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.


Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.



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.)

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

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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.


Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

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Vote for a Toronto Urban Gondola—The Toronto ShoreLine

Urban Gondola Cable Car Toronto

Image via ULI.

The Urban Land Institute in Toronto (ULI) is hosting its innagural  Urban Ideas Competition. Amongst the various fine submissions is—you guessed it—a conceptual Urban Gondola/Cable Car system for Toronto’s waterfront cleverly dubbed the Toronto ShoreLine (check here and here for the submission’s two boards).

Now, despite the fact that The Gondola Project’s home base is Toronto, Canada and despite the fact that we’ve proposed a very similar idea a couple of years back, we want to make it crystal clear that we have absolutely nothing to do with this proposal and have no idea who is behind it.

Nevertheless, it’s pretty interesting and hits on a lot of strong fundamentals . . .

  • The system is (relatively) modest in size compared to other proposals we’ve seen. At 6.22km long, the system is optically an easier sell than some of the other proposals we’ve seen (we’re looking at you, Austin).
  • The system targets under-serviced areas of the city while systematically hitting tourist-heavy nodes.
Urban Gondola Toronto Cable Car

Image via ULI.

You can vote in support of this or any of the other submissions here. And we’d encourage you all to vote. The more attention this receives, the better for anyone interested in urban cable cars.

This is an exciting time for cable transit solutions. We’re seeing uptake of the technology in the developing world like almost no other mode  (check out Ankara, for example) plus we’re seeing no shortage of innovative urban concepts in the developed world (Seattle? Chicago? Buffalo?).

True, the closest we’ve gotten thus far in the developed world is the Burnaby gondola—which currently resides in a will-it-or-will-it-not-ever-be-built limbo—but the momentum behind the technology is undeniable.

Right now people are proposing, talking and spending an enormous amount of time and energy creating ideas such as the Toronto ShoreLine. Governments, meanwhile, are spending money exploring the technology (Calgary? Laval? Georgetown?). And in the four short years of this website’s existence we’ve seen our readership grow from a couple of dozen visitors per day into tens-of-thousands of unique visitors per month from all around the world. 

When it comes to urban gondolas and cable cars you can be a skeptic or a cynic all you want, but that doesn’t really matter because this is happening and it’s happening right now. That’s exciting.

With the kind of wind Cable Propelled Transit has at its back, it’s only a matter of time until we see one of these proposals really hit the mark somewhere in our backyard.

Vote early. Vote often.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.



Gondola Project in The Toronto Star

Dear Torontonians:

You might have seen today in the Toronto Star a story about our work. The story featured an interview with myself, Steven Dale, the Founder of The Gondola Project.

Typically, such press causes The Gondola Project to experience a rather large surge in traffic from whatever given geographic region is discussing the idea. As such: Welcome!

The Gondola Project is an ongoing participatory planning project to help explain and spread the idea of Urban Gondolas and Cable Propelled Transit throughout the world. It is meant to be accessible, user-friendly and informative.

As most of today’s new readers have probably never contemplated the idea of using what is (let’s be honest) ski lift technology as mass public transit, don’t worry – at first it was totally ridiculous to us as well! We get that the idea is foreign, bizarre and strange.

But after exploring The Gondola Project we hope you’ll see that it’s not so strange and bizarre a notion after all. Feel free to comment, ask questions and generally engage us on the topic – that’s what we’re here for.

And please be rest-assured, The Gondola Project doesn’t suggest cable transit, cable cars or urban gondolas are the solution to our collective public transit woes.

Our cities are increasingly complex entities and the more tools we have to tackle coming challenges, the better. We’re not here to say gondolas are the best tool to the exclusion of all others, but we are here to say gondolas are a viable, valuable tool worth exploring.


– Steven Dale

PS: A good place to start with The Gondola Project is in our ABOUT section and our LEARN ABOUT CABLE TRANSIT sections (accessible through our the header bar above).

PPS: To save you the hassle of wading through months of old blog posts, we’ve also hand-selected a group of older posts to get you up-and-running:

PPPS: In order to broaden the scope of the site more, we will often discuss issues peripherally-related to public transit and urban gondolas. To get a feel for those kinds of discussions, we’ve hand-selected a group of older posts that should give you a reasonable understanding of The Gondola Project’s worldview:

  • Forcing Functions – Humans make mistakes constantly. Forcing Functions help prevent those mistakes. What forcing functions do we need to see in transit to make it better for everyone?
  • A Minute Is Not A Minute – Are our transit models undermined by the fact that people perceive time in very different ways?
  • Inflexible Inventory – Everyone wants to travel at the same time in the same direction. Can that problem be solved?
  • Never Mind The Real World – Do our planning models sufficiently take into consideration that which actually occurs in the world, rather than what we hope will occur?
  • Our Outsourced RailsDo North Americans really deserve all the credit for the massive rail projects they’ve built in the past?
  • The Ten Day Traffic Jam – If the Chinese are more willing to sit in a 10 day traffic jam than ride transit, what does that tell us?
  • Canadian Prosciutto – If you don’t believe something to exist, does that mean it doesn’t?


Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.



Jarrett Walker in Toronto

Jarrett Walker will be in Toronto this month. Go see him.

Any transit geek (whether armchair or professional) worth his salt knows Jarrett Walker and his Human Transit blog.

Despite the fact that we don’t always see eye-to-eye on certain issues, I’m a big fan of his work.

Jarrett has a wonderful way of distilling the complexity of transit into simple to understand and rational arguments for what is and isn’t effective public transit. I’ve been fortunate to attend a couple of conferences with him and see him speak numerous times.

You should see him speak too—and can if you’re going to be in my hometown of Toronto on January 23rd. For details, click here.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.

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