Maokong Taipei

14
Oct

2016

Photo of the Week: Maokong Gondola

A 4.0km urban cable car located in the Taiwanese capital which transports riders throughout the mountainous recreation area of Maokong. Learn more here.



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Installations / Maokong Taipei / Photo of the Week
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22
Jan

2016

Fair Fares – Maokong Gondola

Image by Flickr user Jan.

The Maokong Gondola (Taipei, Taiwan) announced last December its intention to raise fares in the new year. These plans were officially confirmed by the city government in a news release this week.

Depending on the number of stations a passenger travels to, fares will increase by 130-150%. This might sound like a lot, but in reality the fares for a 1, 2 and 3 stop ride will be raised to US$2.10, US$3.00 and US$3.60 from US$0.90, US$1.20, and US$1.50 respectively.

While the gondola is owned and operated by the Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation (TRTC), the system is hardly a commuter system. Rather it’s ranked as one of the top tourist attractions in the Taiwanese capital and therefore, in our opinion, a fare hike was justified.

To perhaps curb local backlash, the TRTC offered a ton of discounts clearly aimed at dinging the tourists while saving locals money (1. EasyCard holders receive US$0.60 discount; 2. seniors, children, physically challenged, Taipei residents, and indigenous people receive US$1.50 discount; 3. local residents from nearby boroughs of Zhinan, Laoquan, Zhengda, and Wanxing can enjoy unlimited rides at US$1.80).

Related new articles appears to indirectly confirm my suspicions as operators realized that >60% of passengers were foreigners/non-Taipei residents! However, from a purely economic standpoint, the fare hike makes sense since the system lost US$3.0 million last year despite a ridership of 2.66 million. Readers would be hard-pressed to find another cable car in a similar money-losing situation.

For us that live in the West, a publicly-owned transport line that loses a couple million a year might not be a big deal (i.e. transit is supposed to be a social service), but this mentality does not hold true in many countries where transit is regarded as a profitable service. If we were to use TRTC’s farebox recovery as a barometer to gauge the city’s tolerance to a perpetual money pit, there likely isn’t much more patience for the gondola’s financial failures.

Glass floor cabins appear to be provided at no extra charge for passengers on the Maokong Gondola. In comparison, this feature on other cable cars can cost as much as 2x the regular ticket price! Image by Flickr user Yu-Chan Chen.

While some critics still worry about the effects this will have on ridership, my guess is that its impacts will be limited. Price conscious visitors will quickly learn just how much of a bargain the gondola is once they compare it to other attractions.

In fact, if you look at other comparable cable cars in the world, a 4.0km, 35 minute aerial gondola ride at US$3.60 with sweeping views of lush greenery might very well make the Maokong Gondola the “best valued” cable car in the world.



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Economics / Maokong Taipei
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08
Dec

2015

How to Price Your Urban Cable Car

It’s hard to blame officials in some cities for treating the fare structure of new public transport line as an afterthought. It’s not sexy stuff. However, for urban cable cars, the failure to put the time and energy to develop a proper fare model may ultimately hinder the project’s success.

Generally speaking, the price elasticity for a transit bus is fairly limited. Image by Oran Viriyincy.

Whether your envisioned CPT line is built for transit, recreation or some combination of the two, the fare must reflect your overall goals. Take the Maokong Gondola, which recently announced its intention to raise fares. Owned by the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp (TRTC), this recreational gondola transports an incredible 2-3 million riders a year (5 million in its first)!

It’s hard to blame people for thinking these are really great numbers!!

Maokong Gondola. Image by Connie Ma.

And, yes, they are — but the system charges an average roundtrip fare of just US$3.00, among some of the least expensive urban cable cars in the world. Sightseeing cable cars in nearby Hong Kong (Ngong Ping 360) and Korea (Yeosu Cable Car) charge anywhere from US$10-35.

No wonder detractors have lambasted the system for being a perpetual money loser. It bleeds some US$3 million annually. Since fares were scheduled to increase, there were immediate fears that this would cause decreased visitorship and therefore, increase loses. Luckily though, correlation does not mean causation. Let me explain.

During a site visit to the Singapore Cable Car, I learned that they once struggled with a similar situation when management wanted to reorganize priorities. System managers did the math and essentially what happened was this: fares more than doubled in the early 2000s from ~SGD$10 to ~SGD$29 today.

The results were astonishing: ridership decreased considerably — but system profitability actually increased! Why? Simply put, it costs far more to manage millions of low-fare riders than fewer high-fare ones.

They realized their visitors were willing to pay a premium to experience the cable car. Could the same be said of the Maokong Gondola? It’s hard to know without some study but seems to me that a 20-40 minute, 4km US$9.00 cable car ride is still a real bargain. Of course, there will always be that initial challenge to convince the public to pay more for essentially the same service.

Perhaps they should’ve announced the fare raise with a promotion like the Hello Kitty cabins last year, to better justify this cost. Image by travel blogger Jamie (ink+adventure). Click for more photos and original post. 

Moreover, this will likely raise issues of social equity as the Maokong Gondola is owned by TRTC. If your city is considering an urban gondola, this is a story you’d likely want to follow. It may well make you think twice about your fare structure.



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Maokong Taipei / Public Transit / Questions / Singapore Cable Car
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27
Apr

2015

System Dossier: Maokong Gondola

Maokong Gondola. Image by Flickr user jojo nicdao.

