The urban gondola is a transport system in the ascendant across the globe, but not all Metrocable projects have been a success.
This morning the Herald revealed a whimsical-sounding report that proposed Auckland suspend future transit plans in favour of a gondola cable car system.
The article by columnist and public transport evangelist Simon Wilson named 10 routes, across Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland, that would be feasible to operate as cable car highways.
Frequent flyers delighted in the proposed high-wire route between Auckland International Airport and Onehunga. The column suggested that Doppelmayr is courting New Zealand cities with a transport solution that could be built “in a couple of years for a fraction of the cost of light rail.”
Not to get hung up on the idea of cable cars vs trains, there are plenty of cities around the world that have pegged their infrastructure on high lines. From Paris to Colombia there are many upsides to cable car use. There are also occasions where this ‘transport of delight’ has let commuters down.
Here are just some of the cities which have tried the novel transport solution.
Rio De Janeiro, Brazil - Ups and downs
Brazil’s carnival capital has a famous scenic cable car, Bondinho do Pão de Açúcar. The gondola has taken tourists to the top of Mt Sugarloaf since 1912 for views of Christ the Redeemer across the bay. Less known is the fact that Rio had a cable car for metropolitan commuters. The Teleférico do Complexo do Alemão was a brief-lived gondola, open between 2011 and 2016, which carried up to 10,000 passengers a day until it was closed due to lack of funding.
Tizi Ouzou, Algeria - African high lines
The Algerian town of Tizi Ouzou is a recent convert to cable cars. They are, however, enthusiastic in their uptake of the transport system. Having installed the first line in 2019 by POMA, the mountainous university town signed off on a second line in September 2023.
With a majority of the dispersed city built around mountainous territories, the cable car is used by around 1000 passengers an hour, riding to stations in the student district and Sidi Belloua hospital.
Yokohama, Japan - Fun of the fair
The urban port city within Tokyo’s Metropolitan area is extremely future-facing, so it’s surprising to hear that it took until 2021 to complete the Air Cabin. The cable car is uniquely suited to the islands and canals of the city. The five-minute traverse links the Sakuragicho rail station with Shinko Pier. Terminating in the Cosmoworld theme park, it’s hard to tell if this is purely a commuter cable car or an interim fun ride. It is definitely spectacular at night.
Wuppertaler Schwebebahn, Germany - Uber and out
The Wuppertal Suspension Railway is northwest Germany’s over-engineered and utterly unique answer to public transport. Covering 20 stations and a distance of 13km, the overhead monorail is a cousin of the overhead cable car. Opening in 1901 it cost 16 million Imperial Marks to build - or about $938 million, with inflation.
There is a reason you won’t find a Schwebebahn anywhere else in the world. Apart from a theme park in Rotorua, that is.
The Wuppertal suspension railway is still in use, carrying 80,000 visitors a day.
Medellín, Columbia - gold medal for urban cable cars
At 1495 metres altitude in the Aburrá Valley of the Colombian Andes, Medellín is the perfect template for a city made for cable cars. Metrocable cuts lines across the city with three routes: K, J and L.
The city turned to cable cars when it was found that buses were unable to climb the steep streets of the mountainside barrios.
In a year, the system carries just over three times the population of New Zealand, with 17 million tickets sold annually.
The cable cars have been dubbed ‘crime cutter’, as a symbol of a place that rose from a reputation in the 1990 for violence and drug gangs to economic success. However, the people of Medellín argue that the gondolas arrived in a city, already on the ‘up and up’.
First launched in 2004, and expanded in 2008 and 2011 the Metrocable has become a template for many South American cities, including Caracas in Venezuela.