Innovative Urban Public Transport

Innovative Urban Public Transport

Wednesday 12th April 2017

Today more than 54 per cent of the world’s population live in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050.

This trend makes maintaining a functioning built environment within towns and cities challenging, particularly providing clean and efficient transport to prevent air quality and congestion problems whilst delivering sustainable growth.

We love our cars, but car-based solutions are increasingly unsustainable, as illustrated by the recent “Most Epic” Los Angeles Thanksgiving traffic jam. We know that across the world millions of people a year are dying from poor air quality and sedentary transport is contributing to the obesity epidemic.

These global trends are reflected here in the UK and. have a detrimental impact on the health of our most vulnerable, our valued heritage and environmental assets, and provide barriers to growth and prosperity.

New efficient, clean and reliable transport solutions are needed – we must take action and embrace innovation because business as usual is not working.

In the world of transport planning, walking and cycling sit proudly at the top of the transport hierarchy. These ‘modes’ of transport are clean, affordable and accessible to many.

Beyond walking and cycling, public transport is seen as the next best option, followed by car sharing and then single occupancy car trips.

Even with the growth of new technology such as zero emission and autonomous vehicles, it’s likely the car will continue to remain firmly at the foot of the transport hierarchy.

Why? The fundamental problem with cars is neatly shown in the image below – cars don’t use road space very efficiently.

Problem with cars

The most viable mass transport solution for our urban centres is widely agreed to be an efficient, integrated, affordable, clean and reliable public transport network – trains, trams, buses, coaches and aerial tramways aka cable cars.

Although cable cars appear to be an unusual inclusion in this list, as a society we’ve been producing cable cars since the 18th Century and today there are more than one hundred operational urban cable cars across the globe, including the Emirates Air Line in London.

Some of the key benefits of cable cars:
1. Affordability – Due to the simplicity of engineering and proven technology, cable cars perform extremely well in value for money terms when compared to other forms of transport.

2. Patronage Flexibility – During the morning and evening peak, commuters use the system, giving way to leisure users and tourists at other times, helping to maximise patronage.

3. Reliability and simplicity – They are extremely reliable in terms of operation and journey time, primarily due to the simplicity of engineering (a powered pulley and set of cables).

4. Congestion Busters – Forget sitting in a queue for hours on end – you can travel to your destination uninterrupted by queues or traffic lights.

5. Clean – Cable cars are powered by electricity and therefore have minimal on-site emissions. Capital construction is limited leaving little impact on the landscape when removed.

6. Tackling Social and Economic Inequalities – By providing an efficient, reliable and affordable way of getting around, cable cars help to address social problems, as in Medellín, Colombia, and can also boost productivity.

7. Reaches Parts Other Transport Links Cannot Reach – Cable cars can unlock previously difficult to access sites (e.g. crossing rivers and gorges, going up steep hills) and provide transport resilience when ground transport fails.

8. Interaction – Cabins are designed to carry people, mobility aids, bicycles, buggies, shopping, parcels, wi-fi, information, conversation, and can function as a key part of an integrated, place-friendly transport system.

It’s clear to me that aerial trams have a real and impactful role to play in helping to address key transport challenges in our urban areas. If you would like to find out what Bath Preservation Trust thinks about the issue, please click here.

To have your say on whether a cable car could be right for Bath, click here.

Duncan Laird

Written by Duncan Laird, Associate, Arup