Caracas Metrocable



Photo of the Week: Caracas Metrocable

Caracas Metrocable / Photo of the Week
Comments Off on Photo of the Week: Caracas Metrocable
Comments Off on Photo of the Week: Caracas Metrocable


Medellin/Caracas, Part 1

Last week I travelled to Medellin, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela to tour five of the most important CPT systems in the world. This is Part 1 of a photo essay on those systems. In this part, a brief overview of the history of cable transit in this part of the world will be explained. Image by Steven Dale.


Modern Cable Propelled Transit started in Caracas, Venezuela with the Mount Avila Gondola. This system was originally built in the middle of the last century to carry people from Caracas to the top of Mount Avila where the luxurious Hotel Humboldt had been built. Political and economic strife caused the government to leave for neglect both the hotel and gondola. The gondola itself was not reopened until 1999, after a successful rebuild.

The Avila Mountain Gondola In Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

An Avila Mountain Gondola From Below. Image by Steven Dale.

A gondola passes over two original and well-preserved antique gondola cars at the Mount Avila Caracas Terminal. Image by Steven Dale.

The Avila gondola cannot, however, be truly classed as cable transit. It lacks integration to the local transit network and really exists more for tourists, not local commuters. It did, however, indirectly inspire the nearby city of Medellin, Colombia to pursue a fully-integrated CPT system to serve the impoverished and dangerous barrio of Santo Domingo. The system would take almost 5 years to open, from conception to fruition and would be the world’s first true CPT system. They would name it The Metrocable. The first line, consistent with the city’s existing Metro system, would be named Linea K.

A Linea K Metrocable Car in Medellin, Colombia. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable over top the Santo Domingo barrio. Image by Steven Dale.

Gondolas depart a Linea J Metrocable station. Image by Steven Dale.

Metrocable Linea K would be an enormous success. Crime rates in Santo Domingo plunged and area investment skyrocketed. In the four years since Linea K opened, crime in Santo Domingo virtually disappeared, jobs have increased 300% and 3 banks have opened along the Metrocable route. With such an obvious success story, Metro officials had little trouble convincing decision-makers to open Linea J.

Unlike Linea K, Linea J would connect several smaller barrios in the western end of the city. These barrios suffered from similar economic conditions but did not have the population density that Linea K had. This was considered a good thing as Linea K suffered from overcrowding almost immediately upon opening, a situation not witnessed on Linea J.

A Linea J gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela was not to be undone. The opening of the second Metrocable line in Medellin made Chavez lust after a similar system in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Within 2 years, Chavez’s dream would be realized with Caracas opening their own cable transit system in early 2010. It was also to be named The Metrocable.

Like the Medellin systems before it, the Caracas Metrocable would provide transit to under-serviced barrios with a history of crime and poverty. But unlike the Medellin systems, Caracas would feature enormous stations that included social facilities such as gymnasiums, police stations, community centres and markets. The Caracas Metrocable would also be the first in the world to feature extreme 90 degree turning radii at stations.

Gondolas enter and exit a station in Caracas. Image by Steven Dale.

The Caracas Metrocable. Image by Steven Dale.

The Metrocable loop between Medellin and Venezuela came full circle in early 2010. While Chavez was opening his first system in Caracas, Medellin was opening their third Metrocable line. But this time, the line looked more similar to the original Mount Avila system from Venezuela circa 1999.

While still fully-integrated into the Medellin Metro, the new Linea L services the Parque Arvi at the top of a nearby mountain in Medellin and requires an additional fare of 1,550 Colombian Pesos (roughly $1 US dollar). Linea L would give quick, affordable access to wilderness and parkland facilities that had previously only been accessible to wealthy land-owners in Medellin. This was a welcome change, given Colombia’s historically wide gap between rich and poor.

A Linea L gondola. Image by Steven Dale.

Medellin as seen from the Linea L, Parque Arvi nature preserve. Image by Steven Dale.

Both cities are engaged in major plans to expand their Metrocable offerings and cities throughout Latin America are embarking upon cable transit plans of their own.

Read Part 2.



Video: Caracas Metrocable, Skyhigh Savior

A strong report on the Caracas Metrocable by Global Post. Unfortunately, the report makes the mistake of conflating the price of the cable line itself with that of the community-based infrastructure that’s co-located in the stations. This is a problem I previously highlighted and suspect will continue to dog the system. Nevertheless, try to keep in mind that the actual gondola transit system in Caracas was less that 1/10th of the cost of the entire project. That’s an important distinction.

