Articles

Cable Cars: Coming to Town

17 Feb 2013

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Lagos is planning something similar to the Emirates Air Line cable car system in London



A form of transportation associated with terrains with natural barriers may be in use as an answer to the perennial traffic jams in Lagos. But will it endure in Lagos? Demola Ojo wonders…

If assertions over the past few weeks are anything to go by, cable cars would be crisscrossing some parts of Lagos in two years’ time.  A company called Ropeways Transport is investing $500 million (about N81 billion) to launch a cable car mass urban transit system one of the most populous cities in the world.

Ropeways has signed a 30-year franchise agreement with the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) and the Lagos State Government for the execution of the project.

Under the terms of the agreement the company will in November, begin the construction of towers, stations and connecting network cables along various routes covered in the first phase of the project. Some of the locations to be covered include Apapa, Victoria Island, Obalende and Falomo. The project is expected to be fully completed and commissioned by early 2015.

While it is normal to associate cable cars with mountains and skiing rather than urban life and work, a few other cities have also decided to try it out in urban areas.  Just before this summer’s Olympics, London launched the Emirates Air Line. Its 34 cars bridge the Thames between Greenwich and the Royal Docks, running 90 metres above the ground.

Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro and New York are some other cities equipped with cable cars as forms of urban transportation. Several new projects are also under way in France and the first ones should come online incidentally, in 2015.
What it is

For those a little befuddled , a cable car is a type of aerial lift which uses one or two stationary ropes for support while a third moving rope provides propulsion.  With this form of lift, the grip of the car cabin is fixed onto the propulsion rope and cannot be decoupled from it during operations.

Rethought as a means of mass transport, they are clean - producing no carbon dioxide emissions directly - and require little infrastructure. They are particularly suitable for crossing natural obstacles such as lagoons or scaling hills, there being no need for expensive engineering work.

As has been mentioned earlier though, they are primarily tourist inclined. In the 1920s the rise of the middle class and the leisure industry (in the Western world)  allowed for investment in sight seeing machines. The cable car to the top of high peaks in the Alps of Austria, Germany and Switzerland resulted. They were much cheaper to build than the earlier rack railway.
Many hundreds of installations have emerged in mountainous and seascape areas. The Obudu mountain resort in Cross River State is one of such terrains where a cable car is necessary.

Safety
It is true that many people are averse to the idea of being transported i in what, ac n a cabin held aloft by a rope but if you don’t mind being enclosed in a navigated catapult – which according to physics is what a passenger plane is, then you shouldn’t really have a problem with the cable car.

According to Mr Dapo Olumide, one of Ropeway’s founders,  when completed the Lagos cable car transit system would incorporate several standard safety features, including auxiliary drives and hydraulic brakes to prevent passengers being stranded, lightening protection on towers, ropes and stations, as well as solar panels on each cabin roof, to provide power for cabin interior and exterior lighting.

There will also be passenger monitoring with CCTV and audio communication links and passenger address systems. The project will be powered by several sources namely, IPP’s, dual-fired primary power turbines and dual-fired back up power turbines, with sufficient number of static inverters to provide 30 minutes of backup power.

Impact on Citizenry
According to Olummide, studies show that Lagos will become the world’s 3rd largest city with 25million inhabitants by 2015, with approximately 12 million daily passenger movements and trips in the Lagos Metropolitan Area, set to increase at a rate of six per cent per annum.

“By complementing existing transport modes, the Lagos cable car transit System will play its part in reducing the traffic congestion in the city,” he said.

“The existing metropolitan highway infrastructure is severely constrained, with journeys to and from work within the city regularly exceeding three hours.

“In addition, studies carried out in 2009 on vehicle registration shows that an additional 200,000 vehicles are registered annually in Lagos State. This equates to 222 vehicles per kilometer of road in Lagos, which by far, outweighs the national average of just 11vehicles per kilometer of road, with vehicles estimated to contribute more than 70 per cent of the ambient air pollution in Lagos,” he asserted.

“Presently, there is need to ameliorate the existing congestion on the three bridges connecting Lagos Mainland to Lagos Island and to provide a link between Apapa and the Central Business District on Lagos Island, and also to link Victoria Island with the Central Business District of Lagos Island. These are what we hope to achieve with the launch of the cable transit system,” he explained.

Advantages and Doubts
The major advantage of cable cars is that the constant momentum makes for better acceleration up slopes than would be possible by buses or conventional trains. In addition, the fact that they are elevated and securely attached to their cables means that they can operate in all sorts of weather. The above two advantages are reflected in the fact that most of these units operate on slopes, especially in skiing areas.

Despite the fact that a few cities have thought of them as a panacea to traffic congestion, a few reasons support those that a bit sceptical about the viability of the project.     

            
Major disadvantages of cable cars are high maintenance and electricity costs caused by the continuously moving cable. Another disadvantage is that riders will be able to look down into the backyards of homes if it passes over residential areas, which could be deemed  an invasion of privacy.

To quote a part of an article on cables cars from about.com, “… while in the Vancouver case the math came out in favour of cable car construction, in general, given the disadvantages of these modes of transportation in conjunction with the fact that their major advantages can only be taken advantage of in the presence of heavy slopes, especially heavy slopes in cold-weather climates, it is likely that in the future, with the exception of certain niche operations where large numbers of people need to access destinations on mountain summits, cable cars will not play a major role in the public transportation pantheon.”

With the above in mind, it is understandable when the appropriateness and effectiveness of the project is being called into question. However, considering the traffic malaise bedevilling the metropolis, it is explicable that the state government is ready to support the idea as a way to ease congestion; alongside other projects like the BRT buses, the light rail construction and the current focus on maximising the waterways.

Like Lagos governor, Babatunde Fashola said recently, the state is ready to give the cable car and any other project which will ameliorate the current traffic situation a chance. He said his government was not afraid of taking decisions and if the cable car project doesn’t work, his government will not be afraid to drop the idea.

In the governor’s opinion, supporting the idea is better than doing nothing. Time will tell if this chance is taken and ends up being successful.

Tags: Business, Nigeria, Featured, Cable Cars

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