Transportation is the movement of people and goods from a point of origin to a destination. Several means can be employed; from the more popular cars and buses to bicycles, boats and even ferries.

Over the last few decades Urban Centers have grown exponentially both in population size and surface area. Urban developers have realized the increased necessity to provide mass urban transit due to growing populations and travel distances.

Emphasis on motorized means of transportation has created the phenomenon of massive traffic congestion pitting personal cars, public buses, minibuses and trucks against each other in using the same access channels. The realization that road construction is unable to meet the demands of higher vehicle numbers led to the establishment of right-of-way means of mass transit such as Light Rail Trains and the more recent Bus Rapid Transit.

Kenya Ferry Services recently announced plans to construct a cable car system to transport people across the Likoni Channel. The Likoni Channel separates Kenya’s South Coast and Mombasa Island and is also used by marine vessels traveling to the Mombasa Port. Over the years, people and vehicles have been transported across the channel by ferry. The ferry service has been criticized due to massive delays and frequent breakdowns. Though the government has on several occasions discussed the possibility of constructing a bridge, it facea topographical, land use and height challenges.

The announcement envisages the introduction of a means of transport with the potential to carry over 11,000 people per hour in two directions. It brings several key advantages for passengers:

  1. Reduced waiting times as cable cars will be available every 4 minutes
  2. Bi-directional nature of cable cars enables more people to be transported
  3. Economies of scale as the masses will be able to effectively use the cable car
  4. Additional cars may be added in the future to accommodate anticipated growth without disrupting daily operations.
  5. Increased maritime traffic will not affect the cable car that lies 65 meters above it.

Cableways are used in several parts of the world to transport people and goods. In New York, Singapore, Koblenz, Hong Kong and London, they have proven to be effective and efficient modes of mass transport as regards moving of people and goods over water channels that have high density maritime transport.

Many may ask: “Why go the cable way rather than a bridge or a tunnel?”

A folding bridge would not be a tough call due to the high volume of maritime traffic. Given the projected increase in both maritime and ground traffic, a bridge will struggle to handle the anticipated volumes, especially with Special Economic Zones and Freeport expectations. Folding bridges tend to be used across channels that do not have high levels of maritime traffic.

With the required height, the other option would be a spiral bridge. However, the current land available on both sides would not allow this. Additionally, the cost of such a bridge would stand at about $4.4B (i.e., 10% greater than the cost of the Standard Gauge Railway).

The option of building a tunnel faces the challenge of maintaining the required gradient while reaching the 110m sea depth underneath the Likoni Channel. A distance of 8 kilometers would be required to maintain the minimum 5 degree gradient which means that the tunnel would start on the other side of Mombasa Island (Near Nyali Bridge). Further, the cost of tunneling lies at about $2B (compared to the estimated $41m cost of the Likoni Cable Express).

Cableways are fast and reliable and offer minimum waiting time as they are continuously on the move. Additionally, they are a “greener mode of technology. Their safety records are impeccable and have CCTV cameras to take care of security issues.

The impact of cableways is not only being seen near water bodies. Other cities have adopted them as an efficient means of urban mass transit. More notably Medellin in Colombia, Caracas in Venezuela and closer to home Algiers and Lagos have also embarked on major cableway projects. With the ability to transport over 10,000people per hour in two directions and with minimum land use requirements, their popularity has grown beyond the traditional ski resorts.

The success of the Likoni project may well open up a new chapter in mass urban transit. Other cities and towns can gradually start adopting cableways as a means of transporting people and goods. In Nairobi, for example, intensive land use, increased densification and occasional flooding limits road construction and other means of mass transit.  Cableways could make a significant impact in transporting people along various channels to the CBD. Kenya Wildlife Service can consider use of cable cars in Nairobi and Mount Kenya National Parks. The opportunities are immense.

Images from DoppelmayrCableCar. Video from Trapos Africa. Data linked to Sources.



4 thoughts on “Cable Cars: Introducing the Likoni ‘Air-Line’ in Mombasa, Kenya

  1. There is no mention of start date yet the clip says it will be operated by KFS from 2016′ we are in 2017!

    Tell us is feasibility study through? If yes then when is ground breaking???

    1. The PPP process has taken longer than expected but is drawing to a conclusion. It is one of the first such PPP models where all equity is provided by the investor.
      Ground breaking dates will be announced soon.

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