Public Transit

16
Oct

2017

Crossing the Sky in the Indian Himalayas


In a one-of-a-kind experience, BBC takes viewers on a captivating 360° video journey through the Indian Himalayas. Reporters follow two sisters from the remote village of Syaba in Uttarakhand State  as they travel up to six hours each day to reach their school in the nearby town of Maneri and Malla.

As part of their long and perilous journey, they hop onboard a makeshift ropeway to cross the gushing waters of the Bhagirathi River. To read the full article and see more incredible photos, click here.



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09
Jun

2016

Urban Gondolas Take Centre Stage in American Media (Again)

Bloomberg and Wall Street Journey explores the urban cable car industry.

Bloomberg and Wall Street Journey explores the urban cable car industry.

This past week, urban gondolas once again took the centre stage as two major US media outlets — Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal — each wrote a piece on the rapid growth of cable transport systems.

As more than a dozen proposals are now active in the US (from San Diego to Baton Rouge), city-builders from across the world are now starting to pay serious attention to ropeway technology.

There are many reasons why this is happening but it is due in part to the internet and the many successful urban gondolas now being built worldwide. Sooner or later, even the toughest anti-gondola cynics may have no choice but to hop onboard the cable car bandwagon.

For the doubters, they should understand that for most parts, ropeways are not here as some sort of “silver bullet” that solves all urban transport woes — rather, as we’ve discussed many times in the past, they are often designed as complementary transit modes to enhance existing transport lines.

However with that said, given the right context, cable transit can undoubtedly function as the backbone of a city’s entire rapid transit network.

For instance, look no further to the recent triumphs aboard the Mi Teleférico in La Paz-El Alto, Bolivia.

  • ~50 million passengers in ~2 years of operations
  • time savings of 652 million minutes
  • >100% farebox recovery

Transportation practitioners are often amazed at how the Bolivian city added 10km of cable cars in just 2 years time and is now scheduled to add another 7 lines!

The achievements made by cable technology in these few years in incredible to say the least. Six years ago, skeptics would have likely laughed a proponent out of a room when a gondola was proposed. Nowadays, ropeways are met with fascination and intrigue.

Given the speed of change in the urban transport industry, perhaps it won’t be too long before gondolas, like other transit technologies, are met with a casual shrug.

 



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Analysis / Public Transit / Research & Development / Thoughts
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15
Jan

2016

New York Subway Shutdown: An Opportunity for Urban Gondolas?

East River Skyway

Conceptual rendering. Image from EastRiverSkyway.com

Brooklyn residents received some grim news this week as the governor announced plans to start repairs on the city’s L Train tunnels in late 2017. Officials estimate repairs taking anywhere from 1-3 years to complete. With this disruption, upwards of 300,000 -350,000 daily riders may be affected.

While this is terrible news for residents, this unexpectedly presents a massive opportunity for Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) to showcase its technological capabilities. Of course, a single urban gondola line by itself will not completely solve this transport problem.

However, the construction of any fixed link aerial transit system(s) can offer some degree of transport relief in comparison if nothing was done.

RIT-web

Roosevelt Island Tramway. Image by Nicholas Chu.


PAST PRECEDENCE: ROOSEVELT ISLAND TRAMWAY

As farfetched as urban gondolas might still sound to some, there is in fact considerable evidence to suggest that CPT can build network resilience and offer reliable cross-river transport service. And for those (dis)believers, they need not to look any further than in their own city to the Roosevelt Island Tramway (RIT).

Since it’s commissioning in 1976, the RIT has had a colourful history. It was designed by visionaries from Lev Zetlin Associates who studied three separate transport systems (elevator, ferry and aerial tram) before cable technology was chosen. The tram was initially installed as a temporary transit line to provide instant transport connectivity prior to a subway stop on the island. However, heavy rail didn’t arrive until 1989 and by that time, the RIT had already become an icon of Roosevelt Island.

Before it was modernized in 2010 in just 9 months, the tram provided 2 million annual riders with 34 years of reliable service. While the tram suffered a few stoppages in the mid 2000’s, this was still impressive considering the system was only designed to operate for 17 years.

INSTANTANEOUS TRANSPORT RELIEF

Unlike many mass transit technologies, we know from precedence that CPT systems can be built quickly and economically. As demonstrated by simple, cross-river city cable cars found in London and Koblenz, urban ropeways can be constructed in ~1 year.

In fact, the 1km Emirates Air Line, while ostensibly not built for the Olympics, was constructed in just 10 months time and was able open ahead of the Games’ opening cereomny. Moreover, even mega cable car projects such as the 4.4km Peak 2 Peak in Whistler took just 19 months.

Assuming decision-makers can expedite the development process for an urban cable car, a system(s) could theoretically be built and operational before the tunnels reopen.

