Proposals & Concepts

03
May

2017

New York State Fair Gondola — A Public Relations Nightmare

New York State Fair Gondola

Not to get all nit-picky but this is not a gondola. Image via Governors Office

Here’s a question I’d like to know — who did the PR on the New York State Fair Gondola? Was there even anyone? 

Because from this desk, the only public communications I’ve seen thus far has been a rendering presumably hacked together by an intern of the fair with the Roosevelt Island Tram floating overhead — which regular readers of this site know is technically completely inaccurate and probably speaks to the level of detail officials got into when it came to presenting this project to the public. 

(For anyone curious readers, an Aerial Tram and a Gondola are two completely different technologies.)

Industry observers know that this proposal has been working it’s way through the New York State legislature for the last several months and looked to be heading towards realization until it recently got battered in the press for a variety of issues and has been positioned by its opponents as representing an out-of-touch government wasting tax payer dollars. 

That narrative has stuck because there’s been basically no counter-narrative. No economic justification for its existence has been presented.

For the record, we here have no horse in this race, except perhaps as analysts who find it curious that so many current gondola proponents spend so little time crafting the story behind what is oftentimes going to be a very controversial proposal. 

So here’s a few questions that the government could’ve started with and should as this situation develops — 

What are the economics of the gondola? We know that it’s going to cost around $15mm but that’s about it. Is it a profitable investment? If so, could the private sector finance it? 

A system such as this will get excellent financing terms because it’s going to be presumably paid for by the state government. That means low, fixed interest rates; long repayment schedules; and zero equity up front. Those things always help any project’s economics. But what are this project’s economics?  

Is the gondola projected to make money? Given the preferential financials the project will enjoy, isn’t it worth asking that question? 

What’s the fare going to be? How many riders are projected to use it? 

Is this a tourist-oriented ride or is this is a piece of transport infrastructure designed to move people about the site free-from-charge? If it’s the latter, will it cause more visitors to attend the fair? Will it cause more events to be booked at the fairgrounds throughout the rest of the year thereby making the overall site more profitable? 

Will it operate year-round? What are the annual operations & maintenance costs? 

Basically — how is this thing supposed to work?

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. W5+H. It’s that simple. 

Almost none of this has been unpacked publicly. Which, admittedly, suggests that either project economics aren’t actually understood at this time or they are understood and being kept under wraps for reasons unknown. 

The gondola has become a political punching bag and an example of wasteful government spending so much so that officials involved appear to be prepping the ground for delaying the installation under the auspices that other fair expenditures may need to take priority. 

If the system is economically unfeasible, then that may be a deserved fate.

If, however, the gondola is economically self-sustaining and/or provides enough economic spin-off benefits to the fair to justify its existence, then that needs to actually be communicated to the public — because right now that hasn’t been. Opponents of the gondola (or of the project’s main champion, Governor Andrew Cuomo) have been laying into the project like they’re playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! with every cheat code in existence at their disposal. 

Right now the narrative of the gondola is poisonous because no narrative in favour of the gondola even exists. Like any political intervention, a gondola system requires a narrative that positions it in the public’s eye in a positive light. People aren’t just going to like it because it’s a gondola even though that seems to be the default position of many gondola project proponents nowadays. 

That’s completely the wrong position to take. In fact, by virtue simply of being a gondola there will be one contingent of people who will actively dislike it because it’s bizarre and another contingent who will see the bizarreness of the technology as a means to opportunistically win political points at the expense of the proponent whether they agree with the given project or not. 

Right now somewhere in New York, someone’s PR person is in all kinds of trouble. 

26
Jan

2017

Gothenburg Cable Car: Procurement Pre-Announcement

Gothenburg Cable Car. Image by Göteborg Stads.

The urban gondola proposal in Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg (pop: 500,000), made an exciting announcement this week. The Traffic & Public Transport Authority will release a tender in April 2017 to choose a team that will help guide the project from now until system opening.

The winning bidder will work with the contracting authority to finalize the feasibility study, develop a timeline and prepare detailed designs for construction. Assuming the proposal is approved and investment is secured, the second phase of the tender (for cable car construction) will be activated.

The Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) system is currently designed as a 3km Tricable Detachable Gondola (3S/TDG) connecting Järntorget to Wieselgrensplatsen with mid-stations at Lindholmen and Lundby. It will travel at heights of 75m across the Göta Älv river with an hourly capacity of 2,000. This urban ropeway is envisioned to open by June 2021 as part of Gothenburg’s  Quadricentennial celebrations.

