Every few years a new proposal pops up wanting us to invest in a new or different form of transport – invariably that only the proposer can provide. And that’s happened once again, this time with a suggestion to build a gondola over the harbour.
A gondola line above Auckland’s Waitematā Harbour is being proposed by the world’s biggest maker of the technology, as a low cost, high-capacity public transport system.
Austrian firm Doppelmayr is working on a possible 4.2km line linking Wynyard Quarter, Bayswater and the Akoranga bus station. It could be built within 2-3 years, costing around $200 million.
Doppelmayr’s Christchurch-located New Zealand subsidiary has had initial discussions with Waka Kotahi including the ability of the line to carry cyclists across the harbour.
Unlike most ‘left field’ proposals, gondolas are at least an existing and proven technology .
While a new idea in New Zealand for urban transport, Doppelmayr has built big systems in South American cities, with a 31km network in La Paz, Bolivia, carrying more than 265,000 passengers a day.
Doppelmayr calls the technology “ropeways”, and there are differing systems, from smaller vehicles, to 78-passenger cars used in a Portland system, to a 200-seat double-decker in a Vietnamese theme park.
“We are generally one-third the cost of light rail, one-tenth the cost of going underground, and we have a modular design which means that construction projects are very short in comparison,” said Garreth Hayman, the general manager of Doppelmayr Lifts NZ Ltd.
The proposed cross-harbour line could be built with 2-3 large pylons between the stations.
While the firm has not released any artists impressions of what a cross-harbour line might look like, Stuff understands quite a bit of work has been done behind the scenes.
Hayman said Bayswater provided both a good location for a pylon, but also a transport link for the congested Devonport peninsula.
“I know of the (congestion) issues along Lake Road, but if Bayswater people did not want the connection then it could go direct,” he said.
Hayman acknowledged that opinions on the visual impact of tall pylons might be a hurdle, but he was confident that once built, people would enjoy it.
So presumably a route something like this. Having the terminal at Wynyard would probably mean a station out at the end in the headland park, making it quite a long walk from the city centre and having fairly limited bus connections to go elsewhere. Perhaps Queens Wharf would be a better location for the station, right downtown next to Britomart.
Gondolas have some unique benefits over other forms of transport, in particular, they have very high frequency with, depending on the system, cabins able to depart multiple times per minute. They’re also great at getting over obstacles such as mountains or water and while they’re not always super fast, with systems seeming to be in the 15-30km/h range, they are direct so can be competitive with other modes and a useful point to point system. The busway takes about eight minutes to get from Akoranga to the start of Fanshawe Street, all going well, so it seems the ropeway might not be any quicker to Wynyard. However if it went to downtown instead there would be a clear advantage.
Furthermore, depending on the size of the cabins, they can have reasonable capacity. On cabin size, it does vary from system to system but most lines used for urban transport are in the in the range of 6-10 passengers per cabin, particularly the ones seen in those South American cities that operate on a continuous loop with a single cable. Some continuous loop lines have larger cabins though, for example a gondola planned in Vancouver to Simon Fraser University is planned to have cabins capable of carrying up to 35 people at once – the same as a gondola in Koblenz, Germany (below). These use a triple cable system, where two fixed support cables act like the rails of a train track, while a third moving cable pulls the cabins along.
Nonetheless, it seems like the largest cabins (like Portland’s 78 person “aerial tram”) are limited to short lines with two counterbalanced cabins that bounce back and forth, a bit like wellington’s cable car but suspended in the air. This is probably a weight issue for the cables and support towers and it seems unlikely that a very long cableway across Auckland’s harbour could use them quite so big.
They do have some downsides however, such as potentially struggling with peak capacity if smaller cabins are used – if everyone turns up at once, like after work, you may end up having to wait longer than you would to catch a bus. As covered already, a lot depends on the size of cabins on the system and if smaller ones are used, there’s not going to be much room for bikes, which is important given this proposal seems to be being suggested as an alternative to a walking and cycling connection. As we see on our buses and trains, people don’t like to cram into every last seat if they can help it, and throwing bikes into the mix means the capacity might be half what they claim in day to day use. There’s also the not insignificant visual issue of the towers that are needed to hold the ropes up, something that will be a major talking point in a city like Auckland.
If this is to be a replacement for a walking and cycling crossing on the existing or a new bridge, there’s also the issue that you’ll only be able to use the gondola when it’s operational. It’s worth noting that when Waka Kotahi came up with the idea of the now cancelled dedicated walking and cycling bridge, they did include a gondola as one of their assessment options and noted it would only run from 6am to 12pm – ferries or dedicated bike buses had this issue too.
So while there may be some uses for a gondola, and it may be more beneficial than a ferry bouncing back and forth, it does feel like this is somewhat of a distraction from options such as reallocating a lane/s on the existing bridge.