23
May

2018

Should Urban Gondolas be Integrated into a Public Transit Network?

Post by Gondola Project

The world’s largest network of urban gondolas, Mi Teleférico, carries over 150,000 daily passengers but is only partially integrated with the city’s overall public transit network. Transfers to private vehicles and local buses (PumaKatari) require an extra fare. Image by Dan Lundberg.

In a recent article, a Swiss transportation planning professor from the University of Applied Sciences Rapperswil, suggested that to maximize its usefulness for passengers, urban gondolas should be fully integrated into a city’s transit network.

While Professor Büchel does not precisely describe what he meant by integration, it seems logical to think that he is advocating for full fare-integration. In other words, the development of a ticketing model where it does not cost riders an extra fare to transfer to and from a Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) system.

For most transit planners, this is a seemingly straightforward undertaking as full integration has the potential to ease and simplify the transportation experience for passengers — an incredibly important goal for any transit agency hoping to attract more riders. In fact, for the majority of public transport systems, applying this model is standard practice and non-controversial. However, when it comes implementing urban gondolas, whether or not they should or should not be integrated may not be as simple.

Unlike traditional transit systems and technologies (such as buses and rail) where a large percent of passengers are commuters, the unique aerial nature of a cable car ride means that they have the ability to attract a sizeable number of leisure riders.

Of the Portland Aerial Tram’s annual ridership of 2 million passengers, approximately 10% are non-commuters who pay a $4.70 roundtrip fare. Image by David Wilson.

This means that no matter how commuter-oriented an aerial ropeway is, there will always be a percent of passengers who will ride the system purely for the “joy of the journey itself“. And herein lies an often misunderstood and under-appreciated advantage that urban gondolas have over traditional transit technologies.

The novelty and attractiveness of panoramic views on an aerial gondola means that unique fare model opportunities will likely exist where higher tourist/leisure rider fares can be captured to help subsidize a local transit system.

A quick google search reveals that CPT lines are incredibly popular attractions in it of itself. TripAdvisor reviews indicate that systems such as the Portland Aerial Tram, Roosevelt Island Tram, Emirates Air Line Cable Car, and Medellin Metrocable are all frequented by visitors. Comparatively speaking, unless there was a unique ride experience, boarding a standard ground-based or underground vehicle (e.g. bus and rail) would hardly register as a “top thing to do”.

Hong Kong’s Ngong Ping 360 cable car allows locals to receive a 10% discount on regular fares (see bottom left hand corner). Recently, the cable car released a promotion where residents can board the system for free on their birthdays! Image by CUP.

Exactly how a transit agency can leverage tourist dollars to benefit locals should be carefully assessed to ensure that it is appropriate and acceptable in the local context. What may work in one city, may not be applicable in another.

Nevertheless, mass transit gondolas around the world are starting to realize their tourism potential. For instance, as mentioned earlier, Portland charges non-commuters a $4.70 roundtrip fare while La Paz will soon implement a “tourist circuit” where visitors receive headphones and other amenities to enhance revenue generation opportunities.

Ultimately, perhaps the question transport planners should ask, is not whether urban gondolas should be integrated into a public transit network — rather, how can transport planners better design CPT fare structures and programming so it can leverage tourist dollars that benefit local riders.

 



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