Cable Cars, Gondolas, Ropeways and Aerial Trams are all names for essentially the same technology and the world’s biggest maker of them are here to sell them as an public transport solution. Stuff reports:

Austrian cable car company Doppelmayr has launched its case for adding aerial cable cars to New Zealand’s urban transport mix at an event hosted by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

Although, the company presented the top 10 sites around Aotearoa that it considers have the potential for aerial cable cars to fix transport challenges, Doppelmayr New Zealand chief executive Garreth Hayman said its focus is on Auckland and Wellington.

“The sites we are looking at across Auckland and Wellington will save passengers up to 29 minutes’ travel time in comparison to the existing public transport systems,” Hayman said.

“We know these solutions work because we have seen them in action in large international cities – where they complement existing transport networks and are incorporated into existing buildings, underground stations, airports and housing developments.”

Aerial cable cars provide new possibilities by making use of the currently unused aerial level that is unhindered by other modes of transport, he said.

The intention is to integrate cable cars with existing train, bus and ferry services, he said.

Cable Cars have moved out from just being solutions for ski-fields and tourist novelties and there are a number of systems now in place around the world, with some more under construction or planned.

They have the advantage of being able to have great reliability and extremely high frequency – in some systems this could be as fast as a cabin every 12 seconds.

La Paz in Bolivia has the world’s largest network with 10 lines covering around 30.4km with 36 stations – with a further line with five stations under construction. From what I can find, pre-COVID it saw an average of around 250,000 trips per day which is impressive.

One of the reasons cable cars work so well there, and in the other locations they tend to be used is because of the geography with them excelling at getting over obstacles like steep terrain and water.

This is Doppelmayer’s own list of advantages of them.

  • PROVEN – Ropeways have been used for centuries for different purposes. There are now urban ropeways being used by millions of passengers every day for public transport.
  • ECOFRIENDLY – The ropeway is energy-efficient and effective – with no exhaust and no particulates. An electric motor quietly propels the cabins along the aerial rope.
  • COST EFFECTIVE – Ropeway technology provides efficient public transportation at a lower investment cost in comparison to other modes of transport. The small physical footprint contributes to the cost-efficiency, requiring only very limited purchase of land.
  • INTEGRATED – Full integration into transport networks; Cable cars can be fully integrated into existing or future transport networks. They can complement existing services, extend them into areas difficult to reach or increase the capacity of ser­vices.
  • RELIABLE – Where ropeways are used for public transport, passengers appreciate their reliability and comfort. Due to the ropeway’s high technical availability, passengers know that they will be able to travel at a schedule that suits them.
  • ATTRACTION – The ropeway is a means of transport and an attraction at the same time. Passengers get to enjoy breath-taking views as they glide in com­fort high above ground.
  • TIMESAVING – Ropeways are not affected by road congestion and other barriers to movement on the ground: They simply glide above them. Passengers have the same trip times throughout the day.
  • INCLUSIVE – Ropeways are barrier free and can be used by all including passengers with mobility impairments. Entry to the cabins is at level with the platform which allows for easy access with pushchairs, wheelchairs or bikes.
  • CUSTOM – Stations and cabins can be fully customised to meet your needs and preferences. WIFI in cabins and stations, adjustable lighting and charging stations are among the features that can be used to create an attractive environment for passengers. Stations can blend into their environments or to stand out as an architectural feature to highlight the presence of the ropeway.
  • CONSTRUCTION – The construction time for ropeway installations is very short due to small physical foot­ prints. Stations and towers are the only space requirements compared to rail which needs infrastructure, rails, stations, compaction etc.

But they do have downsides too. For example, the cabins tend to be small – often 8-10 people. So while they can reach theoretical capacities of 3,000 people per hour – the equivalent to a double decker every 30 seconds, in practice they tend to be a lot lower than that. For example, a pram, wheelchair or bike will effectively take out the capacity of a cabin while groups may wait to travel together leaving cabins only partially full

A Cable Car in Bogota

Furthermore, with some of the focus being on connecting to or extending existing/planned rapid transport services, because you’ve got small cabins, a bus or train load of people arriving at a station can take some time to clear. So, 100 people getting off a train could load onto a waiting bus in around a minute but might take 7-8 minutes on cable cars.

