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Transport justice: urban cable cars

The advantages of urban cable cars and how these advantages transformed Medellin from the capital of Escobar’s drugs empire to the most innovative city in the world

Urban cable cars are increasingly being used as a mode of public transportation to prevent congestion in big cities. Medellin, Colombia was the first city in the world to use cable cars as a mode of public transportation. Nowadays, cities like London, Caracas, New York and Hong Kong are also using urban cable cars, and the trend has not yet finished! Cities like Chicago, Mombasa and Jerusalem have presented plans for urban cable cars too, and cities that already have cable cars are developing a whole system, just like metro systems. Urban cable cars are popular, and it is easy to see why.

Urban cable cars can transport a large number of people, and they take little space on the ground. Having such a small area needed on the surface of cities, they leave space open for other urban developments. For planners, they are ideal for traversing challenging topography, like hills and rivers. In cities that have such a challenging topography, cable cars are a faster mode of transport than, for instance, buses. The urban cable cars are a relatively cheap investment for municipals, and thus are affordable for inhabitants as well. Urban cable cars are cheaper to buy than trains, buses or metros. Besides that and the planning itself, it is also less expensive as there is no need to construct tunnels or bridges. 

With having various spillovers, we can ask ourselves whether the advantages mentioned before would be the only reason to purchase urban cable cars as a municipal. First of all, urban cable cars don’t cause air or noise pollution, which is a big plus in dense urban areas. But secondly, being such a cheap mode of transportation, economically disadvantaged urban inhabitants are able to move as well. For example, South American cities are known for having slums uphill. These slum dwellers were relatively far removed from the city center, job opportunities and social life, which caused a lot of crime in these areas. But because of urban cable cars, these slum dwellers now live relatively closer to the city center which causes economic and social welfare for them. 

Nowadays, urban cable cars are a tourist attraction themselves, so they collect a lot of money for the municipal.  When you google ‘urban cable cars’, the first items that will pop up are various lists of the most beautiful urban cable cars rides on earth. This is also the case in Medellin, the cable car is on every tourist’s to-do-list, as is Comuna 13, the area around the last stop. Comuna 13 used to be one of the most notorious neighborhoods of Medellin, with very high crime rates, but now Comuna 13 is also a tourist attraction itself! Tourists can walk safely through the neighborhood’s bullet holed walls, a true miracle. Comuna 13 now houses a public library, a lot of street art, tourist shops and even has slides to slide from one street to another street bellow! The crime rates in Medellin have massively decreased since the introduction of the cable car, and the city is now even a hotspot for expats and digital nomads. Medellin won the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize in 2016 and thus has been awarded for being the most innovative city of the world in that year.

The advantages of urban cable cars seem to be going two ways, just like the cable car itself. Because it is fast, cheap and convenient, urban dwellers in the outskirts can daily commute to the city for work or social activities. But because of the lovely views, tourists go the other way: to the outskirts bringing money and liveliness (and for once don’t stick to the well-known and city centers).

This Girugten article was first published in GEO PROMOTION MAGAZINE, 6th of March, 2020.



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