If everything goes according to plan, Gothenburg could be one of the world’s first cities to implement a 3S system for public transit use.

For more information about the project, click here.

 

Gothenburg Cable Car / Proposals & Concepts / Uncategorized
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15
Dec

2016

Branson Gondola: City Approves MOU

Branson Gondola artist depiction. Image from KY3.

Branson Gondola artist depiction. Image from KY3.

The proposed $150-200 million Branson Gondola is one step closer towards realization. After a board meeting this week, the City’s aldermen voted 5-1 to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).

At a proposed length of 8.5 mile (13.7km) spread across 10-12 stations, the gondola will transport passengers from Branson Landing (mall located in Downtown Branson) to Silver Dollar City (amusement park).

Gondola alignment. Image by American Gondola.

Gondola alignment. Image by American Gondola.

If the project is built, the cable car would likely be one of the world’s longest passenger ropeways. Comparatively speaking, the world’s longest existing monocable detachable gondola (MDG) is the Bursa Uludağ Gondola (5.5mi / 8.8km) in Turkey.

With the MOU now signed, the agreement will provide the proponents (American Gondola) and its investors a degree of exclusivity and the confidence necessary to spend their money on detailed design and engineering. While the proponents also requested the City use eminent domain to help implement the gondola, this clause was ultimately removed in MOU’s final draft.

Some may question if the project is a tad ambitious for a City of just 11,000 residents. However, as one of our guest bloggers described previously, Branson receives an estimated 8 million visitors each year and is known as the “Country Music Capitol” of the US. Capturing a fraction of these visitors at proposed fares of $15-30 could ensure its economic viability.

Considering how all PRT and monorail projects in the past 25 years failed to move past the concept stage, the fact that City officials has agreed to an MOU is a great sign and demonstrate its willingness to work alongside proponents from American Gondola.

And perhaps there’s a good reason for that — since the proposal was launched publicly in October 2015, it appears most media and public responses have been very positive.

If all approvals are received, construction could start in 2018 and the gondola could be built and operational in 18-24 months. All in all, this urban gondola proposal appears to be one of the most advanced in the US and it will be exciting to see how it all unfolds.



Length (km) 13.7
Stations 10-12
Cabins 400-600
Operations 6am – 1am
Fare $15 (day); $30 (week)
Trip Time 40-45 minutes
Maximum speed (m/s) 4-6

 

 

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06
Oct

2016

Urban Gondolas May Soon Be A Reality in Banff

Image from Banff On the Move.

3.4km conceptual route alignment with 5 stations. Image from Banff On the Move.

Explore how Banff, Canada, a resort town in the Canadian Rockies, is planning to use Cable Propelled Transit to solve its urban transport challenges. Read more here.

Banff Aerial Transit / Proposals & Concepts
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01
Sep

2016

The Wälderbahn ‘City Cable Car’ Could Be The Game-Changer The Ropeway Industry Needs

Image by Gugen Ueber.

Wälderbahn ‘City Cable Car’. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

One of the fundamental problems cable cars have always dealt with in the urban context is the conflict between not traversing privately owned lands and the necessity to only travel in straight lines with turns navigated solely at mid-stations. This has always made line optimization in urban environments incredibly challenging.

The Wälderbahn ‘City Cable Car’ could change all that.

Unveiled in the tiny Austrian state of Vorarlberg this past Tuesday, the City Cable Car is an 11-km cable car the likes of which we’ve never seen.

The first 7.5 km are relatively straightforward though no less ambitious.

Starting in the town of Bersbuch, the 3S system would travel roughly 3 kms and rise more than 800 meters to the top of the Hochälpele mountain where an underground mid-station would be located.

Mountain Station. Screenshot from Gegen Ueber.

Underground mountain station. Screenshot from Gegen Ueber.

We’ve seen underground stations before in places like Livigno, Italy and with the Hungerburgbahn Funicular in Innsbruck. But those stations appeared to be designed more due to practical matters of space rather than with matters of aesthetics. Within the Hochälpele context, it appears as though the intention is to make the station disappear as much as possible into the surrounding mountainside thereby minimizing concerns associated with visual pollution.