BROOKLYN TO MANHATTAN CABLE CAR

Perhaps not surprisingly, other visionary city builders in New York have already proposed urban gondolas for improving transport between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Most recently, Daniel Levy from CityRealty, publicized his concept of the East River Skyway.

While the RIT was built to anticipate a subway opening, a theoretical “Brooklyn to Manhattan Cable Car” could be built to offer relief from a subway closure. These situations are not exactly the same, but it’s somewhat unreal to see how unbelievably comparable they are.

Who knows what kind of solutions the city comes up with, but if you ask us, it’d be somewhat irresponsible if officials didn’t once again seriously explore the feasibility of CPT.



Full Disclosure: Creative Urban Projects Inc. was retained by CityRealty as advisors on the East River Skyway Project. 



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16
Dec

2015

How Not to Build an Urban Cable Car: Mississippi Aerial River Transit

The ill-fated Mississippi Aerial Rapid Transit (MART). As an aside, it ranks as one of the worst names you can have for a transit line. Image from Wikipedia.

Last week, Baton Rouge become the latest American city to announce plans to explore an urban gondola. This adds to the growing list of US cities such as San Diego, Seattle, Buffalo, Georgetown (Washington DC), and Staten Island (New York) who are actively considering/planning a Cable Propelled Transit system.

In typical fashion, the public reacted with a mixture of excitement, disbelief and and skepticism. Naturally, with Baton Rouge so close to New Orleans, the ill-fated Mississippi Aerial River Transit (MART) was oft-quoted.

Stephen Richards (via the Advocate) had this to say:

The worlds fair in New Orleans left us with a pretty nice gondola from New Orleans to the west bank. Seemed nice enough to keep, why didn’t that work? If that failed then why should we be so inclined, no pun intended, to raise these deals over Baton Rouge.

In all fairness, this is a legitimate question. Why a gondola and not another form of transport? If Baton Rouge begins studying an urban gondola, this and other questions will require some serious deliberation. For the city, I would recommend some time reviewing our FAQ.

But to specifically address the question of why MART was a failure, we need to step back and consider some of the factors that were present in New Orleans at the time.

 

1. Optimistic Projections

The New Orleans Historical reveals that during the 6-month long 1984 World Expo, the system was projected to transport 3 million riders (for a total revenue of $10 million to pay off a $8 million loan). However, due to low attendance actual ridership was only 1.7 million.

Now I’m not a banker but I’d imagine that the loans and associated repayment schedule provided to MART would be somehow aligned to the visitor forecasts. As a result, since both MART and the Expo both under-performed, MART was never able to repay their underwriters, Banque de L’Union Européenne of Paris.

Mind, 3 million riders is a lot of people.

Perhaps the world was different in the ’80s, and perhaps World Expos are historically busier than they were in New Orleans (some were and some weren’t), but 3 million riders in 6 months is still lofty.

In comparison to existing cable car numbers, very very few systems are able to break this mark. Even the Emirates Air Lines, whose opening coincided with the 2012 Olympics saw only 2.4 million riders in its first year (or 1.6 million riders in the first 6 months).

 

2. Marketing and Fare Model

After the end of the World Expo, system owners desperately tried to market the cable car as an alternative commuter transit line. While this sounds like a logical transition, in reality the system could never live up to its hype.

Once the higher-fare tourist line became a lower-fare public transit line, the system’s farebox recovery ratio plummeted to unrecoverable levels, thereby accelerating its demise. To highlight how ridiculous the fare model was for the average commuter, ticket prices were reportedly $25 for a monthly unlimited ride ticket or $50 for a monthly unlimited ticket which included parking.

Let’s pretend we’re commuters and purchased the $50 ticket. This means that you’re paying an extra $1.25/trip (40 trips per month) to drive to nowhere, park the car, hop on a (much slower) cable car, and land in what mostly was a transit desert with your office still miles away. While its demise was a given, the fact that it was able to last four months before it permanently closed is perhaps the most surprising.

 

3. Disconnected Transit Network

It might be one thing to market the MART for commuters, but ask any transport planner (or child) and they’ll tell you that the whole (in this case a transit network) is greater than the sum of its parts (individual lines).

In other words, when you build an isolated cable car which connects nothing to nothing, then, well, the results will be nothing. If you build something of value to people, whether it’s to provide an experience or to help them get to work quicker and cheaper, or better yet, both, then your system will naturally become a success.

Aside from the initial experience, the MART arguably has none of these qualities.

 

Will Baton Rouge’s Urban Gondola Be like MART?

From the information available online, it seems like the proponents are interested in improving transport connectivity to their Health District.

