Recent Ropeway Roundup


Metrocable photo courtesy of Rubi Florez

Metrocable photo courtesy of Rubi Florez

Bogota Metro and Metrocable Up in the Air

“Seeking clarity on the new administration’s plans,” Colombia’s National Development Fund has paused the tendering process until February, 2016, effectively pausing infrastructure plans. More.

“Boom!” Editorial Questions Cable Car Construction in Korea

Right now, there are over 30 gondola projects being planned or promoted in Korea. The country is experiencing what one editorial calls a boom and questions, “whether there will be enough demand” to make the projects profitable, plus whether environmental concerns are being adequately addressed. More.

Murmurs in Mumbai Mirror of Gondola Linking Local Tourist Sites

Mumbai, India’s historic Sewri Fort and beautiful Elephanta Caves are separated by 6.5kms of water. The local port trust is “toying with the idea” linking the sites by a ropeway (a tourist draw in itself). More.





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Doppelmayr’s Long Tradition of Training Apprentices


On-the-job learning between classes at school


On September 1, 2015, Doppelmayr announced that 22 new apprentices had begun an intensive training program at the company. We at the Gondola Project are but a few and currently have zero apprentices or interns, so it seemed a large number to us.

“22 apprentices may seem high for others but is not so impressive or unusual for us,” says Ekkehard Assmann, Doppelmayr’s Head of Marketing and Public Relations. “In fact, we have about 100 apprentices just here in our factory in Wolfurt, Austria at the moment. There are around another 40 working for us in Switzerland.”

Apprentices are very important to the future of the company and a big part of how they define themselves.

It turns out company founder Konrad Doppelmayr, the great-grandfather of the current company president, was himself an apprentice to a village blacksmith. This blacksmith had no successor for his business and, when it was time, was happy enough to pass it on to Konrad. “From there, we went on to become the world’s biggest ropeway manufacturer.” Apprenticing has been part of the company structure ever since.

“The Austrian System Fits Perfectly With Our Structure.”

Nearly all 22 of the young men and women are from around the region. Just 15 or 16 years old, they’re still living with their parents. Most of them spend 1 day at school and 4 at work per week, “though it depends on the profession they’re learning” says Assmann. “You have some apprenticeships where they work for a couple of months, then they go to school for one or 2 months, then come back to work.”


Of 22 apprentices, 22 are expected to stay.

The apprenticeships vary throughout all aspects of the business, including metal and steel-construction technologists to machine constructionists, electric and information technologists and technical illustrators; “even IT and office workers.” An apprentice’s schooling is both general education and specifically applicable to the program the student is doing.

Austria’s national system of apprenticeship — splitting school with work — is recognized and respected around the world. “To get really qualified workers, Austria’s system is just great for how we operate. Couldn’t be better.”

Which led to questions about those operations. How many apprentices have gone through the program in the past and stayed with it afterwards? “Pretty much all of them,” Assmann insists. All? “Some left for a couple of years, because they went on to more education, but they came back.”

How Does Any Company Keep Workers For Their Whole Careers Any More?

“It has very much to do what sort of company we are and what an interesting product we have.” Moreover, it’s no secret that students who do those apprenticeships have a very good chance for advancement in the company. “In the past, many of them have gone on to middle- and top-management.” He goes on to list some: Director of Quality Control, Head of Exports, the manager of their biggest factory in Wolfurt and many others.

Of course he notes that Doppelmayr is also very selective about the apprentices it takes on. “We give them many tests: math tests; technical and German tests. To make sure they’re the right fit for us and us for them.”

Thinking back to the national apprenticeship system, it’s plain to see that Doppelmayr has the time to be so selective and strict. In the fall every year, any Austrian students considering apprenticing will visit sites like Doppelmayr for one or two days, investigating the opportunity and company. Most years that’s around 700, Assmann estimates. Around half of them will apply for apprenticeship, which is around 350 to 400 who apply and begin the interviewing process. “And Doppelmayr takes around 20. So you can see why we don’t think it’s all that many.”

Learn more about their program here. Not surprisingly, the apprentices designed the page themselves.

Materials on this page are paid for. The Gondola Project (including its parent companies and its team of writers and contributors) does not explicitly or implicitly endorse third parties in exchange for advertising. Advertising does not influence editorial content, products, or services offered on The Gondola Project.


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Plus ça Change — Revisiting Lessons Learned


This very morning, the mayor of the Gondola Project’s home city, announced that Toronto will not pursue a bid for the Olympics because it’s too risky and expensive, plus there simply is not the necessary support from enough citizens and other levels of government. Toronto’s long-time rival in sports, Boston, made the same decision last week.

