Upgrading urban mobility

Cable cars take people up mountains, to Germany’s National Garden Show and around theme parks. But gondolas will soon also be gliding over office districts and residential areas, stopping at shopping malls and medical centres. European metropolises are discovering new transport options. By Elke Hildebrandt

Cable cars are increasingly coming into play as a means of transport in urban areas. At the Cable Car World show in Essen, which took place for the first time last year, experts gathered to discuss some innovative solutions for urban mobility. Aerial cable cars are deemed particularly promising. Dominik Berndt, Project Manager for Cable Car World, gives the following initial assessment: “There’s still little awareness of the benefits of urban cable cars. Nor has the real estate sector discovered the opportunities that lie in the associated value chains.” The German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport is seeking to promote the topic among cities and local authorities and recently published a set of guidelines entitled Urban Cable Cars in Local Public Transport. And for the first time, generous public funding for urban cable cars is being provided at both national and regional level. Looking at other countries reveals that a scattering of urban cable cars are already in operation.

It’s crucial to include public participation as the plans for urban cable car projects are developed.
Reinhard Fitz Head of International Business Development at Doppelmayr Seilbahnen

The benefits of urban cable cars are inspiring urban planners worldwide

The urban cable car lines in Singapore, Portland (Oregon) and Haifa feature stops in high-rise buildings and on hospital and university sites. In Europe, most of the early innovative projects are to be found in France. They include a 3.7-kilometre monocable system with six stations in Grenoble, which is set to connect three major transport hubs by 2025. “The T1 will hook up a new district, crossing various roads and railway tracks, two rivers and many other obstacles in the process,” reports Gotthard Schöpf, Head of Marketing for the manufacturer, Leitner. A cable­way in the south of France is already complete – the Téléo in Toulouse opened in May 2022. Schöpf describes the tech­nical solution thus: “The system is Europe’s longest urban tricable gondola lift and connects several high-traffic urban hotspots.”

An aerial mobility option is also in preparation for 20,000 residents and 6,000 employees in Paris. The Câble 1 cable car, or C1 for short, to be made by Doppelmayr, is scheduled to take its place as an additional part of the transport system in the Île-de-France region in 2025 and will connect various metro, bus and tram stops. Reinhard Fitz, Head of International Business Development at Doppelmayr, explains the plan: “The aim is to provide two Parisian districts with much better access to the metro line. What counts here is that the more time you save, the more attractive the transport solution is.” 

Local action groups can prevent or promote cable car projects

Sebastian Beck, Associate Partner at Drees & Sommer and co-author of the German guidelines for cities and local authorities, cites the decisive advantage of urban cable cars: “They benefit from having their own traffic lane high above the ground.” These aerial transport links are also safe and, when powered by sustainably generated electricity, have zero emissions. Cable cars also have additional environmental benefits, he adds, because they do not require major building works for depots, tunnels and bridges. There are no traffic queues or waiting times either. The continuous conveyor principle is like an airport-style walkway. “Those are benefits you don’t usually get with public transport,” says Reinhard Fitz. 

In cities, however, plans for cable cars often meet with resistance from residents and public opinion when it comes to actual implementation. “That’s why it’s crucial to communicate transparently about urban cable car projects in advance and to include public participation as the plans are developed.” The example of Amsterdam shows that an action group can also advance the cause of a cable car idea. In the Dutch capital, the spectacular I Jbaan Cable Car will connect two prosperous residential areas from 2025 by spanning the I J waterway that runs between them. 

The user experience will be superb: board at any time, glide smoothly to your destination and enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Unlike those used by tourists, this urban gondola system will be integrated into the local public transport network and fare system, and be comparatively cheap for passengers. Cable cars also make financial sense for cities and local authorities. According to calculations by consulting firm PwC published last year in its study on urban cable cars in public transport, cable cars are actually cheaper overall than buses, trams and trains.

The potential of urban cable cars is especially apparent in metropolises

Cable cars can be linked to create a dedicated transport system, if required, as seen in South America, for instance. The world’s largest cable car system is in La Paz, the seat of Bolivia’s government. The Mi Teleférico, built by Doppelmayr and opened in 2014, consists of a network of ten lines with a total track length of over 30 kilometres in the world’s highest metropolis, which lies at between 3,200 and 4,100 metres above sea level. Mexico City has likewise turned to cable car technology as a reliable means of mass transport. New connections have significantly eased travel in this densely populated mega-metropolis. For Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo, the cable car is also a key cornerstone of her drive to diminish social inequalities.

Uwe Zeidler, CEO of the North Rhine Dental Association’s pension fund, highlights another aspect. For him, cable cars are a promising asset class. “We favour ESG-compliant investments, a category that includes cable cars,” Zeidler explains. Via a fund, the pension scheme is already invested in six cable cars across Europe, some of which are used for tourism purposes. From the perspective of an institutional investor, every cable car has to deliver a return, Zeidler stresses. Fixed lease income is a prerequisite for involvement in such projects.

Cable cars offer opportunities for real estate development

The interest of the real estate sector appears to have been piqued. For example, BPD Bouwfonds Immobilienentwicklung, one of the largest area and project developers in the Netherlands and Germany, has become a proponent of urban cable cars and is taking a pioneering role within its industry. 

For Han Joosten, Head of Market Research & Area Development at BPD, one thing is clear: “In view of the climate and transport problems we face, it makes sense to consider new mobility solutions, such as urban cable cars, when developing residential and mixed-use areas. This solution is sustainable, environmentally friendly and quickly available. Compared to other public transport measures, it is relatively inexpensive, uses little land and can be an alternative way of providing access to our developments.”

BPD already has ideas for practical implementation in Germany in various of its projects. This coming April, the company will be publishing a study prepared in association with Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences and architectural and design office UNStudio that examines the role of cable cars in urban, regional and real estate development. In future, cable car stops could serve as vibrant mobility hubs and core elements in mixed-use concepts. Taking the aerial route to the office or the shopping mall might be urban normality in a few years’ time.

By Elke Hildebrandt

Title image: UNStudio: Ben van Berkel with Arjan Dingsté

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