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.

Maokong Taipei / Public Transit / Questions / Singapore Cable Car
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Maximum Travel Speed for a Cable Car

We recently received a great question from reader Roberto:

I was wondering what is the maximum speed now registered in the world for a cable car. So far I know, reversible cable cars (43 kph, Portland, USA) go faster than the well known loop cable cars (27 kph, Val d’Isère, France), which is not clear to me why. If you could also explain this issue, that would be great. Thank you in advance.

By the way, what can we expect in the near future for maximum speeds?

These are great questions Roberto. To start, it’s important to remember that Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) can be broken down into top-supported and bottom-supported systems. For bottom-supported systems, the fastest cable technology are funiculars which can travel at maximum speeds of 14 m/s (50km/h).

For top-supported systems such as the Aerial Tram and Gondola, maximum speeds are 12.5m/s (45km/h) and 8.5m/s (30km/h) respectively. Maximum gondola speeds as high as 9 m/s are rumoured but not confirmed.

Why detachable gondolas (“loop cable cars”) travel at lower maximum speeds is partially related to issues of design and economics. For a detachable gondola to reach higher speeds, it would require enormous stations to accelerate and decelerate cabins.

For most gondola systems — which travel in relatively short distances — the increase in speeds would only result in marginal time savings but result in much greater station costs, energy demands, system wear and tear, and etc etc. Aerial trams in comparison, are fixed-grip systems. They simply come to a full stop in a station which enables them to travel at higher maximum speeds. Also, aerial trams typically use larger cabins which are able to provide greater comfort and stability during high speed operations.

As for the future, high speed cable test facilities have reportedly designed ropeways operating at speeds of 18m/s (65km/h). While this is exciting, it’s important to note that before maximum speeds change, it must meet a series of stringent technical and legal requirements to ensure maximum passenger safety.


Got a technical question about ropeways you want answered? Send your questions to 
gondola (at) creativeurbanprojects (dot) com in the subject heading and we’ll try to answer it.



Private Gondola Transport: A Sign of Things to Come?

Kadenwood Gondola. Canada’s first exclusive neighbourhood gondola. Image from Kadenwood.

Ropeways are built for many reasons: skiing, sightseeing, amusement, public transport, and private transport. Yes, that’s right private transport. It’s actually more common than you might think.

We’ve reported examples on the Gondola project before – like the Kriens funicular, Terra del Mar funicular, and of course, some of the rich and famous have their own personal systems.

Recently reader Evan J, sent us a video of Canada’s first exclusive neighbourhood aerial cable car, the Kadenwood Gondola.

Built for $3.5 million in 2008/2009, it serves the 60 home-sites in one of Whistler, B.C.’s wealthiest communities (lots start at $1.0 million, home not including).

A testament to the ski-in/ski-out lifestyle promise, the pulsed gondola transports residents from their doorsteps to the Whistler Creekside Village and the base of the Creekside gondola in 6 minutes flat – pretty useful to grab a pint in the village in case you didn’t want to call your chauffeur or get pulled over drinking and driving your Ferrari.

Astute readers will note that private gondolas are common in Europe and nothing to fret over. (You could even argue the people movers in airports and casinos are private ropeway transport.) Still, to us here in frozen old Canada, an exclusive gondola seems pretty special.

Aria Express (aka City Center Tram) is a bottom supported CPT system connecting the Bellagio and Monte Carlo casinos. Image from Wikipedia.

This got me thinking: do private gondolas have a role in society? Absolutely.

What implications could cost-effective private gondolas have for master planned communities around the world? Perhaps the future is one where governments pay for high-speed long distance trunk lines connecting different nodes while local developers pay for the internal circulators within.

Given the burgeoning income divide, great urban migration and increasingly broke governments, ropeways could behave like the entry points do now in privately owned, master-planned neighbourhoods.

We already see this today when it comes to roads.

Governments construct highways and major arterials while local developers pay for local roads in a development. Meanwhile, in dense urban environments, governments pay for transport infrastructure surrounding office and condo towers but don’t pay for internal public transit circulation within buildings.

That is, elevators — arguably the largest private public transit technology in the world, but so common, they’re rarely considered.

Should we be thinking about our public transit systems in a similar fashion? To do so, a low-cost and virtually on-demand system is essential. Subways and LRT are attractive but cost prohibitive to most private groups.

A lightweight and cost-effective gondola could fill this niche.

In fact, this trend seems to be already happening in many communities around the world. Developers in ski towns such as Breckenridge and Beaver Creek have already discovered the immense advantages of building gondolas around master planned communities.

Perhaps then it’s just a matter of time before others in the private sector catch onto the technology as cities did not too long ago.



Would You Call This An Eye-Sore?

After ugly mobile homes die they could become ACTV vaporetto stations, but no one is calling this transit system an eye-soar. Image by Steve Bochenek.

After ugly mobile homes die they could become ACTV vaporetto stations, but no one is calling this transit system an eye-soar. Image by Steve Bochenek.

