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.

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Scuba Diving, Conservation and Cable Cars

Reef forest. Image by Flickr user JennyHuang.

Reef forest. Image by Flickr user JennyHuang.

Can recreation and conservation co-exist? 

Ask groups like the Grand Canyon Escalade opposition group Save the Confluence or the anti-Cheddar Gorge Cable Car circle at Keep Cheddar Gorgeous and the answer seems clear—no, they cannot. 

Yet, of course they can. Recreation and conservation are not mutually exclusive. Look at scuba diving, for example. The current thinking from that field suggests that, in fact, recreation within natural environments tends to lead more people to help with conservation efforts in those very places. 

It may seem like a contradictory argument at first, but it’s really not. Despite some well-founded claims that inexperienced divers can damage the corral reefs they’re supposed to be enjoying, the scuba-diving community is known for its advocacy, conservation and awareness programs. And this ethos originates from a place of tourism, business and recreation.

As a group of Southern Cross University scholars pointed out in a paper from 2012, some scuba divers move from an initial place of wanting simply “to see the big stuff” towards a more nuanced understanding of underwater ecosystems. Through their first-hand encounters with marine environments, they become “integral to raising conservation awareness within the wider community.”  Read more

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5 breathtaking gondola rides that should have made the Daily Mail’s list

Stanserhorn CabriO in Switzerland. Image courtesy of CabriO.

Stanserhorn CabriO in Switzerland. Image courtesy of CabriO.

Back in October, the Daily Mail posted their list of the most breathtaking gondola rides in the world. The inventory of cable car systems, which included Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Teleferico de Merida in Venezuela, and the rotating Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in California, is impressive, if a little bit obvious. So we rounded up five more gondolas that offer uniquely breathtaking rides. 

Stanserhorn CabriO (Switzerland)

Opened in 2012 as an updated alternative to the 120-year-old rail funicular, the CabriO cable car provides access to the top of Mount Stanserhorn in the centre of Switzerland. Beyond the thrill of ascending the mountain along 2,320 metres of cable, riders can venture into the open air to check out the scenery on the gondola’s second deck. (Pictured above.)

Peak 2 Peak (Whistler, Canada)

Ostensibly created to service the ski resorts at the tops of Whistler-Blackcomb’s two major mountains, Peak 2 Peak has gained considerable recognition for its record-breaking innovation. The almost entirely horizontal system stretches from Whistler Mountain’s Roundhouse Lodge to Blackcomb Mountain’s Rendezvous restaurant across 4.4 km of cable, more than 3 km of which is a free span — the longest in the world. At the time, its highest point (436 metres) held the world record for highest cable car. Discovery Channel even made a documentary about the construction of the system.

Peak 2 Peak in Whistler, BC. Image by Flickr user Dan Dan The Binary Man.

Peak 2 Peak in Whistler, BC. Image by Flickr user Dan Dan The Binary Man.

Roosevelt Island Tram (New York)

While not breathtaking in the natural majesty sense of the word, New York’s refurbished Roosevelt Island Tram nonetheless offers riders an impressive view of Manhattan, not to mention the waterfront skyline along the Hudson River’s east channel. Plus, this is the only CPT line to feature in a Spider-Man movie. 

Roosevelt Island tram. Image by Flickr user Chevar.

Roosevelt Island tram. Image by Flickr user Chevar.

Koblenz Rheinseilbahn (Germany)

The cable car system that services Koblenz was constructed specifically for the city’s turn playing host to Germany’s bi-annual Bundesgartenshau horticulture festival in 2011. Using advanced 3S technology, the gondola carries riders directly from downtown Koblenz to the area near the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress across the Rhine river — a trek otherwise requiring a roundabout surface route and a funicular.

Image by Flickr user Mundus Gregorius.

Koblenz Rheinseilbahn. Image by Flickr user Mundus Gregorius.

Mi Teleferico Red Line (La Paz, Bolivia)

The first of the three lines that make up the urban cable car system in Bolivia’s capital, Mi Teleferico’s Red Line opened in May of this year to the relief of the city’s gridlocked commuters. Aside from providing a convenient alternative to the traffic-clogged driving routes (the Red Line traverses its 2.4 km in around 10 minutes), the journey gives commuters a stunning view of the Andes and a look at the surrounding metropolis from nearly 500 metres up. 

Mi Teleferico's Linea Roja. Image by TheGamerJediPro (Wiki Commons).

Mi Teleferico’s Linea Roja. Image by TheGamerJediPro (Wiki Commons).

Just For Fun / Media & Blogs / Thoughts
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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!



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.



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.



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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