After Hochälpele, the cable car travels another 4km and descends more than a kilometer to the outskirts of the town of Dornbirn. And this is where things get interesting.

Let me explain.

From Hochälpele to the Dornbirn Train Station (the system’s intended final destination) requires an almost 6 km as-the-crow-flies journey across hundreds of pieces of privately owned land. That would be difficult to accomplish anywhere just from a technical perspective. From a social license and political perspective? Forget about it. Such a move would be virtually impossible in all but the most authoritarian of jurisdictions.

That’s where the Wälderbahn’s workaround is so ingenious.

Instead of flying direct to the central station, the Wälderbahn’s alpine route terminates at Karren Achmühle and transforms from a cable-propelled system to a self-propelled system. Detaching from the cable, the system’s bogies attach to what can only be described as a self-propelled “backpack bogey” that propels the vehicles forward along an elevated track. This track hews to the nearby river and local train tracks thereby eliminating the need to traverse any privately-owned lands.

It all sounds very gadgetbahn-esqe, but if it works it would represent a fundamental shift for the cable car industry the likes of which we’ve never seen.

Bogie. Screenshot from.

Bogie. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

Along River.

Along River. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

An additional intermediary station at Sägerbrücke exists prior to arrival at the central train station.
The system will clock in at 8.5 m/s and will have 28-person vehicles departing every 50 seconds.
Route and statistics. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

Map of route and statistics. Screenshot from Gugen Ueber.

The system is being developed directly by Doppelmayr, the world’s largest cable car manufacturer who just so happens to be headquartered in Wolfurt — a stone’s throw from Dornbirn.

The project is still at the conceptual stage and has numerous hurdles to clear. We also don’t know what the project will cost at this stage — which isn’t a surprise as a prototype, one would presume, still needs to be constructed. Comments on the project website anticipate an earliest possible completion sometime in 2022/23.

But here’s the thing —

We see projects all the time that try to do things with cable cars that they currently cannot do. We get emails all the time from people suggesting world-circling self-propelled gondolas running at hundreds of miles an hour. We tend to ignore those things.

But when the world’s largest manufacturer makes a play to build the world’s first detachable cable car that is truly capable of navigating the urban landscape (and they choose to make that play in their own backyard), we’re going to stand up and take notice.

This is a project to watch because it could change everything.

19
May

2016

Chicago Skyline: An Intriguing Proposal

Two weeks ago, a proposal for an urban gondola system along the Chicago River made the rounds as these things tend to do.

At first glance, it’s an ambitious and impressive proposal. Hugging the southern ridge of the Chicago river, the Skyline, as it’s been dubbed, would include three stations and around 2.5 km of length.

Onboard the 30-minute round-trip journey, passengers will be transported in customized shiny metallic cabins from the Franklin Street Bridge to Navy Pier and back again.

Chicago Skyline

Map. Screenshot from Youtube.

As I said — it’s impressive. And with a $250 million price tag it should be.

At a per kilometre cost of $100 / km, it would compete with London’s Emirates Air Line as one of the most expensive cable car systems ever built.

Chicago Skyline Rendering

Skyline rendering. Image by Davis Brody Bond.

One of the reasons, by my reasoning, for this significant price premium is because this would be the only cable car system I know of to deploy more angle stations than passenger stations.

What do I mean by that?

As regular readers of this site know, a gondola cannot turn a corner without first detaching and reattaching to the rope(s). That process has to occur within what’s known as a turning or “angle” station. There are some rare exceptions to that rule, but none of those would be relevant here. The Chicago Skyline configuration is the first proposed configuration that I know of that would have more angle stations (four) than passenger stations (three).

That’s a problem because the vast majority of a cable car’s costs are in the stations. And the costs associated with a turning station are essentially the same as the costs associated with a normal station used for boarding and alighting passengers.

Chicago Skyline Cabin

Cabin rendering. Image by Davis Brody Bond.

And that’s just on the construction end of things.

Compounding difficulties downstream, system owners still have to staff, operate and maintain the angle stations even though they won’t be used by passengers to generate any additional revenue.

The annual operations and maintenance costs associated with the Chicago Skyline will therefore be well beyond that which we could reasonably expect for a system of this length. Those costs are going to chew deeply into system economics.

