Gondolas: The “New” Mass-Transit Option

Gondolas in Rio de Janeiro (courtesy: Secretaria de Assistencia Social e Direi)

Gondolas and aerial tramways have long been used to transport people up and over steep terrain. Whether for skiing in the Alps or for accessing hard-to-reach tourist hotspots (like Sugarloaf/Pão de Açucar in Rio de Janeiro), they’re efficient, inexpensive to build, and lots of fun to ride. Lately I’ve noticed that several cities around the world have been turning to gondolas as a mass-transit option to move people high above traffic-congested streets as well.

A system of gondolas—also known as Cable-Propelled Transit (CPT)—is being built over the favelas (slums) at the Complexo do Alemão in Rio de Janeiro. It should open to the public any day now. Rio’s favelas are haphazardly built up the steep slopes of the undulating terrain, making public transportation next to impossible. With the new CPT system, instead of trying to go through the chaotic streets, it will simply go over them. The six-station gondola line will carry an estimated 30,000 people per day along a 3.4 km route, cutting an hour and a half hike to only about fifteen minutes. It’s unlikely that many tourists coming to Rio for the World Cup in 2014 or the Summer Olympics in 2016 will use the line, but it will definitely complement the city’s overall public transit system for the locals.

Metrocable in Medellin, Colombia (photo credit: Omar Uran)

Other cities in South America such as Medellín, Colombia and Caracas, Venezuela have had very successful CPT systems, which were models for Rio de Janeiro. Their “Metrocable” gondolas connect the poor residents of the hillside barrios (neighborhoods) to the rest of their respective cities.

Just a couple weeks ago London announced that it plans to build an aerial gondola system over the Thames River, just in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Certain to be an instant hit with tourists, it will connect the Greenwich peninsula on the south side of the Thames (near the O2 arena) to the Royal Docks area (by the ExCel Exhibition Centre) across the water. The five-minute gondola route will offer spectacular views of the city as it travels up to 50m above the river. This won’t just be for tourists though, as officials estimate that the gondola system will be capable of transporting 2,500 people per hour in each direction, greatly aiding the overloaded London Underground and easing auto traffic over the city’s bridges as well.

An artist's rendering of the gondola in London, England

Hamburg, Germany is considering a similar gondola line of its own. Their system would extend 5.2 km across the Elbe River by 2013, connecting the famous St. Pauli district to Wilhelmsburg. The trip would take 18 minutes and reach up to 120 meters at the highest point above the Elbe.

All this talk of gondolas has got me thinking: I live in Los Angeles, which is infamous for having some of the busiest freeways and worst traffic in the world. I suggest that we build a gondola system over the Sepulveda Pass (above the 405 Freeway). Not only would it connect the Valley to West Los Angeles and the future “Subway To The Sea,” it would also be a great tourist attraction. The views would be amazing and people could access the Getty Center too. Something tells me the residents in the hills of Bel-Air won’t want people peeping into their living rooms though…

Here’s a list of some other famous gondola and aerial tramway systems around the world. Can you add to this list? What are your favorites?

  • Roosevelt Island Tramway – New York, New York, USA
  • Teleféric de Montjuïc – Barcelona, Spain
  • Portland Aerial Tram – Portland, Oregon, USA
  • Sentosa Island Tramway – Singapore
  • Maokong Gondola – Taipei, Taiwan
  • Köln RheinseilbahnCologne, Germany
  • Table Mountain Cable Car – Cape Town, South Africa
  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – Palm Springs, California, USA


In researching this article, I found invaluable information at The Gondola Project. Check it out for yourself to keep up to date on Cable-Propelled Transit news from around the world!

Teleférico de Caracas (photo credit: José Antonio Freyre)


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