Thoughts

13
Oct

2017

Being Feasible

What is feasibility? Image from pixabay.

Years ago, a colleague once remarked to me that feasibility analysis is nothing more than complex marketing — a tool used to advocate for that which has already been decided upon. It’s a comment that stuck with me over the years and has recently taken on new relevance to me.

As we’ve repeatedly pointed out over the past year (here, here and here, to name just a few examples), the cable car industry is living in a golden age of people not only paying attention to the industry but also actively researching and studying potential projects.

That’s no small thing.

While I have no clear statistic to back up this claim, I’m quite certain that there has never been a time in human history where more government and private sector entities have been actively developing cable car projects.

That development process, more often than not, begins with some form of feasibility analysis. And as we’ve also pointed out (here, for example) those analyses are oftentimes lacking in the intellectual rigour necessary to advance the projects.

From what we’ve witnessed, however, the problem is not one of insufficient diligence, but rather the direction those inquiries take. It’s a problem of not asking the right questions — or perhaps not understanding what the questions are in the first place.

When journalists report on a government or corporation commissioning a study (whether that be for a cable car or any other program or piece of infrastructure) to “determine whether X, Y or Z is feasible,” it’s oftentimes written in a way so as to suggest that the study is impartial and binary — that the project Will-Be or Will-Not-Be deemed feasible as though judgement were to be cast down from the heavens.

But what does Being Feasible even mean?

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12
Mar

2017

Reaction: Cable Cars Are Changing the World

Image by Darren Garrett.

Image by Darren Garrett.

It’s no secret that with the rise of the 24-hour news cycle and the collapse of advertising revenues, journalistic standards and intellectual rigour have been on the decline across the publishing spectrum.

As such, when journalist Duncan Geere of How We Get to Next requested an interview of me on the subject of urban cable cars, I presumed it would be nothing more than a 300-word puff piece on the subject written in the time it to takes to write . . . well, a 300-word puff piece.

It was much to my surprise, then, that Greene’s piece “Cable Cars Are Changing The World” is nothing of the sort.

It is an exhaustive, engaging and otherwise top-notch article on the subject of Cable Propelled Transit (CPT) and how they are rapidly being deployed throughout the world. For anyone new to the subject matter, I’d suggest starting with Greene’s article. It is comprehensive with a view into the history of the technology that few reporters bother to delve into.

He even takes the time to highlight one of the central complexities of the technology — nomenclature. Green perfectly encapsulates one of our industry’s constant problems:

“Researching the topic can be difficult, primarily because there are seemingly hundreds of different ways to refer to slight variations on the same basic principle. Spend 10 minutes looking into the subject and you’ll find people talking about gondolas, aerial tramways, ropeways, cableways, téléphériques, funiculars, funitels, inclined lifts, and many more.” 

As I read the article, there were at least a handful of moments I had to pause and think to myself “wow, I didn’t know that.”

If you’re new to the subject of urban cable cars, read this article. And if you’re an industry veteran who thinks postures to know everything there is to know about the topic — read this article. I can assure you there are things in there that will surprise and delight you.



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Education / History / Media & Blogs / Research & Development / Thoughts
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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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01
Apr

2016

The Irony of Cable Car Pranks on April Fools

For those who haven’t noticed yet, it’s April Fools today.

Of course, this means that a few media outlets have gone to great lengths to have a little fun and punk their audiences.

Hey look, it's a proposal that might potentially improve transportation. Ha ha. Jokes on you. Image from Isle of Wight Radio.

Look! It’s a proposal that might potentially improve transportation. Ha ha. Image from Isle of Wight Radio.

For gondolas, we’ve found two great stories so far: 1) A “green-lit” water-crossing cable car for the Isle of Wight, UK; and 2) A city-wide gondola network in Victoria, Canada.

The massive cable car proposal in Victoria is obviously ridiculous in that environment. But could maybe one or two strategically placed lines in the BC capital help improve transport and tourism? Of course. I see several interesting opportunities already.

As for the Isle of Wight prank, I honestly know nothing about the island. But from 30 seconds of Googling, it seems the island’s ferry system made 4.3 million trips across The Solent (strait) in 2012/2013.

Ferry routes. Image from Wighlink.co.uk.

Ferry routes. Image from Wighlink.co.uk.

There appears to be 3 ferry routes which range from ~6km (Lymington to Yarmouth, 40 minutes) to ~8km (Porsmouth to Ryde, 22 minutes) to ~11km (Portsmouth to Fishbourne, 45 minutes). The shortest distance between the island and the mainland is about ~4-5km.

For simplicity sake, we did a quick comparison between the Lymington to Yarmoth ferry route and a theoretical 3S system.

