The New Taris 3S/TDG Cabin by CWA. Image by Steven Dale.
It’s been a busy month for me what with Interalpin, Alpipro and the launch of our new Guide to Gondolas, hence the spareness of posts for the last couple of weeks.
Now that I’m back into the swing of things though, I’m going to spend the next few posts discussing some of the highlights of both Interalpin and Alpipro to give readers an idea of what’s on the near horizon for the cable transit industry.
Glass is a material taken for granted in life. It’s everywhere and we only really notice it when it’s missing or broken—hence my excitement upon seeing the new Taris 3S cabins by Swiss manufacturer CWA.
Glass is a relative rarity in cable transit. You see it sometimes in Funiculars, Cable Liners and Aerial Trams, but I cannot recall a single instance of a Detachable Gondola that was equipped with glass panels and windows. That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist—but if they do, we’ve never heard of them.
(Now before I get ahead of myself, allow me to clarify something: More often than not, the “glass” I’m referring to above isn’t glass at all. Instead, the glass that’s used in a cable transit system is often a shatter-proof polycarbonate material that approximates—to a remarkably high degree—the look and feel of real glass. So when I refer to glass walls and windows in a cable transit system, know that I’m talking about fake glass that looks real, not real glass. Got it? Good.)
The windows and doors in most detachable gondolas—and that includes current iterations of the 3S—have always tended to look, feel and sound like cheap plastic. In turn, that cheap plastic aesthetic has practically imbued gondolas with a cheap plastic quality. Other transit technologies such as buses and light rail vehicles tend to use real actual glass panels. This gives “real” transit systems a degree of heft that gondolas have always lacked.
This may seem like a small point but it’s not.
To a large extent, cable cars are in a war of perception. People simply don’t perceive them to be public transit—hence, they’re not public transit. That’s what was learned a couple decades ago by transport scholars Neumann & Bondada. They learned that the transit planning world fundamentally misunderstood almost everything about cable car technology. They perceived it, quite simply, to not be public transit.
Perception is a funny thing because it’s a self-fullfilling prophecy—the simple perception that a ski lift cannot be used as public transit reinforces the idea that it is not public transit. That’s a nasty vicious circle to that cable manufacturers have had difficulty breaking out of.
That’s the importance of the Taris’ (fake) glass windows—they change perception. Real transit has real glass. Now, so too do gondolas. Cable transit now has a technology with the heft of a “real” transit vehicle and feels completely unlike the ski lift models that have preceded it—and when I say that, note that I’m including the Koblenz Rheinseilbahn in that class of ‘ski lift models.’ Despite that system’s innovative urban concept cabins, it doesn’t approach the Taris’ degree of heft, finesse or general overall urbanity.
Another feature of public transit that’s as standard as they come but has been lacking in detachable gondola systems has been air conditioning. It’s a feature that’s been around for a while now, but has still been the exception rather than the norm. Yet look at the CWA website and you’ll see that the Taris is being offered with an (optional) commercially available 24V air conditioning unit in the same way that their Omega series of cabins are. That’s a change from their past line of 3S cabins which currently aren’t (and I don’t believe ever were) offered with AC.
The final thing to note about the Taris is the cabin capacity. CWA states that the maximum capacity model of the Taris to be 45—a significant premium above the 35-40 that’s typically reported about 3S systems. That’s a 12.5%-28.5% increase in capacity for those that care about those sort of things.
Where the space for those extra 5-10 people are coming from, however, isn’t entirely clear because dimensions aren’t given for either the Taris nor older model 3S cabins. So there’s a few possibilities:
- The Taris is legitimately larger than standard 3S cabin models;
- the upper capacity limit of the Taris is presumed to be without any standing room;
- the capacity numbers have been adjusted to reflect a typical urban commuter—which typically occupy less space and are less heavy than ski lift patrons (due to gear) or;
- this is just a marketing gimmick.
Furthermore, it’s not at all clear if this increase in cabin capacity will have any actual impact on overall system capacity. It’s all fine and well to increase cabin capacity, but if that only results in fewer vehicles on the line (instead of an increase in pphpd), then all that’s been realized is an increase in cabin crowding and wait times between vehicles—a overall net decrease in cabin capacity.
No matter what the capacity implications, it’s clear that the Taris is targeted to the urban transport market.
According to my conversations with CWA during Interalpin, the company intends it to become the new standard in 3S systems, especially for the urban market. As of yet, we don’t know what the price premium associated with the Taris is, but it’s reasonable to assume it will be significant. It is, after all, a brand new vehicle tailored to a market that can absorb a cost premium well beyond that which a ski resort can.
Notwithstanding the lack of clarity on issues of capacity, it’s clear that this is a big leap forward for the industry.