One of my children’s favourite things to do in London – and one of mine too – is to ride the cable car across the Thames. There’s an amazing view over the old docklands, for a fraction of the price of other tall things such as the London Eye or the trip up the Shard. The reason it’s cheap is that it was built as an integrated part of the city’s transport infrastructure for the 2012 Olympics.
London isn’t the only city with a cable car system of course, and the one I wanted to feature today is the Transmicable in Bogota, Colombia.
First of all, it’s practically zero carbon. Each gondola has solar panels on the roof, and they provide enough power to run the cars for seven or eight hours a day. Because they are replacing buses over a particularly congested two mile stretch, it saves fuel and carbon emissions, reducing traffic and air pollution. Pollution is a particularly serious problem in a city that has 8 million residents and no subway system.
Secondly, this is not a cable car put in for the tourists. London’s and many other urban cable car systems are there to serve a visitor attraction or mountain viewpoint. The Transmicable serves a hilltop barrio called Ciudad Bolivar, where residents used to endure a three-bus, two-hour journey to work. A ride costs a dollar, making it a mass transit option for the poorest in the city. For once, it’s not just the rich that get to soar above the traffic, and it’s a nice example of how good public transport infrastructure can drive social inclusion.
Transmicable might be the newest and the nearest to zero carbon, but it’s now one of many public transport cable car systems. One opened in Medellin, Colombia, in 2006.
Medellin’s wasn’t a world first, but it is credited as a breakthrough idea. It won the ITDP sustainable transport award and sparked something of a boom in cable car building. Several other Latin American cities were inspired, and systems operate in Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Mexico and elsewhere in Colombia. Algeria and Turkey have them. Many others are in the works, making cable cars an increasingly common technology in public transport.
- For more, including notes on new proposals, see the dedicated cable car blog The Gondola Project.
- Here’s a video from Medellin that highlights the role of the cable car within cycling infrastructure, bus rapid transit and even escalators – a true integrated public transport network that we just don’t seem to be able to get right in Britain.