Si Urban: Professor Monheim, it is about time to start implementing the existing innovative ideas for public transport. Is Europe still hibernating?
Prof. Heiner Monheim: Due to their traditional focus on winter sports and the mountains, cable transport system manufacturers have long obstructed their own view on urban applications. In most European countries, fiscal and legal aspects of public transport are tightly formalized so that “side-entrants” find it rather difficult to get a foot in the door. This is why success in this field also requires some persistence.
Which positive examples are there in Europe?
All instances of urban cable transport system installations in Europe come with specific situations. Most of them are “Event lines” without full integration with existing public transport networks. This makes it difficult to generalize such solutions.Many arguments speak loudly in favor of using urban cable transport systems.
Do you understand what is hampering their development?
Cable transport system planners do not adequately take into account that these lines need to be integrated with urban development and public space architecture. Linear point to point connections cannot be sufficient. Usually, several stops are required and it is important to be able to take turns or to change direction. One major issue is that crossing existing residential areas frequently invokes resistance. Crossing industrial zones is a lot less of a problem. At the outskirts of urbanities, the much less dense building structures offer more opportunities to find useful routes. This is why cable transport systems are most applicable as network supplements in suburbia, where they can be installed to extend existing rail lines or establish new connections between them. Urban cable transport systems almost invariably make sense only if adequately integrated with public transport networks, with direct access to rail or bus traffic. This also forces operators to join integrated fare plans and to offer the same operating hours as the surrounding public transport network. These are usually much longer than in tourism.
Can cable transport systems be stand-alone solutions or is it necessary to think in terms of overall solutions?
As singular, isolated systems, they are only applicable in connection with specific tasks such as exhibitions, trade shows, fairs, etc., where they are taken into consideration by planners and politicians due to short planning and construction phases.
What can cable transport system manufacturers do to kindle the interest?
It would be great if the two big manufacturers installed reference lines for an “urban cable rapid transit circus“ to demonstrate the wide range of possible solutions. So far, there are only a number of cabins and towers, but no complete cable transport systems for demonstrations and tests. I think that this is a pity.
People Mover and aerial lines – are they in a sense “competitors” or is this just a question of the terrain?
Preference for a hanging railway, a funicular, a People Mover or an aerial line depends on the requirements. Aerial tramways and gondolas are the lightest and least invasive system which is also the most cost-effective. In gondola lines, however, cabin capacity is limited to about 35 passengers. Only aerial tramway cars can hold a lot more passengers, but then there can only be two cabins, which in turn limits transport capacity. In spite of these advantages of urban aerial cable require the kind of bulldozer planning that often left aisles straight through settlements.
Requiring little space, aerial cable lines can be integrated well. Slum dwellers could not care less whether or not cabins cross in the sky above as planning is imposed upon them “from above” anyway. This is why examples from South American cities such as La Paz can unfortunately not easily be transferred to Europe where planning and construction are democratically controlled and inment Transport”, involving companies with a regional traffic duty. The French have been implementing very innovative tram systems over the past 30 years. They are now also investigating cable transport systems so we expect several integrated public transport systems before long. Recently, the first urban cable transport system in France commenced operation in Brest, using a unique double-decker design. In Germany, feasibility studies and debates are under way involving projects transport systems. People Mover and hanging railways are frequently considered just because they are more similar to conventional rail systems.
La Paz is an example for the successful deployment of cable transport systems. Other big cities such as Rio de Janeiro discontinue operations of their lines due to lack of money or prematurely stop planning and construction work as is the case in Venezuela. What kind of planning errors occurring in this context lead to developments of such severity?
In autocratically governed countries and in countries with a lot of informal dwellings, aerial cable transport systems offer special option. They do not volve much more complex formalities. A cable transport line is of course a technically sophisticated system. The typical sloppiness found in some emerging economies can lead to a number of issues in operation and maintenance. A big accident would be lethal for further developments.
Why are there not many positive examples in Europe yet?
Currently, feasibility studies for urban cable transport systems are in the making in a number of European countries. France is likely to take a leading role as the renaissance of communal rail transport is booming as there is an intelligent funding through “Versein Bonn, Wuppertal and Siegen. It is still unclear, though, which will be implemented first. The Hamburg project crossing the Elbe River to give direct access to the Stage musical theaters has been turned down by popular referendum. It was not taken too seriously by the senate either. This is sad because Hamburg urgently needs fast additions to its rail network. The city would be a typical case for cable systems supplementing an existing network. The recent project in Berlin’s Marzahn district is an example of good public transport integration. It will certainly boost public interest in this technology.