As part of their push, Doppelmayr have released a list of 10 routes that they think might be worthwhile.

After suitable detailed evaluation, we propose further investigating these sites to potentially progress them as projects.

These opportunities fall into four categories:

  1. Alternative to proposed Rapid Transit (e.g. light rail, busway)
  2. Connect to and/or extend reach of proposed Rapid Transit (e.g. Auckland Northwestern Busway)
  3. Provide additional capacity for a physically constrained corridor.
  4. Direct connection across a physical barrier

Three of these routes are in Auckland.

Airport to Botany

As they note, this would be instead of a busway. Even in a direct line, this would be the longest single cable car route in the world. But worse, with only four stations it misses one of the key points of this rapid transit project, which is the various other stations that would be along the way.

Airport to Onehunga

Where would passengers go once they got to Onehunga, the half-hourly train? And a bit of bad timing for this report with light rail about to be killed off.

Te Atatu to Henderson

That’s quite the diversion to go from Te Atatu South to the Northern Busway and back to Henderson – and even assuming they mean the Northwestern Busway, that’s in the wrong location on their map compared to Te Atatu South. This proposal also misses the point of feeder services into rapid transit stations is that they stop locally rather than just at a couple of locations.

The other routes are

What is not mentioned here is the cost. Doppelmayr say they’re cost effective but that doesn’t mean cheap. To put things in perspective, a 4.5km route is currently under construction in the suburbs of Paris and it is costing around €133 million – around NZ$237 million. Meanwhile, the proposed Burnaby Mountain Gondola in Vancouver is about 2.8km long and now expected to cost about CA$210 million – around NZ$251 million.

I don’t see addressed in any of the report is the feasibility of actually planning and building any of these routes. For example, if they stick to public road corridors they will lose some of the benefits of being able to be more direct. But deviating away from road corridors will almost certainly see opposition from home-owners and likely a requirement to buy air-rights which will surely significantly increase the cost of them.

I do think there’s a place for cable cars as urban transport solutions, but I’m not convinced of the routes proposed here. To me, a lot of this proposal seems like opportunism at best, but concern trolling at worst that dangles an idea that will only serve to distract the public and politicians into delaying investment while more studies and investigation takes place.

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  1. Change of government, queue the whacky PT solutions. Wouldn’t it be great if National could pick up the light rail project, remove the tunneling and deliver it. Wouldn’t that actually benefit people instead of axing it and doing nothing. Pretty sure this is what happens in other countries.

    1. National won’t put their name to any sort of “trolleys” as they have described light rail in the past. AT need to pick up their 2016 proposal where it left off – which aligns with the mayor’s desire to get Wellington out of Auckland’s planning – and get in a detailed business case like was done for the CRL.

      1. I know it’s a distraction and it won’t work in Auckland, but I can’t resist speculating!
        Could be viable for Wellington to link Petone Station to the Kapiti Line through their very hilly northern suburbs. As a straightish line, It would be faster than driving by expressway.
        There are likely a few other niches in NZ.

  2. Well a lot of these routes are across flat terrain, even for Wellington…, for which I am not convinced cable cars are the optimal solution. Kaori to CBD could have a case in that it crosses some hill ranges (and you see that also in the travel time, 8min vs 20min for a car). But of course it would cut through the Botanical Garden and would need to get into the CBD somehow. Plus on windy days it most likely shut down, I do not see anywhere in their sales pitch at what wind speed they would stop to operate (not to mention of course, that even if they do operate, it might be a bit frightening for the passengers nonetheless…).

    There is a reason that La Paz is the poster child. City centre is in a deep valley and millions of people leave along steep sides of the valley to the central plateau (where also the airport is). Very narrow and winding and steep roads going up there, not ideal for ground transport.

    Obviously this sales pitch is a bit too late since Light Rail is dead anyway, otherwise it would have been welcome as an alternative to study and to delay any progress on mass transit.

  3. Why not Dominion road? Keep some buses as well for shorter trips and extra capacity at peak. Then do the same on Mt Eden road, Sandringham Road, New North Road, Manukau Road. All 5 routes would cost 1/30th of the supposed cost of underground LR. The National party could kill off light rail for good.

