Thoughts

07
Oct

2014

Transcanal: The World’s Shortest Canal Chairlift?

Transcanal. Image from Wikipedia, by Tusco.

Tucked away in the picturesque seaside resort town of Palavas-les-Flots, there exists a nearly unknown (at least in the English speaking world) but delightful little chairlift called the Transcanal.

Built in 1977, the Transcanal is only 83m in length and transport joyriders across the coastal river of Le Lez for €1.20 (one way) or €2.00 (roundtrip).


The system connects riders to two separate beach areas in addition to the host of amenities on each side. On the “East” side station, riders are dropped off to what appears to be restaurants and an ice cream parlour while at “West” side station, passengers are provided with access to a casino and more touristy kitsch.

The two minute ride is arguably nothing spectacular but does demonstrate of how a small cable lift can be designed into the local environment. It’s a little difficult to tell from aerial images, but the stations appear to be fully integrated (if not somewhat connected) with adjacent buildings.

The great thing about this chairlift is that it functions as a complement to a small bridge located just a few hundred metres away. So arguably, the Transcanal play no “serious” transport role, rather it is merely a “fun” away to cross the river.

But as we discussed before time and time again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fun, in fact it should be encouraged wherever and whenever it is appropriate.

There are countless scenarios where short-haul chairlifts and gondolas could provide a complementary and a high level of service and there’s a few that comes to mind.

But what do you think? Would small and fun CPT systems be welcomed in more cities? And where would you build one?

 

PS: A big thanks goes to reader Mira R. for the information and links!



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17
Jun

2014

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.



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09
Jun

2014

Endearing and Useful.

Befitting a country with some of the best transportation options in the world, Switzerland is home to the Swiss Museum of Transport (naturally).

As Switzerland also has more cable cars per capita than any other country on earth, it also makes sense that said museum would have the world’s only permanent exhibition discussing this website’s favourite subject.

Recently, my eye was drawn to the homepage of that exhibit due to this wonderful introductory statement that says perfectly something I’ve wrestled with to explain:

“The last mile to the mountain top – whereas conventional transport systems covered long distances in the shortest possible time, primarily for the movement of goods, the arrival of funicular railways and cog railways brought a means of transport whose purpose lie in opening up the beautiful countryside and in the pleasure of the journey for its own sake.”

Read that again: A means of transport whose purpose lie in opening up the beautiful countryside AND in the pleasure of the journey for its own sake.

Cable cars are now demonstrably proven to be useful additions to public transit systems. But there’s still a large number of system users who are tourists. Why is that?

Because unlike other standard modes of transportation, there is an inherent quality to cable cars that make them appealing to tourists as well as commuters—the pleasure of the journey for its own sake.

That’s something that often gets lost in debates between people like Jarrett Walker and Darrin Nordahl. Those debates pit what Walker terms “useful” and “endearing-but-useless” transit modes against each other excluding a lot of nuance from the conversation.

But here’s the thing: It’s not one or the other. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. You’re not either endearing or useful. You can have your cake and eat it too.

You can be endearing-AND-useful.

All things being equal, a transport system that’s useful and endearing is always going to be better than a transport system that’s useful and not endearing.



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22
Oct

2013

It’s Different Here

That couldn’t possibly happen here.

You don’t know how it works here.

People here see things in another way.

Things are more complicated here.

It’s different here.

We couldn’t do that here.

 

All true and no-doubt honestly spoken when said. But here’s the thing:

 

That couldn’t possibly happen here — actually, it probably could. Stuff happens.

You don’t know how it works here — we don’t, no. But you do.

People here see things in another way — all people, everywhere, see things in other ways. What’s your point?

Things are more complicated here — things are complicated no matter where you go. Life’s complicated.

It’s different here — logically, if things are different there, they’re different everywhere. Different is common.

We couldn’t do that here — not if you keep using “different here” as an excuse for inaction.

