Marginal Station vs. Marginal Length Cost

(Note: It’s been a while since I’ve posted on The Gondola Project. It’s been a busy summer with lots of changes to our company and our site. We’ll let you all know about the details in the coming months, but in the meantime, I’d like to extend a big thanks to Nick and Charlotte for holding down the fort while I’ve been awol.)

One of the problems the cable industry faces (like most transit industries), is prospective customers who fear nuance. Prospects often don’t care about the complexity of a system, they simply want to know how much it costs “per kilometre” (or “per mile” for our American friends).

Here’s the problem: It is virtually impossible to provide a per kilometre cost for a cable transit system. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to provide a per kilometre cost for any transit system, period. It’s kind of like that old idiom—how long is a piece of string?

No where does this become more obvious than with the relationship between the length of a cable transit line and  the number of stations within a cable transit line.

Let’s assume, for example, a given 1 kilometre long cable transit system that has two stations and costs $8mm. Let’s call it Line A.

Now let’s assume a second cable transit system. This one is the same length of Line A (1 kilometre) but has a total of three stations rather than two with all else equal. Let’s call this system Line B.

Now, let’s assume a final third cable transit system. This one has only two stations but is double the length of Line A—it’s 2 kilometres long with all else equal. Let’s call this system Line C.

Okay? Got it? No? Let’s review then:

  • Line A: 1 km, 2 stations.
  • Line B: 1 km, 3 stations.
  • Line C: 2 km, 2 stations.

Which line is more expensive? Line B or Line C?

People who imagine the problem as a question of cost-per-kilometre will invariably say Line C is more expensive than Line B because Line C  is double the length of Line B.

Problem is, they’d be completely, 100% wrong.

In cable, the marginal cost of stations is almost always more expensive than the marginal cost of length.

People considering a cable transit system of their own need to understand that. Per-kilometre costs estimates are blunt tools that don’t tell you what you really want to know—and they often lead to early-stage financial estimates that tell a completely false story.


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Can Chairlifts, Pulsed Gondolas and Cabriolet Gondolas be Used for Urban Transit?

This is a guest post by Billy Beasley.

Urban gondolas are revolutionizing the field of urban transportation today. Cities across the globe are utilizing this technology to improve the transit system in their community. However, the Urban Gondola idea may be impractical or impossible for some cities to implement due to a number of reasons, one of them being money.

Urban gondola installations, similar to other transit technologies, can be subject to unanticipated and/or unforeseen implementation costs. For example, the Emirates Air Line in London went over budget, suggesting that although useful and innovative, urban gondolas can sometimes be impractical. Living in Colorado and being an avid skier, I used ski lifts many a time to head up the slopes. So why aren’t these types of lifts being talked about for urban applications? In my opinion, there are three types of lifts that are typically used in skiing and could be used to transport people in a city.

#1 Pulsed Gondolas

Kadenwood Gondola, Whistler, BC is used to transport guests from the mountain base up to a private neighbourhood of 60 homes. Image from kandenwood.

For those unfamiliar with pulsed gondolas, this type of cable technology involves fixed grip cabins that travel in groups or “pulses” along the line where the entire line slows down or comes to a complete stop when cabins arrive at stations. Pulsed gondolas are most often used by ski resorts today to provide transport between a real estate development and a mountain.  The Kadenwood Gondola in Whistler Blackcomb, Canada, the Wildhorse Gondola in Steamboat, Colorado, the Waldorf Gondola in Canyons, Utah and the Highlands Gondola in Northstar, California are all pulsed gondolas which serve real estate developments.


Waldorf Gondola, Canyons, Utah. Image from luxurycondoparkcity.

All of these systems are also primarily in place to provide real estate access to a lodge or condo development from a base and are mostly used for pedestrian transportation, both uploading and downloading. Two other notable pulse gondola systems are the Iron Mountain Gondola in Glenwood Springs, Colorado which is built to serve a mountaintop amusement park and cavern which has uploading and downloading and the Sky Cab in Snowmass, Colorado. The Sky Cab does go up a ski hill but its main use is to be an aerial shuttle bus between two of the base areas at Snowmass, thus the name Sky Cab. This system also has both uploading and downloading capabilities.


