto and the Douro River. However, the cable car takes passengers on an aerial trip that provides panoramic views of both cities.

As the city is known as the birthplace of port wine, the system’s bottom station is strategically located in the heart of Cais de Gaia and all the Port Wine Cellars. From here, visitors can indulge in over 20 wine tasting tours and in an eclectic mix of restaurants and shops.

Restaurants located in converted train cars a few steps from the bottom station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Restaurants located in converted train cars a few steps from the bottom station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

SYSTEM

A cable car plan was originally conceived to travel across the Douro River, connecting the municipalities of Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto. However, this plan never materialized and the city chose instead to realize the existing alignment.

The cable car was a private investment with Etemar and Telef forming the consortium responsible for the system’s implementation while Doppelmayr was the ropeway supplier.

At 562m in length, a trip time of 3-5 minutes, 940 pphpd and 3 towers, this is a relatively simple MDG gondola. The system was built for €10 million in about two years. This price and construction timeline may seem high for such a modest system but as was explained to me during the site visit, it faced several contextual challenges.

For one, the top station was located on solid rock next to residential homes. To build the station, this required the tedious and slow process of carefully excavating the rock while minimizing disturbances to its neighbours.

Secondly, special precautions and deep foundations were needed for the bottom station and its 32m high intermediate tower as they were built on reclaimed land. These components had to be reinforced to ensure that the system remained unaffected by ground movements.

32m intermediate tower. Image by Nicholas Chu.

32m intermediate tower. Image by Nicholas Chu.

TRANSPORTATION

From a transportation perspective, the cable car is arguably a transport planner’s dream. In fact, from a bigger picture, Porto’s multi-modal transit network is a fascinating case study itself — definitely worthy of a lengthier analysis but is beyond the scope of this post.

From the top station, you appreciate the cable car’s high level of connectivity. Within literally 10 steps, passengers have access to three kinds of transport: Cable Car, Shuttle Bus, and the Jardim do Morro Metro Station.

Travel to the cable car couldn’t be any easier. Notwithstanding traditional transit options, there are also many ‘hop-on hop-off’ sightseeing tour buses with stops just steps from the cable car. Cruise ships are also available at the bottom station.

The compact size of Porto means tourists can easily walk to the cable car, a 15-minute stroll from the city centre. At the station, users can quickly board a gondola, with cabins arriving roughly every minute.

Intermodal hub at top station with cruise ship terminal located at bottom station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Multimodality at its best. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Privately owned, the system is not fare-integrated with Porto’s Metro network. Adults pay a separate fare of €5 1-way or €8 return. While this might be considered a little steep for some, comparatively speaking, a shorter and less exciting ride on the nearby Guindais Funicular ride costs €2.50. As I’m a staunch supporter of the free-markets, judging from the number of riders, there was not a shortage of users willing pay this fare.

True to their mandate of providing transport to both tourists and locals alike, operators have created a Rechargeable 50 Trips Pass at €32.50, which equals to €0.65 per trip. A monthly pass is also available at €39.

All in all, the system provides an invaluable link between two major destinations, the wine lodges on the riverside banks to the top of Jardim do Morro (and vice versa).

All cabins equipped with solar panels powering communication system. Image by Nicholas Chu.

All cabins equipped with solar panels which power communication systems. Image by Nicholas Chu.

THE EXPERIENCE

This cable car provides a fully integrated visitor experience. Designed to suit the topography and house tourist amenities, the top station is four storeys high. On the top floor, users coming from the Metro stop or the Dom Luis I Bridge are immediately drawn to the lookout point.

Lookout point. Image by Nicholas Chu.

The lookout point is a popular spot for sightseeing tourists. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Entering the station and walking down, the 3rd floor contains a ticketing office and gift shop.

Ticketing. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Ticketing. Image by Nicholas Chu.

A selection of many gifts from Portugal. Image by Nicholas Chu.

A selection of many fine gifts from Portugal. Image by Nicholas Chu.

: Inside, there are many windows, allowing visitors stunning views of Porto. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Inside, there are many windows, allowing visitors stunning views of Porto. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Passengers on the 3rd floor can get close and admire the ropeway components in action – a nice touch to increase user interaction and create a more memorable experience. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Passengers on the 3rd floor can get close and admire the ropeway components in action – a nice touch to increase user interaction and create a more memorable experience. Image by Nicholas Chu.

There is also the ever-so-popular photo service for those wishing keep a physical copy of their cable car memories. Image by Nicholas Chu.

There is also the ever-so-popular photo service for those wishing keep a physical copy of their cable car memories. Image by Nicholas Chu.

At the bottom station, it’s a similar experience with both gift shop and ticketing booth on the bottom floor. Passengers walk up a flight of stairs to board the cable car on the second floor.

Stairs to boarding area (right) and ticket office (left). Image by Nicholas Chu.

Stairs to boarding area (right) and ticket office (left). Image by Nicholas Chu.

The system travels above a playground. Image by Nicholas Chu.

The system travels above a playground and restaurants. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Above patios. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Above patios. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Over rooftop patios! Image by Nicholas Chu.

Over rooftop patios! Image by Nicholas Chu.

But mostly over colourful orange tiled roofs. Image by Nicholas Chu.

But mostly over colourful orange tiled roofs. Image by Nicholas Chu.

The cable car provides a short but memorable experience of flying over the wine lodges and the city. While visitors arguably have better lookout points from other spots in the city, the cable car’s aerial nature and ride experience allows a user to experience the city in a different manner.

In part 2, we will look at the design of the cable car and its impact on the urban environment.



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.

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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.

Comments

  1. Love the idea of a viewing gallery for the workings of the gondola!
  2. @ ross: I agree. I feel that the idea of a viewing gallery or some sort of small cable car museum would add further to user experience.