    1. Are you suggesting running massive cable car pylons down Dominion Road? The same road that has tried to block 4 storey building because character?

      Every year we get a new company trying to sell something they make to NZ, flying taxis, skimming sea planes, electric bike ferries. It’s laughable

      1. Yeah why not. The one in Bogota in the image above doesn’t look that intrusive.
        I don’t think it is that laughable compared to the cost of proper solutions. We don’t exactly have a massive population requiring high capacity, its better than the other option of nothing isn’t it?

        1. Why does it have to be flying cabins through central Auckland or nothing. Maybe we just give over some car parking space to other modes?? Wild idea

        2. “give over some car parking space to other modes” that being buses? I already live on a frequent bus route with peak hour bus lanes, but by the time I wait for it to turn up (10 minute frequency but often with bunching) and then get to the city at an average speed less than 20km/hr, its pretty crap. Its also noisy / hot / fumey / unreliable. And my fare of $2.37 only pays 1/4 of the real running cost, if they can find a driver that is.

        3. Actually its 8km from my bus stop to Aotea Centre. If I get the 25B at 8:36AM it gets to Aotea Centre at 9:15AM, taking 39 mins, at an average speed of 12.3km/hr.
          Surely we can find something better than that which doesn’t cost billions?

        4. According to google, driving typically takes 14–28 min at that time. And people wonder why no one uses PT in Auckland…

        5. The chance of your bus stop getting a station would be pretty minimal though, especially given they are talking four stations between the airport and botany.

          Presumably it is what keeps the cost down, having hardly any stations as elevated stations are never cheap.

        6. “Yeah why not. The one in Bogota in the image above doesn’t look that intrusive.”

          This isn’t even talking about practical effects / looks (as noted above, we have at-times-massive opposition to stock-standard *buildings* higher than 2 stories being built along our arterial routes).

          The amount of “character” opposition and “invasion of privacy (they will look into my yard and my bathroom window from up high!)” opposition would be staggering. We’d go 2 years of planning fees being racked up, and then Auckland Council voting against it.

          So even if it stacked up from a transport side – and I don’t think so, for most Auckland urban routes – I have little faith this will go anywhere. The question is just whether we waste some more dosh to not go anywhere.

          Dom Road has had some 4-5 major schemes designed by now, just within the last 20 years. You could have built some smaller PT schemes just from the fees for that, let alone all the wider political energy wasted.

      2. “Cost less than billions”

        This is not the project then. Gondolas sort work for A to B transport across difficult terrain, if the weather is ok. To duplicate a single frequent bus line like say the 18, the same number of stops would easily cost billions and be vastly more weather dependent.

        Busses can be made better if you get cars out of the way.

        1. “Busses can be made better if you get cars out of the way.”

          I think that’s kinda the point. This is a scheme being sold with an (explicit or implicit) promise of not having to make the hard calls of re-allocating road space. Spend or tech your way out of it!

          ALR tried to avoid the issue by going underground, and the price tag was eye-watering. Our governments spend that kind of money on motorways, but not on PT, so it was dead before arrival. Hopefully, this one will not even go beyond newspaper articles and manufacturer presentations.

  4. I could see it in Wellington, say on a couple of their proposed routes like Island Bay to CBD or Karori to CBD. Short and the terrain makes surface transport awkward. But something like airport to botany in Auckland?

    Cable cars are alright as far as gadgetbahns go, but the capacity just isn’t there. I don’t think they make sense without seriously difficult terrain like La Paz. They look cheap but you’re only getting a quarter or less of light rail’s capacity (iirc) for similar costs – compare the Vancouver project’s $90 million per km to $30-150 million per km for light rail overseas.

    1. 4.5km for NZ$237 million. We can’t even build a bus lane for that.
      Around 8 years ago AT costed Dominion road LR (10km or so) for $1 billion, it is probably at least $2 billion now, so about 4x the cost for 4x the capacity. But will we ever need that capacity? And if so can we use buses as well for peak times, 4 hours 5 days a week.
      They sound like a great solution off peak, no need to wait.

