Cableways evoke primarily memories of mountain resorts and viewpoints. Aiguille du Midi in France, Rote Nasse in Switzerland, Plateau Rosa in Italy fly over stunning Alpine sceneries. Masada cableway in Israel, Table Mountain aerial cableway in South Africa, or Rio cable car in Brazil reach the top of mountains or plateaus otherwise difficult to access and no less stunning. Naturally, when we think cable car, we think going up, usually in a site of natural beauty.
Yet, slowly but surely, cableways have been finding their ways in cities, not only cities built at the foot of some sort of mountain such as Cape Town, Rio or Barcelon
a, but also cities as flat as London, Cologne or New York. In most cases, their purpose is to fly over a natural obstacle such as a river, but increasingly projects are popping up left and right for cableways flying across industrial areas or simply districts too densly populated to contemplate street level infrastructure. The idea may not be entirely new, but judging by the number of projects, it looks like an idea whose time has come.
Here are a few reasons why:
A new consumer experience
Even if the scenery turns out to be less spectacular than in the mountains, I’d bet that consumers will enjoy the bird’s view more than the mole’s view. For a time the feeling of taking a holiday transport to go to work will attract consumers, fostering acceptance of the new mode of transportation and creating a welcome lift to passenger numbers, thereby ensuring its initial success.
Rough estimates in mature markets cost the construction of underground infrastructure such as metro at €100m per km, ground infrastructure such as tram at €30m per km, and cableways at €10m per km. In a context of increasing urbanisation and traffic congestion on the one hand, and governments close to bankrupcy on the other hand, a low-cost, and in most cases faster to implement solution is bound to attract attention.
While all public transport operators are desperately trying to automate operations, the introduction of driverless trains proves particularly arduous and… costly. By contrast, cableways are by design automated: there is of course a need to run and control the operation of the cable itself, but there are no operators for each car as there are train or tram drivers.
A proven technology
As already mentioned in Innovating for the Post-Crisis Rebound, crisis times rarely see the emergence of high-risk technology innovations, but rather the repackaging of proven technologies and their application to new markets. The cableway technology has more than proven itself through almost a century in some of the harshest environments. Repackaging it for day-to-day urban commuting is an idea worth investing in to lift ourselves out of our infrastructure and economic crisis.
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Yann Cramer is an innovation learner, practitioner, sharer, teacher. He’s lived in France, Belgium and the UK, he’s travelled six continents to create development opportunities with customers or suppliers, and run workshops on R&D and Marketing. He writes on www.innovToday.com and on twitter @innovToday.