Opinions regarding the Olympics are not uniform but most agree that investing in and building infrastructure is great for a city’s economy and lifelong. But building infrastructure that must first be approved by an undemocratic and private group of power brokers who do not live in the city? Support among Toronto and Boston’s citizenry is tepid at best.

In the spirit of the day, we revisit a post Steven Dale wrote 3 years ago regarding expensive infrastructure that doesn’t serve the locals first. Interestingly the subject city, Sydney, is purported by many to have hosted the best Olympics ever’. Enjoy.

Dead Train Walking, The Sydney Monorail. CC image via Wikipedia.

On the recent news of the soon-in-the-offing death of the Sydney Monorail, Jarrett Walker at Human Transit had this to say:

Technophile commenters will doubtless chalk this up the Sydney decision as a defeat for monorails in general.  I disagree.  It’s a defeat for one-way loops, poor connectivity, and symbolic as opposed to actual mobility.  The monorail didn’t fail just because it was a monorail, but because it was a poorly designed line.

Couldn’t agree more. But I’d like to expand on those words:

Imagine, if you will, a 3.6 kilometre long light rail “loop” with 8 different stations and a flat fee to travel within it. Whether you travel one stop or all six it’s going to cost you roughly five bucks. The line doesn’t allow for integrated fare transfers between local subway or bus connections – not that you’d want to transfer to it as the line effectively takes riders from nowhere in particular to nowhere in specific.

Would you ride that system? Neither would I.

Of course I’m not talking about a fictional light rail system, I’m talking about the real Sydney monorail that was recently purchased by the New South Wales government and slated for demolition whenever “feasible.”

Some have come out showing this to be a definitive example of why monorail technology is somehow an inferior transit mode. A recent article at This Big City, is remarkably inane in its lack of analysis stating “the transit technology just hasn’t been a practical success. Today we have two case studies of cities where building infrastructure up doesn’t always mean moving people forward.” So not only are monorails not a practical success, but elevated transit in general is problematic.

Now I’m no fan of monorail technology as I’ve mentioned before. But my problem has little to do with the actual technology itself and more to do with maddening tourist-oriented installations (such as the Sydney monorail) that bear so little resemblance to actual public transit. Successful monorail systems such as the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, for example, I happen to be rather fond of.

But to return to my original question: Would any average commuter actually ride the above-described light rail line? Would they if it were a subway? A bus line? A gondola? Would they ride it no matter what the technology implemented was?

Of course not. No reasonable person would.

When we argue against a technology because of its inherent (dis)abilities, we have to make sure that our arguments are intrinsic rather than extrinsic to the technology in question. For example:

  • The fact that light rail vehicles must travel on a set of rails is intrinsic to the technology. Where those rails are located, whether in the sky, the ground or in a tunnel is extrinsic to light rail.
  • A monorail intrinsically runs either on top of a single concrete “rail” or is suspended from above by a single steel rail. Extrinsic to the technology is the fare charged for the line and the line configuration.
  • Intrinsic to gondola technology is the fact that intermediary/angle stations are currently required in order for cornering and turns to be realized. Beyond a minimum set of parameters; the size, design, shape and attendant functions of a gondola station are extrinsic to the technology.

See the difference?

Those items that are extrinsic to a technology are limited not by the technology, but by the choices made by the system designers and operators. Yes, extrinsic choices are sometimes limited by the intrinsic characteristics of a technology (for example, current gondola technology does not allow for more than about 8,000 pphpd), but those situations are more the exception than the rule. Where we get into trouble is when people argue against a technology intrinsically when the problems of the system are clearly extrinsic. (Note that I’ve made a very purposeful differentiation between “technology” and “system”.)

Consider perhaps the best example of this problem – Vancouver’s SkyTrain and Detroit’s Downtown People Mover. The two are polar opposites on the end of the success/failure spectrum yet both use the ICTS Mark II Advanced Rapid Transit technology. One system (guess which) is a perpetual money loser, suffers from terrible ridership, provides no free transfers from the existing public transit system, is a 4.7 km long loop through downtown and targets tourists rather than local commuters.

The other has been a roaring success, has witnessed massive expansion throughout the entire city, functions as mass public transit with free transfers between modes and targets local commuters rather than tourists.

Yet they both use the exact same technology. 

