A familiar sight in the French Alps, gondolas are beginning to emerge as a popular addition to the mass transit systems of cities across the nation.
France’s first urban cable car entered service last fall in Brest, providing transportation for 1,200 passengers over the Bug River in an attempt to relieve congestion on the city’s two main bridges. Toulouse is constructing a line slated for completion in 2020, while Paris is moving forward with a 4.4 km gondola route that will service a transit-starved corner of the city by 2021. Paris’ Téléval gondola will connect up with five transit stations, helping to bridge the gap between the commuter RER rail service and the subway system. The region of Ile-de-France is also studying the possibility of adding an additional 12 cable cars throughout its transportation system.
Other cities around the world have used urban gondolas for decades, including the South American cities of Medellin, La Paz and Caracas, but those were chosen due to their ability to navigate steep terrain. The lines being built across France are over relatively flat land. Seen as an inexpensive way to address existing gaps in the transit system, cable car lines can also be built in a shorter time frame and are less disruptive than streetcar lines, subways or new bridges. They do suffer from limited capacity, however, are vulnerable to inclement weather and raise privacy concerns for local residents. New technology installed in the Brest gondolas aims to address this by temporarily darkening the windows as the cable cars pass close to existing homes.
Another reason French lawmakers and transit planners are so enthusiastic about urban gondolas is the possibility of keeping production within the country. The gondolas used for the Brest line were constructed by BMF Remontées Mécaniques France in Gières, a suburb of Grenoble located in the French Alps.