New use of old technology: How high can you go with cable cars as urban mass transit system?

Mi Teleferico is an aerial cable car urban transit system in the city of La Paz, Bolivia.

Cable car technology existed more than a hundred years ago, and first saw the light of day in cities such as London, San Francisco and Naples in the form of funiculars. In fact, it was so popular at the time that it inspired the famous Neapolitan song ‘Funiculì, Funiculà’, to commemorate the opening of the first funicular cable on Mount Vesuvius in 1880. Actual suspended cable cars followed suit not long after and thus begun the slow revolution of these teeny vehicles, designed to overcome topographic challenges such as steep hills, canyons as well as to surmount weather conditions such as snow. Since then, cable cars have been mainly used in ski resorts or as tourist attractions.

Discovering cable cars’ full potential
In the last few decades however, cable cars have gained more traction in urban mobility context – and deservedly so, unveiling their potentials. More and more cities around the world view the old technology as a new and innovative way to provide accessibility to their citizens. Especially in impassable areas, where train or tram tracks cannot be built, cable cars are a perfect fit to connect major points of interest, to interlink peripheral with central territories or to close public transport gaps. But the benefits of cable cars are bigger than pure provision of mobility services and carrying passengers from A to B on the shortest route possible as its economic advantages simply cannot be ignored. The minimal space that needs to be utilised for the instalment as well as the flexibility in allocating the infrastructure on the ground make cable cars a cost-efficient alternative to other systems reducing set up costs up to 80%. Furthermore, with little maintenance as well as minimal personnel required for operations, the overall costs are also extremely low in the long run. Above all, looking at environmental factors, cable cars follow a “green” approach being emissions-free and by generating low level of noise, an almost silent mode of transport.

City of Medellin: Creating social welfare through transportation
In cities like Medellin, Colombia, cable cars do more than just connecting tourist attractions. In 2004, it became the first city in the world to implement a cable car system as a full-time public transport system. The city recognised that mobility belongs not only to the privileged groups but represents a fundamental right for all. Through accessibility, Medellin seized the opportunity to integrate the peripheral communities living in the uphill areas into the urban life. The emergence of cable car technology has helped many socially and economically disadvantaged citizens to get affordable access to seek employment in downtown areas, to easily commute between their homes to work areas in the city, which immediately increased the level of safety. Moreover, they are now having easy access to schools and hospitals which, in turn, boosted the city’s social and health development. Once dubbed as the murder capital of the world, the cable car system has also improved safety and security for its people by eliminating commute in dangerous neighbourhoods.

While the second largest city in Colombia is setting an excellent example of using cable cars as mass transit, should other cities consider adding them to their transportation system? Or would this technology only work in niche areas?

Ankara: Closing the traditional public transportation gap

The Yenimahalle Teleferik. Image courtesy of Steven Dale. Source:

In Turkey, cable cars are now used to relieve traffic as the country’s cities rank among the world’s most congested metropolises in TomTom Traffic Index. Its capital, Ankara, decided to go up in the air using space free from delays providing commuters with calculated travel time up to the minute. By adding cable cars as part of their mass transit system – between Yenimahalle metro station and Şentepe’s Centre – with a total length of 3.2 km, Ankara has nearly solved its congestion problem. TThe cable car system works in sync with the metro and prevents high traffic volume in dense neighbourhoods with its 106 cabins that enter the station every 15 seconds with a complete l travel time of 13.5 minutes. The system transports 2,400 people per hour and is designed to meet all needs including people with disabilities, the elderly as well as children. The cable car stations are placed on top of existing roads and intersections to allow for smooth traffic to flow underneath, which allows for full integration between all modes of transport.

Simulating the impacts of cable cars as part of public transport system
Before thinking of adding such extensive system, a simulation is a simpler and a cheaper alternative to determine whether cable cars are suitable to be built. More than just a microscopic traffic simulation software, PTV Vissim can simulate cable car system with its impressive 3D animations. For years, many cities have used the software for transportation planning but few have used it for cable car simulation.
Simulating cable car system is like modelling a public transport system – it uses the same functionalities such as the standard public transport lines, stops as well as pedestrian walkways. These can be easily duplicated to model the cable car system. The only thing that differentiates the standard public transport system and the cable car system is that the latter always moves in a continuous, linear motion.

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