While the reported annual ticket revenue is impressive at $28 million (1.4 million riders at around $20 a head), the annual operations and maintenance costs are likely to be 1/3 to 1/2 of that number simply because of the sheer number of extraneous stations included within the design. And we haven’t even begun to talk about capital reserve funds and financing costs that would be over-and-above annual operations and maintenance expenses.

Additional revenue streams such as concessions, premium VIP features and advertising are likely to be necessary to make this system financially viable as currently envisioned.

This is not unheard of in the cable car industry, but it is also not common.

London’s Emirates Air Line, for example, is one of these exceptional systems. While it’s reported to be financially self-sufficient, it might not have been if not for a sizeable EU-backed grant and a generous sponsorship with the United Arab Emirate’s national airline carrier.

Notwithstanding the London system, most tourist-oriented cable cars are expected to make the majority of their revenue from the farebox. All that other good stuff is typically nice gravy — but it ain’t steak.

This is why best practice within the cable car industry is to minimize the number of angle stations and — if absolutely necessary — co-locate them at places where a standard boarding/alighting station would actually be useful to people and hopefully increase revenue.

The matter associated with the angle stations isn’t simply one of economics, it’s one of rider experience as well.

As this is explicitly a tourist-oriented system, the ride experience needs to be exceptional enough to justify the price tag. And while I suspect the ride will be exceptional, the plethora of intermediary/angle stations will have a drag on the journey.

Within every intermediary station, whether it be a boarding/alighting station or an angle station, the dwell times for the vehicles will be roughly 60-90 seconds depending upon a variety of factors. Riders of the Chicago Skyline would therefore be expected to spend up to 7.5 minutes within stations. Assuming the journey from end-to-end is roughly 15 minutes, that means up to half the journey will be spent inside a gondola station.

I don’t know about you, but if I’m a tourist I don’t want to spend twenty bucks to stare at the inside of a gondola station. I want to be, you know, riding a gondola.

Having said all that, I think the idea has sizeable merit and I have no doubts about the projected ridership nor the ability to change what they think they can charge. All the concerns I mention above—while legitimate—could be logically explained by better understanding more of the background behind the system.

There may be completely legitimate reasons for such a large number of turning stations. We just don’t know.

Online Infrastructure Punditry (dibs on that coinage!) may have the benefit of detachment and distance, but it suffers from not always having an insider’s perspective. What to an outsider may seem patently absurd, may be incredibly logical once the full story is understood.

So while I admit to having certain reservations about the Chicago Skyline, I’m not prepared to pronounce it ill-conceived in the same way I did with a proposal for Staten Island that surfaced last year.

The team behind the Chicago Skyline (Laurence Geller, and Lou Raizin — both of which are successful entrepreneurs) are simply too experienced and too entrenched within the Chicago tourism industry to have made the decisions they did blindly.

I’m betting on the latter here and look forward to watching this one develop.

05
Apr

2016

Bonn Explores Cable Car Across Rhine

Like many other Western municipalities (see urban gondola map), German cities may be on the cusp of a great urban gondola boom.

News reports indicate that cable cars are now being discussed in municipalities such as Bonn, Wuppertal, Siegen, Trier, Frankfurt and Mannheim. In fact, Berlin will see its gondola built by LEITNER Ropeways open in time for IGA 2017.

Bonn/Bad Godesberg

View over Bonn/Bad Godesberg from Venusberg, Bonn.

Specifically in Bonn (pop: 315,000, located on banks of Rhine, 30km south of Cologne Cable Car), there seems to be great public support and enthusiasm for the concept of an urban gondola.

There’s so much interest that the former capital of Germany began a feasibility study in February.

Since analyses are ongoing, full details have yet to be released. However, based on some information gathered online, it suggests that the City is studying a 3S/TDG system, with 35-person cabins and a line capacity of up to 5,000 ppphd.

Based on one netizen’s interpretation of the plan, the cable car will travel along 3-4 stations in Venusberg (a municipality in Bonn that’s located west of Rhine and on a 176m plateau).



Another proposed route appears to be a east-west connection which links up Venusberg (west of Rhine) to Ennert (east of Rhine) with stations at Museum Mile (Museumsmeile), UN-Campus and T-Mobile headquarters.

The study is expected to be complete by year’s end with project costs estimated at US$115-170 million (€100-150 million).

Whatever alignment is chosen and finalized, observers would be wise to keep track of the developments in Bonn and within other European cities. If any of these projects are successfully implemented, it may very open up the floodgates for many more cable cars.

 

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