Iron Mountain Gondola, Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Image from glenwoodcaverns.

A pulsed gondola would be a great and economical solution for a city with less money and for transporting people over short distances. The only drawback to this type of system is its capacity, a pulsed gondola has a very limited capacity and wouldn’t be a good option for a city that needs a capacity of say 2,800 people per hour as the Sky Cab, a six passenger pulse gondola with four pulses, has a capacity of 530 people per hour.




#2 Cabriolet Gondola

Village Cabriolet, Winter Park, Colorado can transport 2,800 people per hour which makes it just as effective as a gondola. Image by Billy Beasley

A cabriolet gondola is a gondola that has open air cabins instead of the usual enclosed cabins. The cabins can fit 8 people and allow guests to experience the open air. Other than the cabins, cabriolet gondolas work the exact same as a regular, Monocable Detachable Gondola, right down to the grips and stations. Cabriolet gondolas are used mostly at ski resorts for transporting guests from parking areas to the main base village. This way, the base village can have no cars and guests can experience the scenic alpine base village. A superb example of a cabriolet gondola is the Village Cabriolet in Winter Park, Colorado. This cabriolet gondola takes guests from Winter Park’s main parking lot to its base village where the lifts are a short walk away and replacing an overused bus system. Although they are used mostly at ski resorts, they are almost solely used for transport and foot passengers with one exception that I know of, the Cabriolet in Mountain Creek, New Jersey. Other examples of cabriolet gondolas include the Cabriolet in the Canyons, Utah and the Cabriolet in Mont Blanc, Quebec. Both of those cabriolet gondolas are also used for transportation to the base of the ski lifts and the base village. Since these systems feature open air cabins, they would be better suited for urban areas with warmer climates.


#3 Chairlifts

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado. Image by zoochat.

This is the most radical of the three ideas.  Chairlifts can come in two models: Detachable Chairlifts work just like a detachable gondola except that instead of sitting down in an enclosed cabin, passengers sit down on a chair that faces up the lift line. Meanwhile, Fixed Grip Chairlifts stay fixed onto the cable the entire time which makes them travel at slower speeds. Chairlifts are known for being used primarily at ski resorts for transporting passengers up slopes since skiers don’t have to take off their equipment to ride them. However, some chairlifts are used for applications not involving skiing. Many chairlifts at ski resorts operate in the summertime while some chairlifts are also open for downloading from the mountain for skiers who aren’t able to make it down the mountain.

Orange Bubble Express, Canyons, Utah. Image from canyonsresort.

Several chairlifts are also used outside of ski resorts. At the Blizzard Beach Water Park at Walt Disney World, there is a fixed grip triple chairlift to take people up to the top of the water slides. There is also an urban chairlift at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado where the Mountaineer Sky Ride takes guests over zoo exhibits and to a scenic overlook. Chairlifts can also be outfitted so that the rider is not exposed to the elements as much. Two good examples of this are the Orange Bubble Express high speed quad in Canyons, Utah and the Bluebird Express high speed six passenger chairlift in Mount Snow, Vermont. The Orange Bubble Express and Bluebird Express both have a bubble over the chair to keep the elements out. Bubble chairlifts on an urban chairlift could provide the comfort of a gondola at a lesser price. Chairlifts can also have mid stations like the Peak 8 Superconnect in Breckenridge, Colorado. These mid stations could be applied in urban applications for unloading and loading at certain destinations and for the lift to turn around major obstructions. Chairlifts also have similar capacities to gondolas as the Bluebird Express at Mount Snow has a capacity of 2,400 people per hour. Chairlifts also take less time to load then a gondola and would streamline the unloading and loading process. Fixed grip chairlifts are less expensive and have a lower capacity so they would be better for shorter, less crowded applications while detachable chairlifts could be used in the same situations as a detachable gondola.

That’s it from me. All statistics about the individual ropeways are from , a great website about all sorts of aerial transportation. Check it out! Feel free to comment about what you think of the ideas and have a nice day.

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.



I was wrong

Sometimes in the rush to get posts out on a consistent basis, mistakes get made. For example, last week when I stated that there was only one small school in Europe that offered an education in the art and science of ropeways.

