05
Jul

2016

Namsan Cable Car – Improving Access to Urban Recreation

Post by Gondola Project

Seoul, the South Korean capital of over 10 million residents, is considered one the world’s most exciting metropolitan cities with an unique blend of ancient palaces juxtaposed next to modern skyscrapers.

Today after 50 years of rapid growth and industrialization, the city’s transportation system is made up of an incredible (and admittedly, dizzying) network of subways, buses, taxis and yes, even a cable car!

Last week, I had to chance to hop aboard the Korea’s first aerial passenger ropeway, the Namsan Cable Car (남산 케이블카).

Bottom station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Bottom station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

As the city urbanized in the 1960s, Seoul quickly became densely populated. To enhance access to greenspace and recreation, the cable car was built.

Since it first opened in 1962, the ropeway has helped transport millions of visitors from the base of Namsan Mountain to its peak. Despite being operational for over 50 years, the cable car remains an iconic attraction and attracts an estimated 50,000 visitors per month.

The cable car’s role in providing sustainable transportation access has likely increased in recent times as all private vehicular access to the summit has been prohibited since 2005.

 




THE CABLE CAR JOURNEY

While the system is known as the Namsan “Cable Car”, it is technically an aerial tram. Its two cabins (adorably named Milky Way and Rainbow) shuttle back and forth in tandem between two stations over two towers.

The system travels at speeds of 3.2 m/s (11.5km/h) over a route length of 605m (vertical difference of 138m) for a journey time of 3 minutes.

Thanks to Seoul’s vast and interconnected transport network, getting to the cable car is easy. For those arriving by car, a small paid parking lot is located at the bottom station.

However, for users opting for more sustainable transport options, the cable car is located just a 600m walk (12 minutes) from Myeongdong Station on the city’s Subway Line 4. To reduce walking time, guests can hop on a shuttle bus which leaves every hour.

Shuttle bus. Leaves from subway station every hour. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Shuttle bus. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Once visitors approach the cable car by foot, they will immediately notice that they have two options for reaching the base of the bottom station. They can either hike up a small set of stairs, or they can hop onboard the Namsan Ormi — Korea’s first outdoor inclined elevator. The Namsan Ormi has one glass 20-person cabin and was built by the Seoul Metropolitan Government in 2009 to improve mobility to the cable car for disabled and elderly visitors.

Bottom Station.

A set of wooden stairs (left) and Namsan Ormi elevator (right) provides access to the cable car’s bottom station (center). Image by Nicholas Chu.

Namsan-Ormi-Elevator-2. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Another view of Namsan Ormi elevator taken from cable car’s bottom station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Bottom station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Bottom station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Namsan Cable Car Entrance.

Entrance. Image by Nicholas Chu.

The bottom station is designed as a 3-storey building. The first floor houses a Korean restaurant and the ticketing booth.

Unlike other recreational urban cable systems such as those in Hong Kong and Singapore, the pricing structure is incredibly simple. Adult and children one-way tickets start at US$5.00 (6,000 won) and US$3.00 (3,500 won) respectively while roundtrip tickets are US$7.00 (adult) and US$4.50 (children).

 

Station interior.

Station interior. Stairs (left) and elevator (right) leading to 2nd and 3rd floor.

Given the history and centrality of the cable car and Namsan Mountain, the site is one of the top attractions in Seoul for local and international visitors alike. In particular, the sweeping panoramic views and the N Seoul Tower make it a popular date and dinner spot at night times.

As such, the cable car becomes incredibly busy during weekends where wait times can be up to 1 hour. To increase passenger comfort, the station’s 2nd floor is designed as a designated waiting area complete with a coffee shop.

Waiting room 2nd floor. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Waiting room on 2nd floor. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Luckily I visited early on a weekday morning and did not have to queue. The station interiors were all brightly lit and way-finding signs were all written in both Korean and English, making it easy for all visitors to navigate. Staff members were also readily available to help passengers with any questions.

However, once passengers reached the platform level, the station interiors were fairly utilitarian in design and were unlit. And even though the cable car was not busy, the operator decided to cram all incoming passengers into the cabin and did not start operations until it reached capacity (48 persons).

Queuing area on 3rd floor. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Boarding area on 3rd floor. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Boarding area on 3rd floor. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Packed in like a can of sardines. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Packed in like a can of sardines. Image by Nicholas Chu.

As passengers crammed into the cabin, the experience became a little less enjoyable as it provided essentially no chance to move about. From an efficiency perspective, I understand the need to move people in and out quickly during peak hours but given the relative calmness at that time, forcing everyone into one cabin until it reached capacity seemed a little unnecessary.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be an isolated incident and is a common complaint with other passengers as well.

On the bright side, capacity constraints the cable car may be reduced in the near future as a new 10-person gondola system connecting the mountain is planned to open by 2018. This is part of the government’s plan to create a bus free zone on Namsan Mountain.

Views of Seoul. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Views of Seoul. Apparently the night time panoramas are even more stunning. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Arriving at the upper station’s platform level proved to be the same experience as the bottom station platform level — dark and uninspiring. While this is not a deal breaker by any stretch, the addition of some accessory lighting and design features would definitely have improved the overall passenger experience.

Platform level at top station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Platform level at top station was unlit. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Cabin arriving at top station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Cabin arriving at top station. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Exiting the top station, passengers are led up a flight of stairs where they can access a rooftop restaurant en route to N Seoul Tower (and Namsan Park in general). With respect to the station architecture, it was hard to appreciate the terminal’s design as it was largely covered  by the surrounding foliage.

While a more aesthetically pleasing station may have added to the site’s appearance, it was not entirely necessary since most visitors were more interested in other sights offered at the peak. In fact, N Seoul Tower is considered a romantic pilgrimage for couples where they purchase “Love Locks” as a symbol of their commitment.

Top station blends into environment and does not over power surrounding naturesque feeling of site. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Trees have grown around the top station, ensuring the manmade structure blends into the natural environment. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Viewing deck and restaurant on top floor of mountain station. Notice that the fencing is entirely covered by Image by Nicholas Chu.

Viewing deck and restaurant on top floor of mountain station. Notice that a colourful assortment of “Love Locks” are affixed onto the railings and other specially designed areas. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Love Locks similar to those seen at the Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris.

Love Locks similar to those seen at the Pont de l’Archevêché in Paris are found throughout the site. Image by Nicholas Chu.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Namsan Cable Car with N Seoul Tower in background. Image by Nicholas Chu.

Namsan Cable Car with N Seoul Tower in background. Image by Nicholas Chu.

For most visitors, the cable car is simply a fast and fun way to access Namsan Mountain without the need to break a sweat. The best thing about Namsan Mountain is perhaps the variety of options given to visitors. Tourists can pick and choose their itinerary to fit their schedule and level of fitness — they can hike, cable car or bus up and down the mountain.

Compared to other newer urban ropeways in neighbouring Asian metropolises (i.e. Ngong Ping 360, Singapore Cable Car, Maokong Gondola) where passengers are whisked around for 10+ minutes in complex, multi-station detachable gondolas, the Namsan Cable Car is a no frills experience. Arguably, it is unfair to compare the Namsan system with these other urban cable cars as they were built in different time periods with a different set of economic conditions.

Nevertheless, despite it’s simplicity, the Namsan Cable Car continues to provide a valuable transportation role in Seoul. For city planners, it highlights the importance of building the necessary infrastructure to support the recreational needs of its inhabitants.

With a limited footprint on the environment and a history of success, the Namsan system once again demonstrates how cable car infrastructure can be designed to function harmoniously with both nature and people.

 



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.

Installations / Namsan Cable Car (남산 케이블카)
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