It’s a ‘Disruptive Game-Changer’ But Still There’s Much Ground to Cover

Last month, Dopplemayr made a big splash is the ropeway transit industry. They inked a deal worth nearly a half billion US dollars, for six new ropeway cable car lines in the neighbouring Latin American municipalities of La Paz and El Alto. Another 20km will be added to the existing ropeway system over the next four years. That will triple the system’s current reach, providing greater access for thousands of commuters. So it’s ‘a big deal’ for everyone.

In the public transportation sectors —where project costs routinely cost billions of dollars—this may not seem like a lot, but in the world of cable-propelled transit, it’s huge. Never has the industry signed a single deal of this size. “This second phase of the network in La Paz/El Alto is a milestone for urban applications of ropeways,” agrees Dopplemayr’s Marketing Director, Ekkehard Assmann.

Before the signing, Dopplemayr was already unquestionably the biggest player in the ropeway engineering industry. However you could have argued whether they dominated this specialized and uniquely challenging arena of urban cable transit. Now you cannot. This deal not only reinforces Dopplemayr’s market dominance, it positions them very well for the growing urban transit market.


This Is Good News For the Whole Sector, Not Just Dopplemayr

Make no mistake: a deal of this magnitude will create far more interest and growth in urban ropeways. Competitors are likely very envious at the moment, but they will benefit too. Remember the old saying, ‘A high tide floats all ships’. In other words, when a deal of this size goes through it’s good for the entire industry. Major contracts like this tend to increase momentum and the likelihood of future deals. Better still, all of us in the industry will learn a great deal from the next four years.

This deal is what the international business press would call ‘disruptive’ or a ‘game-changer’.

Note that we said ‘would’. A quick Google of the news revealed no attention from the major players, despite that it is the biggest deal of its kind, ever. So why is there this deafening silence?


“Next Stops, Europe and North America”

Currently this specialized industry is growing at a healthy rate. However that growth is almost exclusively in Latin American countries like Venezuela, Colombia and Bolivia. There is still ‘much ground to cover’ in prime markets — in the developed world. Cable-propelled transit needs to be sign as a solution for all congested cities.

The press has not picked up on the importance of the deal but should soon. Remember another popular saying, from Isaac Newton, “An object in motion tends to remain in motion.” With a project of this size on the go, congested and important cities in developed countries will start to notice. Indeed, they already are. This project positions Dopplemayr well to seize those prime opportunities on the near horizon. Ekkehard Assmann couldn’t agree more: “Many new business inquiries from cities worldwide underscore this point.”

For now, the whole industry is looking forward to answering those inquiries.



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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La Paz Announces 6 New Cable Car Transit Lines, Leaves Developed World in the Past

Linea Roja in La Paz, Bolivia. Image by Flickr user David Almeida.

Linea Roja in La Paz, Bolivia. Image by Flickr user David Almeida. (Creative commons.)

Forgive the pun, but with yesterday’s announcement of six new cable transit lines for La Paz, Bolivia, the developing world continues to show that it is actually capable of developing new transportation projects, whereas the developed world seems to be capable of little more than resting on the laurels of what was developed generations ago. 

Consider the Bolivian situation:

Not more than two years ago, the country announced three new cable car lines with a total distance of around 12 kilometres spread across 11 stations. Those three lines were all operational by the end of last year. This new announcement will add an additional 21 kilometres of lines distributed over 23 stations — all of which, presumably, will be built in the same speedy manner.

When completed, the system as a whole will offer a level of capacity beyond that of the average North American tram or streetcar, as well as wait times of seconds between vehicles — at a fraction of the price of other standard modes.

I have no desire here to get into a debate on the merits of cable propelled transit systems versus things like streetcars and light rail — pick whichever you like and built it.

But the key here is this: You’ve gotta actually build it. Read more

Thoughts / Urban Planning & Design
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Temporary Cable Cars: Where Are They Now?

Bundesgartenschau 2005 in Munich,. Image via Wiki commons.

Bundesgartenschau 2005 in Munich. Image via Wiki commons.

One of the biggest advantages of CPT technology, is that it’s relatively easy to relocate a system, or parts of a system, to another location — sometimes for an entirely different purpose. While it’s not unheard of to see decommissioned subway cars get recycled (the TTC in Toronto recently sent some cars to Nigeria), you can effectively decommission any CPT and then relocate it anywhere in the world

Here are a couple examples of this type of relocations.

Floridaebahn in TK. Image by Flickr user Jean Jones. (Creative commons.)