That statement was made based on numerous conversations I’d had with people in the ropeway industry, all of whom assured me that there was only one school.

Apparently, however, that isn’t exactly true. As the readers of The Gondola Project let me know, there are a handful of schools around the world that do offer some schooling in the subject matter, including for example the University of Science and Technology in Krakow, Poland.

Not many mind you, but certainly not only one.

So please accept my apologies. I shouldn’t have taken at face value what a few people said without backing up my statements with my own independent research.

The curse of the internet and things like a blog is the need to pump out content at a never-ending, voracious pace, sometimes at the expense of accuracy.

The flipside of that, however, is that when you do get something completely wrong – as I did last week – there are no shortage of people willing to point that out to you.

Thanks to all the Gondola Project readers who did so politely, positively and as a show of support rather than out of one-upmanship.

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.



Wanna Learn About Cable Cars?

One question I’m repeatedly asked is some variation on this:

Why is it so hard to learn about cable and meet people within the cable transit industry? How does one even start in the industry? 

Want a simple (albeit overly so) answer to the question?

Consider this:

There is no known university or college in the world that provides a specialized education in ropeway technology. Not one. There isn’t a place young people can, for example, major in English Literature and minor in Mechanical Ropeway Engineering. You want to learn ropeways, you basically start right out of high school or college, apprentice with a company and – as is typical for the industry – you stay in the industry for life.

At best, I’ve heard rumours that there exists a small technical school in Europe that now offers a course or two on ropeway engineering, but that’s about it.

The industry is incredibly close-knitted and that’s one of its beauties. But it’s close-knitted to a point where it’s becoming problematic for any of their attempts to move outside the ski lift market.

After all, an industry that doesn’t interact with the outside world cannot expect the outside world to interact with them.

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.



Tower Removals

Ever wonder how towers are removed when an old cable system is dissembled? Well Vail Resorts released a video documenting the entire process which showcases the precision helicopter work that was required. Check it out!

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.



Vukan Vuchic & Cable Transit

Professor Vukan R. Vuchic quite literally wrote the textbook(s) on public transportation planning.

His exhaustive textbook trilogy Urban Transit are essentially the only academic textbook in existence on the complexities of public transportation.

So what does Vuchic think about cable transit? Not much.

Out of a total of 600 pages in Urban Transit: Systems and Technology a total of nine pages are devoted to cable hauled systems – most of which are pictures.

Of those nine pages, ground-based cable cars and funiculars dominate the conversation. Gondolas are non-existent and aerial tramways are given these cursory few paragraphs:

“Suspended passenger cabins pulled by a closed-loop cable can also be used to overcome steep gradients or, most commonly, deep valleys, ravines, or bodies of water. These systems are used extensively in mountainous regions (the Alps, the Rockies), but in some cases they are used in the immediate vicinity of cities (Atlanta – Stone Mountain, Rio de Janeiro, Innsbruck (Austria), Caracas – Avila) or as shuttle transit lines within cities (Portland was building one in 2006).

The best-known aerial tramway with the largest cabins used as an urban transit line is the Roosevelt Island-Manhattan Line in New York City, opened in 1976. This line, providing the fastests and most convenient connection between the island and Manhattan over the navigable East River, was a part of the entire planning concept for the design of the island as an integrated, nearly vehicle-free environment . . .

With respect to line characteristics – length, stations, headway/cycle time relationship, and line capacity – aerial tramways have the same features and limitations as the funiculars.”

That’s it.

Now granted aerial cable systems weren’t spreading around the world nearly as rapidly in 2007 – the year of this book’s publishing – as they are now, but seriously?

Firstly, the Avila system in Caracas isn’t an Aerial Tram. It’s an MDG gondola. There’s a massive difference between the two and a transit educator who spends 100’s of pages dissecting every single minutia about public transit probably should have recognized that.

Secondly, if Vuchic was aware of Caracas, it would be hard for him not to be aware of Medellin – which opened its first urban gondola system in 2004.

Am I calling shenanigans? Hardly. One has to forgive Dr. Vuchic for the simple reason that one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know.

But what I will say is this:

Perhaps it’s time for a new edition?

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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