London Cable Car



Weekly Roundup: Grand Canyon Escalade (Gondola) Goes to Feasibility

Artists' Rendering of a Proposed Grand Canyon Gondola. Image via Adventure Journal.

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

  • Here’s one that’s sure to be controversial and bogged down in legal challenges for eternity: The Navajo Nation and Phoenix-based developers have agreed to launch a feasibility study into developing a gondola in the Grand Canyon’s East Rim. Of course the project, to be named The Grand Canyon Escalade, t is fraught with opponents who have challenged it from “environmental, historical, spiritual and aesthetic reasons.” In other words: Don’t hold your breath for this one.
  • The London Thames Cable Car / Emirates AirLine surpasses the 1,000,000 rider mark since opening in late June. It will be interesting to see how ridership holds up after the end of the Paralympic Games, but according to the Wharf, the system is boasting an impressive 20,000 riders per day (so maybe we’re wrong).
  • After a reader suggests using a gondola as a transit connection to the University of California, Santa Cruz campus, local blogger Romana Turner points out that Santa Cruz County’s Regional Transportation Commission had explored the possibility as far back as 1993. Apparently of the options explored a “cog rail option was found to provide the highest level of projected ridership and best cost effectiveness score.” This seems more than a little odd given the cost of cog rail technology. For anyone interested in digging a little deeper, apparently there are studies here and here that can illuminate this a bit more.


London Cable Car Averages “Just” 20,000 Trips Per Day

The London Thames Cable Car (or “Emirates Air Line” if you so prefer) is quickly becoming not only one of the most expensive cable cars ever built – but also one of the most talked-about. It seems that no day goes by without someone coming up with something to criticize the system about.

Problem is, oftentimes those criticisms amount to little more than political posturing.

The latest volley against the system comes from Mayor Watch, where columnist Martin Hoscik criticizes the system for running “significantly below capacity.” Hoscik states that while the system has a maximum daily capacity of 35,000, the system’s 20,000 trips “averaged just over half that.”

Now before anyone accuses me of being a gondola apologist, let me restate that I’ve been critical of the London Cable Car in the past (herehere, and here). Notwithstanding my problems with the system, Hoscik’s criticisms are completely off-base and inaccurate. His arguments are flawed and of the politically-motivated sort that try to turn non-issues into issues while ignoring all nuance and statistical relevance.

While never explicitly deriding the system, he crafts the piece in such a way to suggest that the system is somehow a let-down because it is not operating at maximum capacity. But let’s take Hoscik’s basic thesis at face value and extrapolate it. Let’s conduct a few quick thought experiments because we haven’t done one of those in a while:

  • The Dark Knight Rises was one of the most anticipated summer movies since, well, the last Dark Knight movie. It has been making insane amounts of money. Imagine you’ve just gone to see the movie and the theatre you’re in is half empty. Does that make TDKR a failure?
  • You hear about a hot restaurant with an up-and-coming young chef. All reports indicate the restaurant to be a success. You try to get reservations for the prime 8pm slot but are told there are only seats available for the 10pm seating. Upon arrival at 10 pm, only half the seats are full. Does that make this restaurant a failure?
  • You live in a large, cosmopolitan city and the subway line you take to work each day is one of the only lines in your transit network to be self-sustaining. As such, the rush hour commuter crush that characterizes your subway line is horrific. You therefore decide to adjust your work schedule so you can travel on off-peak times. Much to your delight, you discover that when you travel on your subway line at 10 am instead of 8am, the train is half-empty. Does that somehow invalidate the line’s clear success?

The answer to all three is obviously, resoundingly no.

Even at “just” 20,000 trips per day, the London Cable Car is a success. Heck, even half that number at the lowest ticket price possible, the system is still a strong performer. Hoscik conveniently ignores this economic reality and judges the system based upon a metric that is simply and entirely irrelevant.

Very few enterprises – public or otherwise – operate at maximum capacity at all times. Mr. Hoscik should realize that and stop trying to make a mountain out of a molehill.

(Not to split hairs here, but Hoscik also doesn’t address whether those 20,000 journeys were round trips or single trips. He also makes an error when he states that the total capacity of the line is 35,000. Not that it really matters, but that’s only in one direction, not both.)



The Emirates Air Line — a photo essay

Last week, friend/designer/planner Yen Trinh travelled to London and rode the city’s newest cable car — the Emirates Air Line. Yen is an Australian based urban planner and city enthusiast. On her blog, the City Love Blog, Yen shares interesting urban-themed discoveries from her world adventures. Today, Yen has compiled a short photo essay from her trip over the Thames.


We visited the Emirates Air Line (cable car) on a Sunday afternoon, and joined the long queue of tourists and curious locals. The integration with other transit is good, as it was an easy walk from the North Greenwich tube, and the other end we connected to the DLR light rail.

The ticket system is integrated with the Oyster card, but not the paper-based travelcards which frustratingly landed us into a 25 minute ticket line.

The ride itself was a quick trip over the Thames River. We travelled from the south to north end.

The terminals and surrounding public spaces seemed well designed, and it’s clear and easy space to understand. Based on the map it seemed an odd location for this project, but when we arrived, it made more sense as a strategic link. It is apparent that at both ends of the cable car are precincts still undergoing urban redevelopment, and it is nearby mixed use developments and large venues like O2 and ExCel Centre.