  5. With such a low throughput/capacity and not really low cost I can’t see how this could provide any benefits in our geographies. I also wonder how these behave in strong winds which we seems to get more and more of.

    1. It’s incredibly cheap. We are spending $1.4 billion on tarmac and buses in East Auckland, I’d prefer a gondola any day.

        1. Nope, I just want to see something better than buses that will actually get built in my lifetime. An no I don’t want a monorail.

      1. Auckland is quite far ahead of Adelaide by estimated population now. The 2023 estimates put Adelaide at 1.37 million, while Auckland is already at 1.67 million. Yes it not Perth level, but it is ahead of even Marseille (which is France’s second largest city).

      2. PS: not far behind Lyon, France’s second largest city by urban area.

        And even Frankfurt isn’t that populous: its urban area population is only 2.31. There is a chance in 2050 that Auckland will have a greater population with Frankfurt, and overtake Lyon and Marseille. These are not backwater towns mind you.

    1. Well the article does link to a gondola being built in Paris, a major city if there ever was one… but in general I agree with you.
      This looks like a great idea for Queenstown but a bit ridiculous for somewhere like Auckland, unless it is targeting a particularly difficult or environmentally sensitive area where a bridge or whatever isn’t possible. The idea of riding a gondola to Onehunga is laughable, I get the impression the consultants have written this report from their offices in Sydney or Singapore, using only the internet for research.

      If Northcote point was more developed then it could be interesting idea for a harbour crossing running underneath or adjacent to the main bridge.

    1. As I said above my bus averages 12.3km/hr, and that is one of the best bus routes in Auckland with bus lanes almost the entire route. I’d be surprised if even monorail could be worse.
      Haven’t we already proved that buses simply don’t work by the fact that most people prefer to drive instead?

      1. I think we have also proven that people prefer vodka to water, chips to vegetables, smoko to fresh air and pron to healthy relationships.

        What proportion constitutes “most” again?

  6. Birkenhead to Hobsonville/Greenhithe is the only Auckland option that would be remotely useful and even then only if one end somehow had a rapid station that the other side could get to. What a joke this proposal is

    1. There’s a few places this might work around the city too – possibly across the Tamaki Esturay to link Glendowie and Bucklands Beach, possibly also in the south in a Mini-loop around the Tamaki River, or even Rosebank Road to Glendene.

      But it’s pretty clearly not the answer for huge routes that should be proper rapid transit routes already.

    2. Yeah, it would only seem feasible in Auckland for crossing water.

      Maybe Greenhithe/Hobsonville, down through Beach Haven, Birkdake, Birkenhead, Northcote, then aligning with the bridge before breaking east and dropping down into Wynyard Quarter, getting as close to the future station or Aotea. Kind of duplicates the ferry though for most of that.

      I also think linking those eastern suburbs bays – as far east as Beachlands then Howick, Half Moon Bay, Glenn Innes train station.

      But as an out there idea, maybe this could be an option for the east coast bays on the north shore? Running down the coast from Long Bay, stops at all the major bays, hitting Takapuna and then going straight across the harbour into Wynyard? As well as commuters, you’d probably get some tourist numbers and it would replace a bit of a tortuous bus ride.

  7. As a semi regular user of the electric buses between Manukau and Puhinui Station and having taken the occasional trip to the airport my guess is we would average 10 passengers total per bus. Note not all passengers are making the whole trip. So if we take 6 buses per hour each way then we have 120 passengers an hour. So this is a long way from the 1000 passengers an hour quoted in the article. In the case of a Airport Botany cable car route passengers would need to get themselves to Puhinui, Manukau or Botany before the could use it. So feeder buses. Maybe congestion on the whole Botany Airport route would boost numbers although Puhinui to the airport is quite good at present.

  8. We really don’t need Doppelmayr introducing more madness to the mix. It’s hard enough with the crazy shit that’s actually happening.

    1. Yes, me too, because:
      – It doesn’t pretend. It is overtly a tourist gimmick, as the presenter points out at the end. There are simpler ways to achieve any actual seabed-viewing goals.
      – It won’t give anyone an excuse not to use good transport planning, because it moves a few people just a couple of metres, down and then up. Whereas because the gondola idea moves a few people a bit further, and actually *along*, it’s ripe as an excuse to derail proper planning.
      – If it was the brainfart of someone moving out of a dying industry where money is harder to make, (such as the skiing industry), at least they’re not pretending to be solving society’s problems.