  • Frequency: Ferry @ 1 hour wait / 3S Gondola @ 35-person cabins every ~30 seconds
  • Travel Time: Ferry @ 40 minutes / 3S Gondola @ 12.5 minutes (assuming 6km, 8 m/s)
  • Capacity: Ferry @ 360 pphpd / 3S Gondola @ 4,000-5,000 pphpd

Judging solely on these three basic parameters above, a cable car can be designed to operate at a much superior level of service than the ferry. Furthermore in terms of environmental factors, average wind speeds of 27km/h may have little effect on a cable car’s performance.

Vietnam's Vinpearl Cable Car transports passengers

Vietnam’s 3.3km Vinpearl Cable Car is built with 9 towers (7 offshore towers in a seismically prone South China Sea) and transports passengers at heights of 115m. The cable car was actually built to replace the inefficient ferry system. Image by Flickr user gavindeas.

While it’s not possible to tell if a cable car can be economically viable at this time (depends on fare structure and volume), I suspect that adding another cross-strait transportation option may help drive down ferry ticket prices.

And this coincidentally might be important to locals and visitors since the strait is considered by many online commentators as one of the world’s most expensive stretches of water (single adult ticket costs US$14.25/£10).

I suppose the irony about this “joke” is there’s a good potential that there is significant technical and economical validity behind the idea. Despite the prank, this idea might actually deserve more analysis and attention.

Laughs and giggles aside, perhaps what is the most unsettling is this: while many of us in so called “developed” nations continue to mock and ridicule ropeways, many of those in “developing” nations have fully embraced the technology (see urban gondola map) and have decided to assess it based on its merits (rather than one’s preconceived notions).

For those who think a cross-Solent cable car is impossible, they might wish to take some inspiration from Vietnam’s 7.9km Hòn Thơm – Phú Quốc Ropeway. Best part is, the system has broken ground and scheduled to open in early 2017.



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04
Feb

2016

Look How Far Cable Cars Have Come In Six Years

Caracas Metrocable. Image by Steven Dale.

This website went live on December 1, 2009. In that time, a whole lot has changed (note: all numbers drawn from our own internal research, estimates and databases):

  • Back in 2009, less than 10% of the world’s ropeway projects were built in the urban market. Today more than 20% of cable cars are built in cities.
  • Back in 2009, only six 3S / Tricable Detachable Gondola cable cars existed in the world. Today, 15 are operational — a growth of 150% in just six years.
  • Back in 2009, only three urban cable cars existed in Latin America (not including tourist systems). Today, more than ten are now operational with approximately another two dozen in the various planning and implementation stages.
  • Back in 2009, American interest in cable cars was limited to the occasional private sector tourism play. Today, there are several government-led cable car projects in various stages of research, planning and development with more popping up seemingly by the week.

In no way are we claiming responsibility for that growth. Our role is tiny in the grand scheme of things.

Our role is to educate, to enlighten and—most of all—to provide the fastest, easiest place on the internet for people who want to learn about cable cars to be able to do so.

Knowledge that’s easy-to-find, easy-to-access and easy-to-understand spreads quickly. That, perhaps, has been the biggest lesson of this entire experience—at least for me.

Wanna’ spread an idea? Don’t assume that the idea is your property and try to protect it. Just give it away.

The rest will take care of itself.



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22
Dec

2015

Thoughts for another year up in the air

IMG_7887

It’s not a holiday traffic jam. It’s ‘me time’.

We can’t believe it’s almost the end of 2015. It’s been a good year for urban gondolas as public transit. We at the Gondola Project thank all the members of the community who contribute regularly, helping to keep this site current and correct. Learning is a lifelong activity.

For those stuck in hellish holiday traffic, we wish for a ropeway to come soon to your city, to whisk you above the congealing immobility that typifies so many of our daily commutes. Next time some bonehead cuts you off to advance three meters, breathe deeply and think of those you love most.

For those lucky enough to be riding cable cars above those of us stuck in traffic, we wish you another great year of movement — but Prospero Año may be more appropriate, given where so many urban gondolas are being built these days.

And for those who are riding gondolas into the mountains right now to enjoy some skiing or boarding during this holiday season, we’d like to wish you a safe and enjoyable few days of clear weather — but without using that popular English expression ‘break a leg’. (Maybe just put the phone away, then enjoy the view and ride.)

Happy holidays to you in whatever way to celebrate them.



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21
Dec

2015

The Grandmother Test

I recently met someone who disapproves of this whole Urban Gondola concept – which is fine, you’re entitled to your own opinion. He said it’s hard enough to get his grandmother to ride the subway (because she finds it terrifying), let alone a gondola.

According to The Grandmother Test (yeah, it should be called that) we should therefore stop everyone from building subways entirely. Probably not going to happen.

Yet when I pointed out the logical problem of The Grandmother Test, he basically just said urban gondolas are stupid. He wasn’t a skeptic; he was a cynic.

Whether it’s urban gondolas or any other great idea, if you spot someone who fails (passes?) The Grandmother Test, just walk away and don’t waste your time. There’s nothing you can do there.



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