If you’ve ever been to Venice, you know that it is always busy and getting around is never easy. There are no roads, just canals and walkways between buildings which can suddenly shrink by 80%, courtesy of the unique and quaint if frustrating urban planning. If you’re in a hurry, learn to say ‘Permesso’ while gently pushing your way through the crowds — or travel by water on the vaporetto.

A vaporetto is a waterbus, part of the ACTV transit system. It boasts 19 lines and is well loved by locals and tourists alike. Venetians carting bags of groceries on vaporetti sit cheek by jowl with international visitors. You are continually reminded that, though this town’s biggest industries are tourism and art, people do live here and Venice is not just some huge wet marble museum.

Great views, mildly interrupted by cheap and practical infrastructure (on the left). Image by Steve Bochenek.

Great views, mildly interrupted by cheap and practical infrastructure (on the left). Image by Steve Bochenek.

Like any public transit system, you have to buy tickets, struggle with complicated route maps and endure advertising. Unlike many systems, this one’s infrastructure is simple with tiny costs, yet is a huge draw for locals and visitors alike.

For travelers on a budget, vaporetti are the best way to see Venice on the cheap. (Gondolas — the kind not typically promoted on this site — may be romantic and famous but they’re slow and instantly impoverishing.) The babble of languages I heard included French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Tagalog and of course English in American, Australian, South African, Scots and English varieties.

A rhetorical question: Do you think this highly practical form of public transport is an eye-sore and destroys views of Venice? Probably not, even though those diesel engines spew fumes and blast harsh noises that carry over the water and bounce against the marble palazzo, back in your ears. Imagine titanic bolts rolling around in a massive dryer. The vaporetto stations, squat yellow boxes of Plexiglas and metal, look like what mobile homes become after they die. And heaven knows the advertising for cosmetic dentistry and health insurance can be annoying.

Enjoy the view while waiting for your stop  — or read the ads! Image by Steve Bochenek.

Enjoy the view while waiting for your stop — or read the ads! Image by Steve Bochenek.

Quick, spot the eye-soar! (A vaporetto is on the right.) Image by Steve Bochenek.

Quick, spot the eye-sore! (A vaporetto is on the right.) Image by Steve Bochenek.

None of these annoyances were here hundreds of years ago and they do regularly interrupt a lovely vista — but clearly they’re not harming tourism.

In fact, the ACTV and its vaporetti are a vibrant and living case study of how interesting yet low-cost transit can also become a crowd-pleaser and moneymaker.

A mode of transportation loved by tourists and locals. Image by Steve Bochenek.

A mode of transportation loved by tourists and locals. Image by Steve Bochenek.

The word ‘eye-sore’ is a common complaint we hear in NIMBY meetings when the gondolas we do promote here are proposed — especially in North America. We think they’re practical with simple low-cost infrastructure and, drawing tourists and commuters alike, a boon to the economy. Just like Venice’s vaporetti.

Public Transit / Questions / Thoughts
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Assessing Intangibles in Transport Planning — Recreation, Chocolates & Proposals

Tourist riders on Medellin’s Metrocable. Image by Flickr user Juan Pablo Buritica.

As far as most transportation planners are concerned, urban transit systems should be evaluated based on major “function-related” items only (i.e. level of service, capacity, travel times, speeds, costs and etc).

Such an analysis is appropriate in transit applications if the only objective is to move users from point A to point B in the fastest and most cost-effective way possible. And in many instances, this is undoubtedly an important factor.

However, as astute readers know, debates on form vs function are often much more complicated than that — especially when “form-related” items are accounted for.

Factors such as experience and fun (novelty) are perhaps some of the biggest intangibles. For example, due to a cable car’s aerial nature, it often is a visible piece of infrastructure that provides passengers with panoramic views. In turn, this has the ability to improve ride experience, open up advertising partnerships and/or attract tourist riders.

While some of these items can be properly quantified in a study (i.e. sponsorship dollars), others such as the “fun” factor may be more challenging to address.

For instance, last week we reported that the Emirates Air Line cable car was offering romantic joint-ticket packages for Valentines Day. This week, we learned that the system transported over 25,000 passengers over the 4-day promotion period (nearly double the ridership over same period last year) while a marriage proposal took place in a private cabin.

Melanie, the lucky lady who was proposed to, was quoted saying:

“This was the most perfect moment just us, 100 feet up in the air surrounded by the awe of the London Skyline and with beautiful love songs serenading us. This moment we will remember forever. Waiting for sundown we took our return journey, now engaged and calling each other fiancé, the love songs continued to play as the sky went dark the lights of London came on and we enjoyed our chocolates absorbing the stunning scene. Richard pulled off a proposal beyond my wildest dreams.”

Something as simple (or as special) as the feasibility for a marriage proposal and dating event would be likely be lost in a traditional transport analysis because it’s beyond the purview of “transportation”.

But if you think about it, in many instances transportation is much more than simply getting from one place to another. Designed properly, it can be an integral part of a city that adds flavour and excitement to our lives.