Floridae Bahn in Venlo, Netherlands. Image by Flickr user Jean Jones. (Creative commons.)

Floridae Bahn (Netherlands)
Built as part of the 2012 World Horticultural Expo in Venlo, Netherlands, this 1.1 km, two station system was dismantled that same year and shipped over to Silvretta Montafon, one of the largest Austrian ski resorts.

Rostock Sielbahn, 2003. Image by Arnold Schott (Wiki commons).

Rostock Sielbahn, 2003. Image by Arnold Schott (Wiki commons).

Sielbahn Rostock/Sielbahn Munich (Germany)
Another temporary construction for a flower show, the three-station Sielbahn system transported visitors around the site of the 2003 Federal Horticultural Show in Rostock, Germany. From there, it was moved to Munich for the 2005 edition of that same event. Over the course of the 13 total months that the Sielbahn was operational in both cities, the system moved close to 2 million passengers. After Munich, the system components were dismantled and sold for use in ski lifts in the US, Austria, and elsewhere in Germany.

Infrastructure / Thoughts
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Is Your (Gondola) Project Successful?

Dark Tunnel
Who knows. I certainly don’t.

It’s a question we get all the time. Is such-and-such a project a success? Is it going to be a success? Why was this project a success? Why was that project a failure?

Again: Who knows. I certainly don’t.

Success is one of those awful words that sounds great but means virtually nothing.

To measure success, one first has to know the intentions and strategic goals underlying the project. That goes not just for gondolas but any project.

That may seem blatantly obvious to some, but is too often completely outside of the debate when it comes to major infrastructure projects. Too often we focus on what we are building, instead of why we are building it. 

But that’s only half the problem. Another significant obstacle is that not everyone’s strategic goals are the same. Again — totally obvious to some but all too often missing from public debate about our infrastructure needs.

What’s worse is when the intentions are unintentionally miscommunicated or — even worse again — intentionally obscured. That’s why there’s such a debate about things like London’s Emirates Air Line. Everybody seems to think they know why it shouldn’t have been built, but know one really seems to know why it actually was built.

There’s a difference there, and an important one at that.

When you know the reason something was built, it’s far easier to measure whether it was a success or a failure.

In fact, there’s no other way.

Thoughts / Urban Planning & Design
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Going… Across? The Future of Elevators is Here

MULTI elevator. Image courtesy of ThyssenKrupp.

MULTI elevator. Image courtesy of ThyssenKrupp.

From mobile devices to urban planning, space is always at a premium. Ever-smaller devices like smartwatches are able to do infinitely more than the average home PC of a decade ago, while developers are stacking compacted living quarters higher and higher into the sky. Minuscule gadgetry has existed for centuries; the very idea of vertical living, however, has really only been with us for a little less than 100 years. And the (literal) rise of the skyscraper era is directly linked to the development of the modern elevator.

Outside of the go-anywhere elevator featured in the ending of the 1971 film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the basic idea of the elevator has remained more or less unchanged since it debuted. But whether glassed-in or high speed, they still only go up and down.

That is until late last year when German company ThyssenKrupp announced its MULTI elevator, which can go up and down as well as side to side. Instead of the traditional cables, the cabin is moved by magnetic force. (Bloomberg Businessweek has an excellent visual rendering of how it works.) Directional improvements aside, the new technology also means that cabins are considerably lighter and will be able to travel more efficiently through buildings. Accompanying the story was the staggering statistic that elevators take up 40 per cent of the space in an average condo tower. Read more

Other Transit Techs / Thoughts
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Emirates Air Line: Success or Failure? It Depends

Emirates Air Line in London. Image by Flickr user snappyhopper. (Creative Commons)

Emirates Air Line in London. Image by Flickr user snappyhopper. (Creative Commons)

Over the holiday season, the British media picked up on the story that, apparently, the number of commuters on the Emirates Air Line has literally dropped to zero. Numerous publications (such as here, here, and here) argued this was evidence of the folly of the project and proof of how much of a white elephant it’s become. 

Sure. Okay. Fair enough.

The problem is that this white elephant is getting 20,000–30,000 riders every week. For those keeping track, that’s up to 1.5 million riders a year. Those aren’t white elephant numbers.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest fan of the Emirates Air Line, largely due to the fact that the capital costs of the system are so completely out-of-whack with industry norms. 

But what gets lost in this whole debate is that as a piece of tourism infrastructure, the system appears to be a success.

Read more

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