Hong Kong, New York, Portland, and the city of Constantine in Algeria have done it. Mexico City and the cities of Toulouse and Brest in France and Medellin and Bogotá in Columbia all are doing it. Canada, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and even Albania are planning to do it too.
They are all using or studying getting “greener” transit. What these cities are doing and planning to do is to move thousands of commuters every day without having to build more surface streets and without adding to their greenhouse gas emissions. These forward-looking cities are using an off-the-shelf, proven technology to transport commuters using aerial gondola based transit systems.
These systems do not require costly and at times impossible to obtain surface rights of way. They can move thousands of people per hour distances up to three miles with a single 500 horsepower motor. The high speed detachable gondola cars offer easy boarding for passengers who do not have to waste commuter time waiting for the next bus or for traffic to clear on clogged streets and highways.
Just as importantly, the gondola systems offer unrivaled “green” performance in terms of the energy used per passenger mile. Transporting thousands of riders with one motor as opposed to moving one person using hundreds of horsepower makes substantial environmental sense.
These systems even surpass the efficiencies offered by commuter buses by a large factor (see table below). In addition, the systems’ only emissions are at the power plant which could be “green sourced” to use hydro, solar, wind, or natural gas fired generators.
Another advantage is that their construction cost per mile is dramatically lower than either adding more highway lanes or building elevated light rail systems. The systems go up to twenty-two mph, which is leveraged by the fact that they never have to wait at red lights or for traffic congestion to clear. According to the site, www.gondolaproject.com, the system in Constantine Algeria has moved over twelve million passengers.
Transport Mode Average Passengers Per Vehicle Btu Per Passenger-Mile Mj Per Passenger-Km
Vanpool 6.1 1,322 0.867
Efficient Hybrid 1.57 1,659 1.088
Motorcycles 1.2 1,855 1.216
Rail (Intercity Amtrak) 20.5 2,650 1.737
Rail (Light & Heavy) 22.5 2,784 1.825
Rail (Commuter) 31.3 2,996 1.964
Commuter Airplane 96.2 3,261 2.138
Passenger Cars 1.57 3,512 2.302
Personal Trucks 1.72 3,944 2.586
Buses (Transit) 8.8 4,235 2.776
Aerial Tramway 4.0 500 0.528
The figures above show only a partial seating in the gondola cab. (Modern systems hold from 8 to 30 passengers and, when fully loaded, the energy savings multiply.)
The total costs of car ownership (as calculated by the AAA for purchase price, tires, insurance, etc.) are shown in the following table. These one-time and recurring costs mean that only the most affluent among the world’s billions of citizens can afford the luxury of a passenger car. Owning a car for twenty years involves an investment of a quarter of a million dollars (and this figure precludes the personal and medical costs associated with an accident).
Vehicle Type Cost Per Year
Small Sedan $6312.00
Medium Sedan $8,104.00
Large Sedan $9,870.00
Building more roads with more efficient cars won’t make our transit systems “green.” Even as the MPG efficiencies of automobiles improve, their growing numbers in India and China will devour any possible gains and increase the depletion rate of this already scarce resource (while adding to the planet’s greenhouse gas load). As these cities are showing, perhaps it’s time to think outside the “four-wheeled box” and move towards truly “green” transportation.