So as transit plays a bigger role in everyday life for city residents, perhaps transport planners should start asking not only how public transport can move us around the city, but also how its intangibles can add character and open up opportunities for more “fun”.

Questions / Research Issues / Thoughts
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Cable Pet Transit

Image by Flickr user wendyhespe.

A recent conversation with guest contributor Ross Edgar brought up an interesting topic that’s yet to be discussed on the Gondola Project: cable cars and pets.

This is a little surprising to us, especially since we ourselves have Joy, our very own office hound who’s been aboard countless gondola trips.

In the US alone, the pet industry is worth an estimated $55 billion where 2/3 of households own some sort of pet. And in the developing world pet ownership levels are now reaching new heights. The Chinese and Brazilian market for example, has grown by 28% and 17% respectively in the past couple of years.

So while our furry companions are quickly becoming an integral part of our lives in more and more countries, it appears the policy regime that regulates their ability to ride cable lifts remains largely inconsistent.

Logically one might expect dog-friendly nations (i.e. UK, Canada, USA and etc.) to have more predictable standards for pets, but a quick google search appears to indicate otherwise.

Pet Friendly cabin on Telluride/Mountain Village Gondola. Image by Flickr user Mary Dawn DeBriae.

For example, despite the UK being recognized as one of the world’s dog-friendliness nations, this country has drastically varying CPT pet policies.

As Ross can tell you, dogs are not permitted to ride the Cairngorm Mountain Railway. But if he visited the Heights of Abraham or Nevis Range Gondola, his canine companion would be welcomed with open arms. And if he travelled to London to ride the Emirates Air Line, staff members may or may not allow the animal to board based on their discretion.

These inconsistent pet policies are not limited to Great Britain and appears to be similar throughout the developed world. In North America, the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, Sea to Sky Gondola and Squaw Valley Aerial Aerial Tram permit pets while the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and Portland Aerial Tram forbids them.

So why is there this inconsistent policy towards our four-legged friends? Do people have a right to bring their pets with them? Or is the ultimate decision best left for system operators?

As a former pet owner, I am torn between the two and see the merits and disadvantages from both sides.

But what are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your views on this.



Curvo Ropeway: Non-Linear Aerial Urban Cable Cars by CSR

CURVO Ropeway's angular module. Image by CSR.

CURVO Ropeway’s angular module. Image by CSR.

A great thing about researching CPT is that sometimes you never know what you’re going to stumble onto next. Recently, I came across a ropeway manufacturer in India called Conveyor & Ropeway Services where a few years back they announced that they’ve invented a new type of aerial transit called the CURVO Ropeway. Without going into much detail at this time, some of the purported features of this technology include:

  • Cabin capacity: 8-10 persons
  • Tower “kerb” spacing: Every 80-90m
  • Tower footprint: 2.0 sq.m.
  • Line capacity: 2,000-2,500 pphpd (single track); 4,000-4,500 (double)
  • Cost: USD$27 – 50 million per kilometre
  • Average Speed: 12.5km/h

While the stats above are comparable to a MDG (if not more expensive, and lower capacity), it appears that main difference between the CURVO and its existing counterparts lies in its gripping mechanism. Since I’m not an engineer by trade, some of the terminology used to describe the technical features of the CURVO grip is not well understood. However, as I know some of our readers are more technically-oriented than I am, an excerpt from the original article has been pasted below that describes the company’s innovation:

CURVO Grip. Image by CSR.

CURVO Grip. Image by CSR.

” The crux of the CURVO Ropeway’s invention /development lies in designing the Gripping Device of the rope, in its vertical structure with respect to the rope, along with horizontal actuation of gripping means, and rendering it possible to shift centroid of suspended Cabin / Carriage, essentially required to negotiate the horizontal curve at line speed, keeping the grip structure clear of the Battery Rollers, whose main function is to provide horizontal support to the tensioned rope negotiating the curve. This could be done with relational adjustment of levels of the rails supporting the two wheel bogies on either side of the rope effecting changed suspension, and relief of the Rope on the Battery Roller system. Depending on city configurations, the Curvo lines should be able to cross each other.” 

So in plain language, it seems that CURVO’s claim to fame is that their cabins can make sharp corners without detaching from the propulsion cable. Exactly how many degrees it can turn and navigate is unclear. But based on a video that the company has released, it seems that their prototype line have modest cornering capabilities (skip to 6:41).

However, we already know from existing systems (i.e. Kolmarden Wildlife Park Cable Car) that unidirectional lines can already accomplish significant turns with light infrastructure. How this is different or similar to those features requires more investigation. If anything, perhaps due to geographic and language barriers, the video has created just as many answers as there are questions.

I always find it incredibly interesting to see how different companies around the world are constantly developing ideas and techniques to solve our urban transport challenges. Whether this technology catches on is unknown at this time — however, West Bengal and Dhaka, Bangladesh is reportedly in the midst of investigating its potential feasibility.

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