Unfortunately the extrinsic/intrinsic distinction is rarely made by techno-zealots and why celebrations about the death of the Sydney Monorail are disingenuous at best. At worst, techno-zealots use extrinsic arguments against other technologies as evidence of those opposing technologies’ failings. It doesn’t matter that it’s incorrect because that doesn’t change the fact that it happens – a lot. Sadly debate, argument and logical reasoning don’t tend to be a part of our high schools’ curricula so instead of reasoned commentary we get a kind of gangland, partisanship bluster that does nothing to advance conversation.

See! Monorails suck! They’re closing down the Sydney Monorail! Light Rail represent, yo!

Monorails aren’t useless any more than Vancouver’s Skytrains aren’t. The difference is that Vancouver’s Skytrains are treated as public transit whereas the overwhelming majority of monorails have been treated as poorly-thoughout-out tourist traps. It would be like arguing with someone that a football is a terrible kind of ball based solely on the fact that the vast majority of footballs in the world were being used as baseballs.

Nevertheless, that’s where the monorail stands. You can’t turn back history. You can’t eliminate all the missteps along the way. You can’t erase that episode of The Simpsons. Nowadays the monorail is like a disgraced politician. It doesn’t matter if he was good at his job or got thrown under the bus by a scheming associate or whatever. In the court of public opinion, he’s a scoundrel and a deviant and neither has much of a shot in an election. (Though the scoundrels tend to fare better than the deviants in that regard.)

That’s the reason I flee from monorails. They’re a technology with too toxic a reputation and much too much baggage to overcome. That might change sometime in the future, but not in the near future. Right now, monorails are Robert Downey Jr. in 2001 with no guarantee of an Iron Man in the waiting.

Is that fair? No, not in the least. But life isn’t fair and neither is marketing. Anyone who told you otherwise, lied to you.

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Shaving the bear?

I recently came across a working paper titled Transit Riders’ Perception of Waiting Time and Stops Surrounding Environments. If you’re a transit nerd, you need to read it — it’s important work — but this is the gist.

Reducing wait times is one of the best ways to increase transit usage. However, people’s perception of waiting time for a transit vehicle is highly, highly subjective! So if we cannot reduce wait times, can we instead improve the environments around stations to influence people’s perception of wait times for the positive?

In short, if bus stops were more attractive would people be more willing to wait at them?

The researchers behind this paper seem to think so. The results of the paper “strongly support the research hypothesis that the surrounding environment of transit stops and stations affects transit user’s wait time perception . . . . For waits longer than 5 minutes, both air pollution and traffic awareness increase the overestimation of wait time. The presence of a lot of mature trees, however, reduces the wait time perception and even leads transit users to underestimate the wait times for waits longer than 5 minutes.”

That’s huge. The idea that lack of traffic and the presence of mature trees at a given transit stop will make people demonstrably underestimate wait times should give every transit planner pause. At the very least, it should cause them to reexamine models for how riders understand transit.

This is something we’ve spoken of many times before (here and here for example). People are not rational creatures. Our perception of time is relative to our emotional state of being. It’s why we all understand innately the phrase time flies when you’re having fun. Finally we have some research that demonstrates this.

On the flip side, meanwhile . . . .

While I fully support the research, the recommendations to improve transit stop attractiveness seem like what Seth Godin might call “bear shaving”. Named after a Japanese PSA that shows a little girl (adorably) shaving a polar bear to offset the impact of global warming, Godin uses this image as a metaphor for the common problem of policies designed to treat the symptom rather than the disease.

It’s a problem we’re all too familiar with in the urban environment. Too much traffic? Let’s install more traffic lights. It takes too long to board an airplane? Let’s board the plane by row numbers. Too much red tape? Let’s create a new department to deal with the red tape.

Wait times too long? Let’s make those waiting areas more pleasant.

The idea in and of itself is fine. But step back for a second and you realize that it’s simply shaving the bear. It’s not actually going to solve the problem. How do I know this? Simple.

Think about the last time you were in a doctor’s or dentist’s office. Now think about all the comfort you’re provided there. You’ve got an indoor, climate-controlled environment, a plush chair and reading material. You typically even have a fish tank to gawp at (for whatever reason).

Does any of this make you more accepting of your medical professional’s almost-certain tardiness? If anyone’s done the research, but it would be great to know just how many outdated copies of Sports Illustrated are required to offset the frustration caused by every minute your doctor’s late for an appointment.

Here’s an idea — how about just showing up on time?

