Cable Transport

Recent decades have experienced a revolution in urban transportation with the ensuing development of “alternative” means of modern urban transport. Harvard professor Clayton Christensen calls these alternativesdisruptive technology,” which uses simple innovations that differ from the traditional modes of urban mass transit like regular bus services, light rail trains and Metro Rail. South American countries have developed creative and successful modes of Bus Rapid Transit and Aerial Cable Transit. These have been successfully integrated into transportation needs reflective of the economic, social and physical characteristics of their cities.

Cities in Sub-Saharan Africa have evolved in various different ways with some starting as port towns, administrative and trade centres. Most are now massive metropolis with citizens from all classes of society and multicultural  environments.  Land uses in these cities are as diverse as their populace and informality plays a big role in them. With a majority poor population, the informal sector has grown over the years but is rarely considered in planning regulations or zones. Informal housing, known to many as slums, accommodates  the majority of urban citizens in this region. Additionally, a large number of people are employed by the informal sector, working as artisans, small scale grocers and hawkers. One key characteristic of this sector is intensive land use manifested by a high population density per square kilometre. Spending power is limited due to low incomes.

Cities in the region experience a common challenge of not having adequate mass rapid transit systems. Urban populations are growing exponentially thus the need for efficient, safe, reliable and affordable means of mass transit is key for their growth and development.

The development of public transit systems in sub-Saharan African countries cannot be copied from the developed world due to different income levels, economic and demographic circumstances. The average daily one way intra-city bus fare in most sub-Saharan Africa cities at peak hour is about half a dollar (KES 50). This is affordable for the middle class but out of reach for the majority poor, especially when connections involve multiple routes from origin to destination.

With most governments already facing basic challenges such as low and/ or poor investment in key areas like education, health and housing, the public drive towards establishing Metro and Light Rail Systems (LRT) may prove to be out of reach due to the necessity for continued government subsidies which allow the services to be affordable to citizens.  The challenge is to establish a service that will not only  be affordable to the poor but also attractive to the growing middle class who over time have been forced to use personal vehicles leading to cities experiencing massive traffic gridlocks as witnessed  in Nairobi, Kampala and Lagos.

Hence the interesting possibility of Aerial Cable Transit System. With an initial required investment of only a fraction of the amount of constructing a highway, LRT or a metro-rail,  the Aerial Cable Transit System provides an alternative and feasible means of transporting the masses that African municipalities can look into.

Mode Cost per mile
Freeway 1 line expansion:  2.5$ million +
Light rail 35 $ million+
Monorail 132 $ million +
Subway 400 $ million +
Urban Cable 12-24 $ million

Comparison of costs of construction of various modes of transport (Source: Round Rock Texas)

Aerial Cable Transit benefits include lower fares, as experienced in Bolivia, where the poor were able to save on bus-fare and invest in their families. It also ranks highly in efficiency and safety both of which are critical in persuading the growing middle class to adapt to the service in order to reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

Within the informal areas, Aerial Cable Transit systems can be installed without displacing people, as frequently happens when roads are to be constructed. Poles can serve to provide lighting and stations can be located near clinics, schools, police posts and other critical services. Aerial Cable Transit can also link informal settlements with industrial areas.

On routes in parts of the city where there is no room for road expansion to enable ordinary mass transport systems,  Aerial Cable Transit can work well due to minimum land use requirements. It can also be considered for inter-modal connections. The system easily overcomes geographical and physical barriers although privacy is a key concern.

A well-established Aerial Cable Transit service can carry up to 5000 people per hour per direction the equivalent of 357 fourteen-seater mini-buses. As minibuses are the most common means of transporting people in sub-Saharan Africa, their replacement  would result in an change in the carbon print. Aerial Cable Transit systems show their efficiency though ensuring movement without being affected by traffic jams and having minimum “waiting time. Most operate at 30-45 km/h with short stoppages at stations.

Mexico City is the latest city looking to establish Aerial Cable Transit  as a means of partly solving its perennial traffic challenges. The Dominican Republic recently approved the construction of a 5 Km Urban Gondola to transport 3000 people per hour in the Capital, Santo Domingo. Algeria is already advanced in using this technology and last year they launched the 3 Km Cable Car system in Algiers linking the Oued Koriche district with the city center. The new Algerian line carries 3,000 passengers per hour in each direction and incorporates 72 cabins which can each carry 15 people.

Video: Algerian System  Source: Tounes Amlaz

Nairobi City is currently looking into  a pilot project that would run from Embakasi, Donholm to Muthurwa which will be an interchange point before proceeding to Jamhuri, Kibera and Nyayo National Stadium.

Does Aerial Cable Transit  offer a viable option to the increasing congestion in Sub-Saharan African cities?What would be the main challenges facing the development of Aerial Cable Transit in Sub-Saharan Africa?

Image by Constant Cap, Data and videos linked to Sources

3 thoughts on “Aerial Cable Transit: Urban Gondolas for African Cities?

  1. integration of cable cars into our urban cities here in Africa would be a plus because they would decrease congestion in our cities and even save us on time wasted while in traffic jams.

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