      However, Sanctuary’s Panjandrum idea is pretty good too. Maybe they could be brought out on Guy Fawkes’ Day, to replace fireworks.

  9. Yes I think only useful for particular niche situations and geography’s.
    What about Parnell or Orakei Domain to Devonport. Good views, competition for the ferry.

  10. BRING BACK THE TROLLEY BUSES!!! Trams, light rail, whatever you want to call it.

    National ran on BACK ON TRACK.

    Trains use tracks.

    Roads condone ram raiding, boy racing, drunk driving and other murderous behaviour. If this government is truly wishing to address the “crime” situation, stop facilitating dangerous activities.

    A motorbike gang is far more friendly and less threatening than the tank-like SUVs / UTEs that dominate our cityscape…although a pedestrian friendly environment will always be the safest, healthiest and most pleasant for every member of our rohe!

  11. This looks like wishful thinking. They’d really like to sell those long routes, but all these long routes seem to be unnecessary. I can imagine many good uses in Wellington, but in Auckland… Maybe K Rd coloured bridge to West st?

  12. Maybe Winnie will declare that the $6m given to RAL to keep the Ruapehu ski-fields open was nothing more than another bribe (albeit an important one because this is a valued activity for a few rich people.)
    Without financial support someone might realise that these ski-fields are economically a dead duck; and all the spare Doppelmayr kit can be spread around the country.

  13. Toulouse opened one of these two years ago. For now it is connected to one of the metro line and run between a university, an hospital and medical cancer research campus. It works really well and should be in the future extended to run as a tangential line in the south part of the city by connecting all three metro lines and some BRT lines too. See for yourself:

  14. A tunnelled Heavy Rail down under Dominion RD with it doing a city-circuit around around Auckland CBD and terminating at Onehunga, with adding a second platform at Onehunga Station, would make more sense than some Light Rail line. Commuters will be wanting a service that’ll get them to places within one rail-line without the need of transferring onto another mode of transport. Light Rail won’t have the capability to that here in Auckland due to Heavy Rail existence and presence at major centres commuters need to stop-in, while only Heavy Rail stops at major centres. We should be doing more to Heavy Rail, since that’s the mode we’ve got here in Auckland! Makes more sense to construct a Heavy Rail line under Dominion RD due to it’s existence and presence in Auckland. Yes there’s Volcanic sediment underneath the area, but doesn’t mean we shouldn’t press ahead for a tunnelled rail option. This was same issue with the CRL, we still pressed ahead and go-on with the project.

    Tunnelled Gradients for Northwestern Rapid Transit and Northern Busway have been the issue for both, due to hilly slopes that are present, all that has been examined. It shows it’s possible to run Heavy Rail along these corridors, if you look at NZTransportUser’s twitter current posts.

    Solution to fixing Onehunga-Airport, is by bring back the Airport Link and replace bus route 38, along with it constructing a bus interchanges along SH20 and SH20A between Onehunga to Airport, like we got on SH16. At some-point anyway, a rail-mode will be constructed in the future and won’t be going through exact roading as bus route 38 does currently, makes total sense to upgrade SH20 and SH20A between Onehunga to Airport by constructing dedicated bus lanes and bus interchanges at all the on/off ramps. The bus would be quicker than the gondola on Onehunga-Airport, bus improvement SH20 and SH20A with interchange is 20-25 mins journey.