Thanks again to guest photo-essay blogger Yen Trinh for sharing her thoughts and pictures!



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.


London Cable Car to be Fully Integrated? Let’s Hope So.

So apparently a few people agree with us . . .

As we stated a while back, the London Thames Cable Car (Emirates AirLine) is a fine enough addition to the London skyline, but serves little to no public transit purpose as the system isn’t fully fare integrated into the overall London transport network.

This renders the system little more than a novelty for tourists – which is fine. Except that given the price point and the number of tourists London experiences per year this system is sure to make money. Which, in turn, raises the question why London commuters should have to pay to use the system at all – especially given the fact that local public dollars were used to finance it.

These issues are at the core of a recent motion passed by the London Assembly. The motion, agreed to by a majority of Assembly Members, essentially asks the Mayor of London to study and reconsider fully integrating the system into London’s transport network.

That would be a huge win both for the cable transit industry and Londoners in general.

Here’s the content of the entire motion:

“The Assembly welcomes the cable car river crossing, but regrets that some £25 million worth of public money has been spent on it being built when the Mayor had promised that it would be fully funded from the private sector.

This Assembly regrets that travel on the cable car will not be covered by travel cards, the Freedom Pass or the Oyster cap. It considers that the Mayor has missed an opportunity to integrate fully the cable car into the public transport ticketing system.

The Assembly requests the Mayor under section 60(1) of the Greater London Authority Act to:

  • Reconsider the exclusion of cable car journeys from the normal ticketing arrangements when he makes his 2013 fares decision;
  • Report to the Assembly, well in advance of his 2013 fares decision, on the cost of including cable car journeys in travel cards, the Freedom Pass and Oyster cap;
  • Consult with boroughs on how cable car travel could be included in the Freedom Pass.”

Obviously we’ll be paying close attention to this one.



What Can The San Francisco Cable Cars Teach London?


Image via Wikipedia.

If nothing else, the London Cable Car raises an interesting question:

When should a transit line be fully fare-integrated into a transit network and when should it not. For those unfamiliar, an additional fare is required for people to ride the London Cable Car despite it, ostensibly, being a part of the overall Transport for London network.

But should that be the case?

We have no shortage of examples of transit systems who operate on a similar model:

In Toronto, to access the islands, a ride on the ferries cost an additional fee above and beyond a standard transit ticket.

In Portland, a ride on the Aerial Tram costs an additional fare – with the exception of students and staff of OHSU. OHSU is the primary beneficiary of the Aerial Tram and riders affiliated with the operation ride for free.

In Medellin, Linea L services a nature preserve and requires an additional fee beyond a standard transit ticket.

Users of Vancouver’s Skytrain must pay an additional fare if they wish to use it to travel into the city from Vancouver International Airport.

Seattle’s extensive network of ferries all require separate fees despite being an integral component of transport in the region.

So what’s the difference? Why do people not have issues with the examples above but do with the London Cable Car?

The difference, I suspect, is mostly about the target market. The above examples largely service: a) a small subsection of a local population or b) a large local population who is likely to use the service very irregularly.

The system the London Cable Car represents most closely, coincidentally enough, is the San Francisco Cable Car. Both systems operate in central, rather than peripheral areas. They both feel as though they should be intertwined into their respective networks. Furthermore, the San Francisco Cable Cars are priced outside the normal San Francisco transit fare. Prices are five bucks for a one-way trip or thirteen bucks for a day pass.

Like the London Cable Car, those prices are well outside the budget of any standard commuter.

Interestingly though, the San Francisco Cable Car is used by regular commuters – they just don’t pay for it.

In 2007 auditors found that 40% of riders on the system were not paying fares. Now there’s no way to confirm whether it’s locals or tourists who are breaking the law, but assuming it’s locals is not an unreasonable assumption as those are the people who are most likely to understand how to catch free ride successfully.

People such as Jarrett Walker have argued in the past that the San Francisco Cable Cars add little to no value to San Francisco’s transit network, but stats like this suggest otherwise. From my understanding, it’s very common practice for locals to hop-on and hop-off the cars for quick trips around town without paying fares – and for the fare collectors to turn a blind eye to it.

Which in turn implies that the high fares paid by tourists help to subsidize the system for local commuters. It may be illegal, but it’s an interesting reality.

Now in no way, shape, form or description am I suggesting that fare evasion is right and justified. But I don’t think you’re going to find many San Franciscans who have a problem with it. In reality, it’s little different than the Swiss practice of selling ID cards to locals that grant them 50% off all transit in the country. The only difference is the degree of formality.

Londoners won’t be hopping on and off the Thames Cable Car any time soon, but San Francisco does provide an interesting lesson. If Londoners were allowed “free ride” on the backs of tourist fares, I suspect few people – if anyone – would’ve objected to the system.

In fact, were that the case, locals might even come to love it.



Emirates Air Line (Cable Car) – PHOTOS (March 2012)

Sneak peek of what towers may look like at night. Image by Flickr user wawd.

More photos uploaded by users on Flickr showing the construction progression of the Emirates Air Line (Cable Car) in London.

Station under construction. Image by Flickr user wawd.

It appears that as of March 3, 2012, two towers have been erected. Image by Flickr user wawd.

For more pictures, a new thread on Skyscrapercity has been started to document its development.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...