Lagune-Reutler, Guthrie, Fan & Levinson (the authors of the paper) should be commended for their work. It’s fantastic to see the academic community finally unpacking the irrationality and subjectiveness in city building.

Yet, is it even remotely practical to implement the idea? As they themselves admit, there’s an inherent contradiction in their findings. Consider. Places requiring transit stops also require enough ridership to justify the transit’s existence. These locations are unlikely to be in low-traffic areas with mature trees and daisy-fresh air.

So here’s another idea: Let’s stop shaving the bear. Instead, how about we get rid of the wait times entirely and use a technology that has schedule-free, virtually on-demand, less than one minute wait times?

Just a thought.

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Doppelmayr – Leader in 3S Technology

“What does the name 3s mean?” is a question we are often asked by decision-makers, who are considering gondola technology for their cities. We would love to say something sibilant and succinct, like Safe, Speedy and Stabilized. But the truth is more mundane.

The name 3S comes from the German drei Seile, three ropes, because cabins run along 3 cables. Two provide support and the third is for propulsion. And that is where the truth becomes more interesting! 3S tech combines the benefits of continuous-movement and reversible gondola systems.

Similar to an MDG or BDG, a 3S’s detachable grip cabins run in a continuous loop. Unlike those others, a 3S’s extra cables stabilize the ride against wind and can support far more riders.

What are the advantages for city riders and builders?

  • Greater speed — up to 8.5 metres per second. That is over 30kph or nearly 19mph. Consider: Manhattan is 13.4 miles long. When was the last time anyone drove it end to end in 45 minutes during rush hour?
  • Better capacity — can carry up to 35 passengers per gondola and 4,500 passengers per hour in each direction.
  • Easy placement — 3S gondolas can travel longer unsupported distances between towers. With a small footprint, they provide a flexible and simple solution for building infrastructure within dense cities.
  • New levels of safety — a revolutionary recovery concept eliminates the need for a rescue ropeway. Cable cars can simply be returned to the stations.
  • Low energy consumption — especially when compared to subways, trams and buses.
  • Flexibility — given its high wind stability between exceptionally long unsupported distances, the 3S can be adapted to nearly any environment.

Where can you see the best examples?

The world’s longest unsupported rope span between gondola towers in on the Peak 2 Peak lift at the Whistler/Blackcomb resort in British Columbia, Canada. It’s 3,026 meters (nearly 1.9 miles). Even on clear days, passengers have trouble seeing from one tower to the next. Peak 2 Peak also features the world’s greatest height from valley floor reaching 436 meters overhead.

Pardatschgrat, Austria boasts the world’s first self-elevating station in permafrost. At 2,600 meters, the conditions are highly changeable. To accommodate any possible shifts and ground movement, the structure was built on hydraulic jacks. (Previously those extreme conditions forced operators to shut the old system down for 10 to 20 days each season. This system also holds the world record for longest vertical rise: 1,251 meters.

One 3S system built in 2013 in Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi holds two world records: 5,386 meter inclined length and a speed of 8.5 meters per second (see above). The other 3S system in the Olympic Village can transport a record-breaking 4,500 people per hour.

The especially observant will note that all three of these systems are built by Doppelmayr. Currently, Doppelmayr is undoubtedly the world leader in 3S ropeway technology. In fact they’ve built nearly all the 3S systems in the world.

Why can’t you see any examples in any cities yet?

While we cannot answer this question, we agree with it. With ever-increasing traffic and human congestion at ground level (and below on subway transit) building overhead makes better and better sense. Plus with extreme weather conditions plaguing great cities, the stability of 3S technology is worth another look. It’s Speedy, Safe, Stable and Strong enough to carry a great deal of the load city infrastructure is no longer supporting. But it needs to be Seen.


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On Vacation

Our venerable Nicholas Chu is on a much-needed vacation for the next couple of week.

Nick, as regular readers know, is largely responsible for a huge amount of content on this site. We couldn’t do it without him and I’d like to personally thank him for all his passion and contribution.

I’ll do my best to fill in, but am fully aware that no one can match Nick’s hard work, dedication and professionalism.

You’re the best, Nick.

(PS — I won’t say where Nick is, but when he returns he’ll have first-person system tours of two more gondola systems to add to our database.)

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Cable Skiing

Reader John D. from Florida sends us a link which shows us another use for cable technology that we’ve yet to document — Cable Skiing. Instead of having a motorboat pulling a water skier, a cable skier is towed by a electrically propelled rope line. Check it out.

Big thanks to John for sharing with us the video.


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