The Maokong Gondola is Taipei, Taiwan’s 4.0km cable car system, transporting riders to Maokong, a mountainous tourist area on the city’s southern tip. With 6 stations en route (4 passenger and 2 angle stations), passengers can stop to visit the zoo, a beautiful temple and tea plantation.

Prior to the construction of the cable car, roads leading to this recreational area during weekends was often congested as vehicles packed the narrow and perilously steep hilly roads. To enhance tourism and reduce motorized traffic, the government decided to implement the cable car in 2002.

While it is a tourist-oriented line, the system is well integrated 
into the local transit network, both physically and fare-wise. Access to the system can be made via a quick and painless ride on the city’s Wenshan-Neihu Metro Line. A popular attraction in Taipei, it attracts many visiting and local families. With its multiple station configuration, fares are charged on a sensible “fare-by-distance” basis. Students however, can ride for free. Stay in school, kids!


System Statistics:

Length (km) 4.0
Stations 6
Year Opened 2007
Capacity 2,000-2,400
Ridership (yearly) ~2,000,000
Trip Time ~20 minutes
Maximum Speed (m/s) 6


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Maokong Taipei / System Dossier
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09
Dec

2013

Will Hello Kitty Rescue Taipei’s Maokong Gondola?

Taipei, Maokong Gondola, Hello Kitty

Hello Kitty, now featured on Taipei’s MRT Easycard.

We’ve had a lego cable car.

Then we had an Angry Birds themed cable car.

We’ve even had a sauna gondola.

But this is unique.

Last week the Taipei Rapid Transit Corp. (TRTC) relaunched the under-performing Maokong Gondola under a year-long promotion called “The Year of Hello Kitty.”

The themed attraction is (natch) a Hello Kitty themed environment designed as a means to increase ridership on the money losing system. Whether or not that strategy is successful in the long-term is anybody’s guess, but if the relaunch’s first day of operations are any indication, TRTC may have landed on something.

On it’s first day of operations the Hello Kitty gondola system transported almost 12,000 riders — a fivefold increase week-over-week with people having to purchase tickets up to 30 days in advance of visiting the system.

Now sure, some of those 12,000 people were no doubt a part of a complex marketing strategy to gain attention and awareness — but all of them? Unlikely.

I’ll admit it — I don’t really understand why emblazoning a cable car system with a feline Japanese cartoon character would convert into actual ridership, but then again I don’t understand Hello Kitty.

Actually, let me rephrase that: I don’t understand the fascination with Hello Kitty specifically.

I do, however, understand fandom and the associated culture that comes along with it. Like any piece of cult geekery, the thing about Hello Kitty is that it has a built-in fandom that is beyond compare. Fans like these will consume almost anything that’s within the Hello Kitty empire (including, apparently, knock-off Hello Kitty themed condoms, chainsaws and tooth crowns

I may not care one iota about Hello Kitt, but give me a Transformers-themed cable car ride and I’ll give you all the money just to ride it once. So believe me: I get it.

Not content to let all that sweet Hello Kitty merchandising money slip through their hands, TRTC has wisely outfitted each of the cable car stations with plenty of unique Hello Kitty gondola merchandise for people to add to their collections.

What’s interesting here has less to do with Hello Kitty and more to do with a public transit agency intentionally going out of their way to make a part of their transit system that is currently unprofitable, profitable. And they’re doing it in a most-unusual (for a transit agency) manner — they’re being fun.

We’ve talked about fun in the past (here, here and here, for example) and I think the point is this: Hello Kitty is not the answer to a transit agency’s woes. But if injecting a little bit of fun into the equation increases ridership, revenue and smiles; then shouldn’t every transit agency look to do something similar?

PS — For any other transit agencies looking to get in on that Hello Kitty transit goldmine, you can already find your favourite Asian cartoon cat on streetcars, LRTs and planes. Get yours today.



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11
Nov

2013

Zhinan Temple Station, Maokong Gondola

Zhinan Temple Station, Maokong Gondola, Taipei

The Zhinan Temple Station of the Maokong Gondola, Taipei. Image via Wikimedia.org.

This is the Zhinan Temple Station of the Maokong Gondola in Taipei.

It’s fascinating, if for no other reason than it makes me wonder whether or not the above station design helps or hinders our efforts.

On the one hand, it’s an incredibly unique station design that is has a decidedly urban feel and characteristic—despite being located in a relatively non-urban area.

On the other hand, it looks like an early prototype of the Millenium Falcon, so there’s that. The futuristic quality of the station suggests a dominance and aggression I’m not sure many people would be comfortable with.

I’m torn on this one, and I’d love to hear people’s comments.

Imagine if you were walking into a presentation trying to convince a skeptical audience about the merits of a cable transit system. Would you use this as a good example of a station typology for urban integration? Would you hide it completely?

I’m honestly not sure.



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20
Jul

2012

Weekly Roundup: New Metro Cable in India?

A quick look at some of the things that happened this week in the world of cable cars, urban gondolas, and cable propelled transit:

  • This is a system we’ve not yet heard about, but apparently, there are already eight firms bidding for the right to install a new “Metro Cable” system in Shillong, India. This comes with a caveat, however, as one of the firms signed an MOU with Kohima in 2012 to build a 9.8 km long system – and we’ve yet to see anything.
  • The controversial (and cable-propelled) Oakland Airport Connector reaches a major milestone towards its completion.


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