Taking Aerial Gondolas to Work? A Disruptive Technology for Mobility.

25.01.2013 in EnglishInspiration  von Katrin Mathis
Roosevelt Aerial Tramway in New York
Photo by Shinya Suzuki

To many, it probably looked like an April Fools' joke when the local newspaper Badische Zeitung last year reported on an idea of local councillor Nils Höck from Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) to connect the train station in Müllheim with the town center by aerial gondolas known from ski-regions and other tourist attractions.


But the idea is not new. Especially developing countries heavily rely on so-called cable propelled transit for urban transport. Examples can be found among others in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Vietnam and Algeria but also in North America with the Roosevelt Island tramway and the Portland aerial tram. In London, the new built Emirates Air Line just opened last year. Inspired by these examples, many other cities are investigating the concept. Innovation firm Frog, known for design thinking, presented the "Wire", their vision of an overhead cable-powered transit as part of a single fare system in combination with bikes, car sharing etc. for Austin, Texas at the PSFK conference in San Francisco last November. 

Urban gondolas do have a lot of advantages over other means of transport:

  • Constantly moving, independent from a fixed schedule
  • Detachable, more gondolas can be added during rush hour
  • High energy efficient and low emissions
  • Almost noiseless
  • Barrier-free access
  • Safe and reliable
  • Low space requirements, do not compete with valuable real estate on the ground
  • Can reuse existing infrastructure such as skyscrapers in big cities
  • Comparatively quick to implement
  • Relatively cheap to build and to operate


In Müllheim, the idea was to build a a system of 30 aerial gondolas that could transport around 1000 people per hour the 2,3 from the city center to the train station or vice versa in 8 minutes. Compared to the 200 million euros the new to build 6 km railway track between Müllheim and Auggen is supposed to cost, the 12 million euro investment for the gondolas seem reasonable. Still, it can be questioned whether it is the right solution for Müllheim where peak demand arises every half an hour or so with trains from Basel and Freiburg departing and arriving. With only 3 stations, most people would still need to use other means of transport to get from their homes to one of the stations and back.


Even though it will probably never become reality in Müllheim, expect to increasingly see aerial gondolas not only as tourist attractions but as part of urban public transport. I find it important to allow room for such thoughts because only disruptive technologies have the potential for truly eco-friendly interconnected mobility services of the future.


Katrin Mathis, UX Konzepterin und Service Designerin aus Freiburg

Katrin Mathis
MBA in Service Innovation & Design und BSc in OnlineMedien berät seit über 10 Jahren Unternehmen, die digitale Transformation zum Nutzen ihrer Kunden einzusetzen.


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