The future of urban transit can be found in the mountains. As we noted back in 2012, gondolas (AKA cable cars) are a very real and practical option to solve urban mobility. The benefits of using cable cars are many and when they are integrated into local fare systems they can function as a vital piece of transit infrastructure. We’ve seen the adoption of gondolas increase globally and hopefully even more cities will utilize this modern form of transit.
Vancouver is currently optioning a cableway, as are multiple cities throughout France. The future is now, and the future is suspended in the sky.
Cableways excel in transporting passengers over geographic obstacles and height differences, crossing rivers, valleys, and harbours, and scaling hills, many times cheaper than building a new road, rail line, tunnel, or bridge. And with a much smaller footprint than tram lines. A kilometre of cableway costs about half as much to install as the same length of tram line, and takes much less time to construct. Once approved, cableway systems can be designed and built in about a year.
With electric motors, cableways use significantly less energy and emit much less CO2 than diesel or hybrid buses, and are much quieter. Their simplicity provides near 100% reliability. In case of electrical outages, lines have an emergency backup generator. Operating costs are also quite low. Even though the Emirates Air Line carries only 10 percent of its capacity, it still generates revenue for TfL, such is the low cost of maintenance and motive electricity required.
The amount of people who want to drive to work is dropping while the people wanting to take transit is increasing. This is happening despite of 100 years of car-focused urban planing in North America. Companies are finding that if they want to attract smart and talented people then they need to locate themselves along transit lines and not highways. This is a very good sign for a future where getting around is more efficient than today’s selfish car culture.
So instead of having 97 percent of McDonald’s corporate employees commuting to work with each of them alone in a car, Malec says, “right now, we have I think around 90 percent of our folks are arriving in a nonautomobile fashion.”
Chicago isn’t the only region experiencing this business boom along transit lines. From Seattle to St. Louis and Minneapolis to Atlanta, studies show that companies are relocating to be near transit lines, as they seek to attract workers, especially millennials, who prefer living in more urban areas and increasingly don’t want the long, driving commutes of their parents’ generation.
“Talent is choosing to ride transit,” says Audrey Wennink, director of transportation at Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council, a regional nonprofit research and advocacy organization on urban issues, and co-author of a new study indicating that more and more businesses want to be located close to rail and bus stations.
Toronto is a city where the car reigns supreme and any suggestion of sharing the road is deemed to be a war on the car. It’s surprising then that last year the city converted one of its busy downtown street from being car-focussed to transit focussed. Like everywhere else that has done this, people love it! More people are being moved around the city at a faster rate. The early data released by the city showed that the project was successful. Now, there’s more research from the project that points out that not only did transit riders benefit, local businesses did too.
It found that 53 per cent of transit users reported visiting shops along King St. W. more often since the pilot was put in place, and that a majority of them visited the shops more than once a week.
Due to increased streetcar reliability, transit users say the area is less stressful and they spend less time commuting and more time in the area to shop, according to the survey.
We provide access to roads for free to car drivers so why don’t we match free access to movement to people who don’t drive cars? That’s part of the rationale for Estonia providing free public transit for the entire nation – the first country to do so. Estonia is a small nation which makes this sort of initiative easier to implement than in countries with large territory. The coolest part of the Estonian free transit is that it started by the citizens of the capital of the country voted for free transit in Tallinn. That first implementation worked out so well that the idea spread from there.
Who is profiting the most from free buses, trams and trains in Tallinn? “A good thing is, of course, that it mostly appeals to people with lower to medium incomes. But free public transport also stimulates the mobility of higher-income groups. They are simply going out more often for entertainment, to restaurants, bars and cinemas. Therefore they consume local goods and services and are likely to spend more money, more often. In the end this makes local businesses thrive. It breathes new life into the city.”
What inspired the Estonian government to introduce free public transport all over the country? “People in other parts of Estonia started to demand free public transport, too. In Wales, an experiment with free public transport is about to end in May, but has already been extended for another year. Taking this as an example, we would also like to remove the public transport ticketing for all rural connections in Estonia.”
Traffic congested cities suffer not just people stressed out in cars but the exhaust their cars toss into the air. As a result of the use of automobiles asthma and other respiratory issues increase in urban areas, leading to increased health costs and harder lives. This means that if we want people living in cities to breath easy we ought to provide more and better transit options.
A 2002 report [PDF] by the American Public Transit Association pointed out the big difference in the contribution to pollution is that, per passenger mile, public transit produces significantly less pollution than private automobiles: “only 5% as much carbon monoxide, less than 8% as many volatile organic compounds and nearly half as much carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.” Studies have shown that children, especially if they are active outdoors in areas with high ozone levels, are more vulnerable to the pollution they inhale.
During the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, more public transit was put on to ensure traffic tie-ups wouldn’t delay athletes and fans. Morning rush-hour traffic was reduced by 22.5 per cent. Consequently, daily peak ozone levels dropped by 27.9 per cent. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the number of incidents of children needing medical attention for asthma in that period dropped by 41 to 44 per cent.