Since the concept is still in its infancy, it is difficult to say how successful or unsuccessful an urban cable car might be in Baton Rouge. But based on the initial thinking, there is definitely merit for further exploration.

Opened in 2002 at a cost of $10.9 million, the 580m long, 4 station Huntsville Hospital Tram transports 2,200 passengers each day. And yes, it doesn’t look like a CPT system, but the system is cable operated. Image from Wikipedia.

As much as some would like to bring up cases of unsuccessful cable cars to support their beliefs, it might be an useful reminder to note that a very successful (bottom supported) cable propelled system, the Huntsville Hospital Tram has been quietly operating in nearby Alabama for more than a decade now. And a little further to the north, the Indiana University Health People Mover is another interesting case study.

These systems are definitely worthy of further exploration, however that remains a story better left for another day.



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15
Dec

2015

Ropeway Redux: Highlights From Doppelmayr’s Comprehensive Magazine

The world's safest form of public transit.

According to Doppelmayr, a ropeway with a 3,600 person capacity can use as little as 0.1kWh of power to carry one passenger over 1km — the same amount of energy consumed by a hair dryer in 5 minutes!

Earlier this year, Doppelmayr Urban Solutions produced an attractively art directed brochure-cum-magazine called Ropeways in the urban environment. It compiles the many benefits of cable cars (or ropeways as they’re called in the industry) as urban transportation.

The following is a summary of the magazine’s main points. The content is very useful for anyone looking to write a top-10 list or giving a presentation. The truly time-starved can skip to the last section for the key features at a glance.

  • Ropeways complement other forms of urban transit, easily integrating into existing infrastructure. They continuously operate, so there is no need for other modes of transit to modify their own schedules just to accommodate them.
  • Service is continuous. So the other side of the first point is no schedules for ropeway passengers to memorize and adhere to, and no long waiting periods in ropeway stations.
  • They have their own dedicated and uninterrupted route. There are no traffic jams 20 metres overhead.
  • Formerly outlying neighbourhoods thrive when connected.
  • Capacity — Ropeways can carry up to 5,000 passengers per hour and direction.
  • Capacity — Cabins can carry up to 35 passengers, plus bikes, wheelchairs, strollers and baggage. In other words, they allow barrier-free access for all riders.
  • Ropeways are statistically the world’s safest means of transit.
  • They easily integrate into neighbourhoods, requiring minimal structural footprints. (Indeed, in some cities stations have been built high up in skyscrapers.)
  • They have minimal environmental impact. The Koblenz Seilbahn, consumes as little as 0.1kwh to transport one rider over a distance of 1km. This is equivalent to the amount of energy a hair dryer uses in 5 minutes.
  • To transport 10,000 passengers in an hour, you need 100 buses, 2,000 cars or one ropeway. So, for the capacity, ropeways are a cost-effective solution for cash-strapped transit authorities and city governments.
  • Robustness — Built for mountaintop conditions, many ropeway systems can continue operating in winds up to 100km/h.
  • Comfort need never be a problem. Cabins can easily be heated, cooled and supplied with infotainment systems and Wi-Fi.
  • Ropeway infrastructure is relatively easy to build and it goes up fast — perfect for already-clogged cities with lots of construction on the go and in a hurry to get moving.
  • Stations and towers can be adapted to blend in with the local architecture.
Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.58.03 PM

A gondola can offset a huge number of car and bus trips.

ROPEWAYS ARE MULTI-PURPOSE. CONSIDER THESE MANY APPLICATIONS.

  • Ropeways can fill gaps between busy zones that generate traffic, like hospitals and other outlying infrastructure.
  • They are ideal for connecting organizationally linked facilities that are physically removed, like a campus, factory or exhibition grounds.
  • You can use them to bridge otherwise difficult-to-cross barriers, inexpensively.
  • They extend or relieve existing urban transit systems, cost-effectively.
  • Ropeways generate a new source of advertising revenue. Passengers are a captive audience for the length of their ride.
Ropeways provide barrier-free access

Ropeways provide barrier-free access.

KEY FEATURES AT A GLANCE (FOR THOSE WITH NO TIME)

  • Fully automatic operation
  • High capacity due to continuous operation
  • Short, low-cost construction phase
  • Minimal space requirements
  • Easy integration with existing transport systems
  • Barrier-free movement
  • World’ssafest means of transport
  • Minimal environmental impact

 

The magazine shows examples of urban ropeways from around the world. You can downloadRopeways in the urban environment’ free.

 

Materials on this page are paid for. Gondola Project (including its parent companies and its team of writers and contributors) does not explicitly or implicitly endorse third parties in exchange for advertising. Advertising does not influence editorial content, products, or services offered on Gondola Project.

 



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Cable Transit Industry / Doppelmayr / Public Transit / Safety
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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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