 

 



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16
Sep

2013

Travel Early, Travel Free – Reducing Congestion on Singapore’s MRT

Last week, Steven wrote an interesting post about the psychology of travel decisions for public transit riders.

Unlike driving, riding a bus or train tends involve a host of a variables  (i.e. ticket price, wait times, transfer times, and dwell times) which ultimately affects a passenger’s decision. One of these factors, price, is probably one of the largest determinants in the minds of a passenger.

Knowing this fact, Singapore’s MRT system this past summer implemented an innovative 1-year pilot program to combat congestion — Travel Early, Travel Free.

The program is very straightforward — passengers who “tap out”/exit before 7:45am from one of sixteen designated MRT stations will not be charged for their ride.

Officials hope that for those who are willing to alter their schedules, they will travel just slightly earlier to help spread out the peak, and thereby, reducing peak hour crowding.

To help riders understand how their decisions can affect congestion, the LTA posted some telling images of what a huge difference 15 minutes can make.

730am. Bishan Station.

745am. Bishan Station.

800am. Bishan Station.

830am. Bishan Station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Their overall objective is to entice 10-15% of riders to take advantage of this program. And to sweeten the deal, they decided to offer early-bird commuters free coffee on the first three days.

Whether or not this trial is successful remains to be seen but the results of this should definitely interest those in the public transit field.

While I do think this program will yield positive outcomes, one odd thing that I immediately noticed was the absence of a “leave early, leave free” deal. I mean, if you’re trying to reduce congestion during the morning, shouldn’t a similar program exist during the afternoon?



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07
Aug

2013

Is Public Transit Merely a Means of Mobility?

Post by Charlotte Boffetti.

Undoubtedly, one of the primary reasons for building subways, streetcars, and cable cars is to improve urban mobility. These systems are designed to transport passengers from one destination to another. And in the minds of many transit planners and engineers, this unfortunately tends to be the sole motivation – however, I feel that public transit is much more than a simple means of transport.

Around the world, through planned and/or spontaneous efforts by passengers and cities, surprising, beautiful and unconventional uses of the transit network often emerge.

The transport network can be a place of expression, of art and even fun. As an element of an urban space, people find many ways to reappropriate a public transit system.

For example, subways are often playgrounds for street artists. It offers a huge platform for expression and diffusion. Sometimes the goal is just to create a nicer environment and sometimes it is to convey a political message. I, myself, am really sensitive to all forms of expressions found in the transport network that makes my travel more interesting.

In my city of Lyon, France, street art can be found adjacent to more conventional art. Since the subway was opened in 1978, it has displayed many different types of artwork. Unfortunately, over the years, many of these displays have been neglected. So last year, the director of transportation started an “Art Metro” initiative to upgrade the artwork and make it more noticeable for passengers.

On one hand, one of the goals was to take art out of museums and make it accessible to all members of the public, while on the other hand, it was to improve the subway’s overall design and enhance passengers travel.

Public art in Hotel de Ville Station on Lyon’s Metro Line A. Image from Systral. 

Many cities have taken similar kind of initiatives which sought to improve the transport network’s appearance, and thereby in hopes of improving the overall travel experience.

Stockholm T-Bana

Station T-Centralen on Stockholm Metro. Image by Flickr user Kotka Molokovich.

Subway Munich - Germany

Candidplatz Station on Munich Metro. Image by Flickr user kleiner hobbit.

But does this really change anything for the users taking transit? In my opinion, art really does enhance the travel experience. But moreover it changes a transport system’s representation and perception. A subway’s representation can be changed from a long, cold and grey tunnel to a colourful and welcoming place.

In turn, the transport network becomes so much more than a simple place of passage, it becomes a place of life. And this becomes especially important, if you’re like me, where I find myself spending more than 2 hours each day on a train.

London Subway, 1970s-1980s. Reading, sleeping, talking, the transport network is a place of life. Image by Bob Mazer from Telegraph.co.uk.

Aside from art, a transit network is also a social gathering space.