    Another thing that makes more logical sense is commuter’s preference in mode, for all types. If somebody coming from New Lynn was wanting to head to the Airport and their purpose was for tourism, they’d pick bus over some gondola. Why? They’d pick bus over gondola cause of overall comfort ‘inside mode of choice’, temperature control is very important, gondola’s don’t have any temperature control and don’t have good insulation in stopping windy breeze coming inside. If you’re someone coming from New Lynn, had to use gondola between Onehunga to Airport for 26 mins in really windy conditions, you wouldn’t survive the journey due to wind seeping through the doors, cold air with no insulation and even in winter it be worse due to colder conditions. Even in Summer, it be even way more worse, you’d literally die, cause of no temperature control to stop heat ventilation, gondolas only contain ‘exterior metal walls’ without any insulation in preventing outside temperature from taking inside insulation. Metal absorbs heat by the sun rays, as for cold is absorbed by outside temperature. Internal spacing and seating inside public transport modes very important too, so commuters feel nice and relax in their journey. Gondolas aren’t ideal for a family or even two people carrying luggage cause the lack of spacing, very cramped and can be bit claustrophobic journey. Lastly seating really important, commuters need feel relaxed and unwind in-order to see shift in mode choices, gondala’s don’t have comfortable seating, its rough, very firm, whereas bus is more comfortable, by having really soft, plush seating, plus it has stowage to place baggage for commuters while riding so its doesn’t have to be cramped journey.

    In the long-term future, Onehunga-Airport should be converted to Heavy Rail, but right now we don’t have the patronage numbers to support Heavy Rail. This is another opportunity to give commuters from the airport choice, which they don’t have. If a Dominion RD line was already constructed, did a city circuit, it give commuters options instead of Puhinui Station. Onehunga alternative would be faster option for getting to CRL stations (Mt Eden, K RD, Aotea) and save commuters 5-10 mins along the corridor if built. The Onehunga Line, once the CRL opens will head towards Western Line which gives commuters choice.

    The $6 Billion Southdown – Avondale Heavy Rail line is owned by Kiwirail, but the land is only owned by Kiwirail, doesn’t cover for the construction costs for constructing the line. Auckland Council and Central Government would only be covering the construction cost would only be less than $1 Billion since only purchasing materials for the rail line. Auckland Council & Central Government won’t be paying for purchasing land since Kiwirail owns the land and is state-owned meaning owned by Central Government. If Heavy Rail was chosen for Dominion RD, it be $7-$8 Billion, along with Onehunga-Airport Bus improvements which less than $200-300 Million. With a combined total(Tunnelled Heavy Rail Dominion RD $8 Billion + Southdown-Avondale $1 Billion + Onehunga-Airport Bus improvements $200-$300 million = $8.3-$9.3 Billion), would ultimately be cheaper than the Light Metro and Light Rail option.

    1. “Commuters will be wanting a service that’ll get them to places within one rail-line without the need of transferring onto another mode of transport”

      Non sensical and not possible. Everyone gets a one seat ride? Is everyone going to the same place? Will everyone keep the same home or job location forever? Will people not want to go to different places on a different day?

      That’s why they call it a network – transfers. It works for Paris, London, Tokyo…..I think it will work just fine for Auckland.

      1. And whether its HR or LR, practically no one will care nor consider it “another mode of transport”.

        To everyone but the HR fanatics, they are both mass transit vehicles on rails. Get over it.

        1. Riccardo, the main goal should be Heavy Rail Dominion RD-Onehunga, first, after, in 20-30 years down the line extend the line towards the airport. That’s how without transferring!

      2. “That’s why they call it a network – transfers. It works for Paris, London, Tokyo…..I think it will work just fine for Auckland.”

        We don’t want to be ‘Second Class’ city where citizen are not valued, we want to be ‘First Class’ where citizens are valued equally, Paris & London, don’t look after there citizens properly and like to ruin work & life balance, constant bottlenecks in the system and lack of quality facilities!

        “Everyone gets a one seat ride? Is everyone going to the same place? Will everyone keep the same home or job location forever? Will people not want to go to different places on a different day?”

        That why you build economical, viably feasible/sensible infrastructure with mode of transport (Bus/Heavy Rail) to enable for this to happen, the reason why Auckland’s unaccessible by PT, is cause of the exact reason!

        1. Never doing surface Light Rail, prone to earthquakes, not sensible to construct. Surfaced Light Rail would cost billions to repair and take same time of length to repair as originally constructed. Plus there’d be no space for carpark to park side of the shops on or even drive through.

  15. Yes, I think it works best in certain specialized and geographic circumstances.
    You may also solve riddles, balance on your head, invite friends, and obtain the key to go to the next level in pico park. It also has local multiplayer to spice up any get-together!

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