Interestingly, one critic of the system says it currently only transports 1,000 people per day (at time 3:20). That seems highly unlikely to me, but I’m not ruling it out as there are no shortage of examples of transit systems experiencing drastically low ridership. Anyone who can find confirmation/refutal of that number, please post a link in the comments section.



Dwell Times

Image by Steven Dale.

True story:

While I was touring the Caracas Metrocable earlier this year, myself and my guide were joined by an elderly gentleman in our gondola. Via my guide, I asked the man how he felt about the system. Did he like it? Any complaints?

He said he loved it – except for all the time the gondolas spend in the stations.

When I looked back at my records, it appears that the man had a point. During my tour of the system, I recorded end-to-end travel times of apx. 14 minutes. 5 of those minutes were spent in the three intermediary stations, meaning more than a third of the trip is spent in stations. Dwell times were roughly 1.5 minutes at each station.

Dwell times are something the cable industry isn’t adept at handling yet and that needs to change. Based upon conversations I’ve had with cable engineers, the consensus is that dwell times can be reduced down to 20-30 seconds. Given that such dwell times have been observed in large detachable chairlifts around the world, there’s no reason to believe this isn’t true.

But for whatever reason, the industry tends to install systems with station dwell times of a minute or more.

This wasn’t something unique to Caracas, either. I witnessed similar dwell times with both the Medellin and Caracas Metrocables, suggesting this issue isn’t company specific (Poma built the Medellin system, Doppelmayr the Caracas system).

My guess is that dwell times are not something the cable industry has really actively dealt with in the past. After all, most ski lifts are point-to-point installations. Dwell times simply don’t factor into the equation on most ski hills.

Furthermore, in a ski lift situation, you probably would want dwell times of 1-2 minutes. Given all the equipment, gear and clothing skiers require, more time is needed to board and alight – especially when you consider how slow people move in ski boots.

But we’re not talking about ski hills here. We’re talking about transit and most commuters don’t wear ski boots.



The Problem With Metrocables

Getting people to experience systems like the Medellin Metrocable will be one of the cable industry's big challenges in the coming years. Image by gab.

There’s no nice way to say this, but here goes:

Had the Metrocables of Medellin and Venezuela been built in a place like Denver, Copenhagen or Zurich, this conversation about cable transit would be entirely different than it is now. Cities would be building these things faster than the industry could keep up.

We wouldn’t even need this site, to be completely honest.

One of the first things a planner, policy-maker or politician has to do before implementing any radical new idea is to witness it first hand. Similarly, a journalist needs to experience something up close to effectively comment upon it.

That first-person encounter with a new idea, technology or innovation can change people’s perception in an instant. When one sees, feels, touches and experiences something up-close and in-person, it is in that moment when a person’s mind can be changed.

In other words, for the right people to get cable transit they need to experience cable transit.

But that’s very, very difficult with world affairs such as they are:

  • Given the constant strain between the Venezuelan and United States governments, no American politician (or American-friendly politician) is going to be caught dead traveling to Caracas to explore a transit system with an explicit socialist bent to it. Better luck getting them to visit Cuba.
  • Algeria only recently emerged from a decade civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives. Parts of the country are still ‘no-go’ zones. It’s also predominantly Muslim. That presents a problem in a post-9/11 world.
  • Colombia has relapsed into violence and the U.S. State Department has issued an updated travel warning saying that violent crime is up in some major Colombian cities, including Medellín.
  • Favelas targeted for Metrocables in Rio have erupted in violence, delaying openings. Even when the World Cup and Olympics finally arrive in Rio, how many upper-middle-class sports tourists will trek off-the-beaten path into the favelas just to witness a gondola?

Do any of these places look like desired destinations for city councillors, policy wonks, or transit administrators? Probably not.

Trouble is, these are the only four places where urban gondolas have truly been integrated into the local transit network. These are the four places that any planner or politician interested in cable needs to see.

But most likely they won’t. This is one of the biggest challenges the cable industry faces right now.

Yes, the industry has demonstrated that they deserve to be part of the public transit family, but they’ve not been able to leverage that demonstration on a global stage which primarily takes the form of American and Western European cities and media.

How the industry navigates this current challenge will likely determine cable transit’s future for a very long time to come.



The 7 Most Important Aerial Cable Systems In The World (For Various Reasons)

Others might disagree with my selection, but if you’re new to the world of Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) and Urban Gondolas, these are the 7 aerial systems you need to know about:

Read more



Caracas Metrocable Documentary Video

An interesting short film about the San Augustin Metrocable line in Caracas, Venezuela:

The Metro Cable of San Agustin from Urban Think Tank on Vimeo.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Caracas Metrocable
Comments Off on Caracas Metrocable Documentary Video
Comments Off on Caracas Metrocable Documentary Video