For instance, a few years ago the London Tube hosted events called the “Circle Line Party”. Participants would decorate a subway train, bring musical equipment, food, alcohol and party into this unconventional space. The participants claim that these parties are not meant to disrupt travel, but to “reclaim the public space from advertisers and give it back to the people to whom it belongs”.

Circle Line Cocktail Party

Last Circle Line Party. Image by Flickr user David Elstob.

In 2008,  Mayor Boris Johnson banned drinking alcohol on public transport and on the eve of the ban, thousands of people joined in the subway to celebrate the last night of legal drinking. Unfortunately, when the celebrations came to a close, several passengers and staff were injured along with several arrests.

I feel that most people have enough self-control and self-discipline to be afforded this privilege should they remain respectful to other passengers.

Two ladies drinking responsibly on the London Tube – 1970s-1980s. Image by Bob Mazzer from Telegraph.co.uk.

My point is not to encourage drinking in public space, but to question how we should use public transport and how certain activities should be regulated.

What is important to understand is that the transport network is not merely a neutral place with just one simple function. Of course a transport system is used for mobility, but as we can see from the examples above, it is also a place of expression, of creation and sometimes of recreation.

Integrating art, colour and unconventional elements in the transport network can improve the travel experience for passengers, and thus alter its perception and its role in the eyes of the public.

If you can think of any other unique and/or interesting examples/project that has enhanced and altered a passenger’s  journey on public transit, please feel free to share!

 

 

 

 



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22
May

2013

Essential Services vs. Essential Services

Swiss Ticket Machine

Image via flickr user eti.

You can talk about “Essential Services” in one of two ways:

The first way is as a commodity, as a necessity of society or as a basic provision of life. More often than not, these essential services take the form of monopolies and organized cartels. They’re necessary and useful, but rarely ever pleasant.

The second form of essential services are seemingly unnecessary services that go so far above and beyond the call of duty, that improve your well-being so greatly, that raise the bar so high; they become necessary accoutrements—they become an essential part of your life.

An emergency room, a public transit system and the police are essential services in the first sense that they are some of the bare minimum of services any responsible society needs to function.

Dropbox, on the other hand is an essential service in the second sense—it makes our lives infinitely easier, better and more pleasant to the extent that it becomes a regular part of our world; that it becomes essential.

Too often, public transit is the former, and not the latter.

That occurred to me on a recent business trip. As regular readers know, I spend a fair amount of time in Switzerland for personal and professional reasons. And when there, I use a prepaid cell phone.

On a recent morning sprint to the train station, I realized that—owing to a long weekend where all the stores were closed—I hadn’t topped up my phone and was desperately short of credit. As a foreigner, my provider’s online web portal doesn’t accept my credit card, so I was used to going to the supermarket to top it up.

Now normally that wouldn’t be a problem, except I was travelling to a city I had only been to once (three years ago) and had no idea what my train connections were and had not time to go to the ticket counter to request a schedule.

How wonderful, then, to learn that the train ticket vending machine also allowed me the option to purchase credits for my cell phone on the network of my choosing. And here’s the kicker: Instead of issuing a confusing receipt with a seemingly endless code to add credit to the phone, I instead received a simple text message informing me that my phone had been credited as per my request and the balance would be charged to my credit card.

In other words, the train station method of buying cell phone “guthaben” (as the locals call it) was a more pleasant, convenient and intuitive method than other more traditional means. It’s also a heck of a lot more convenient than standing in line at the grocery store.

There’s nothing “essential” about a train station ticket vending machine that allows you to buy cell phone “guthaben.” Life goes on without it and I’m sure I could’ve managed enough mangled German to figure out how to get where I was going. But here’s the thing:

The service was so good, so useful and so surprisingly intuitive that it became, for me, essential in the time it took to complete the transaction (roughly 15 seconds). That’s an Essential Service of the second variety.

Public transit needs to stop thinking of themselves as essential services of the first variety (read: monopolies) and instead start reimagining themselves as Essential Services of the second.



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