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.
- 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
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:
- Alternative to proposed Rapid Transit (e.g. light rail, busway)
- Connect to and/or extend reach of proposed Rapid Transit (e.g. Auckland Northwestern Busway)
- Provide additional capacity for a physically constrained corridor.
- 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.