Cable cars: A band-aid solution?

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IN an interview with ANC’s “Headstart” on June 28, Secretary of Transport Arthur Tugade announced that they are looking into building cable cars in Metro Manila as a potential solution to the traffic. While they are “still looking into it,” he further said that he had “started talking with the manufacturer of cable cars” that supplied the same to Bolivia or Bogota.

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According to Rappler, some transportation experts have already branded Tugade’s cable car proposal as a band-aid solution. I cannot but agree with these experts. First, cable cars are not designed for mass transit. Second, cable cars are better suited for mountainous or rugged terrains. Simply put, Metro Manila’s landscape and commuter situation are not compatible with a hanging cable-car system.

Hanging cable-car systems are replete with challenges that up to now have not been addressed in existing implementations. Although cable-car systems have been around for a century, the technology has not improved so far. Passenger safety in case of emergencies is widely a concern. Hanging cable-car operations, as opposed to ground-level cable cars, are normally suspended if there is an inclement weather or projected thunderstorms.

One possible solution that could be implemented by the Duterte administration, in lieu of the cable cars, is the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system. The PRT is a light urban transport system designed to complement all other mass public transport systems. Technically, it is called the first-mile/last-mile connectivity.

How does the PRT system work? The PRT system consists of driverless computer-driven vehicles called “podcars,” which run on slender special-purpose elevated network of guideways being operated and monitored by a central control room. PRT is a sub-type of an automated guideway transit (AGT) system. Incidentally, our very own Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has successfully built a Filipino version of AGT in 2013, but it was snubbed by the then-Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

The podcars are electrically powered and equipped with wireless and optical communications. It can accommodate up to 20 passengers at one time and have wide opening doors that can allow easy access to person with disabilities (PWDs) in wheelchairs. The podcars are rubber tired, air-conditioned, self-steering, and highly maneuverable. The vehicle itself has a continuous audio/video contact with the control room. It can travel at speeds of 40 kph, with headways ranging from two minutes to a mere five seconds. With one-minute headway and continuous supply of podcars, it can transport at least 100,000 passengers per hour per direction. Assuming a 16-hour daily operation, it can service 200,000 passengers daily.

Also, no emission is produced during operations since the podcars are battery powered. It has a very low noise—about 45 decibel (dB) compared to LRT’s 82 dB and MRT’s 75 dB operating noise.

The elevated guideways are lightweight, slender, and non-intrusive. It uses very little ground space and can even be erected on sidewalks or road islands. The guideways and column posts can be designed like covered walkways (which pedestrians can use on the sidewalks) and the podcars running on top of the covered walkways (along the guideways).

Construction of the PRT system causes very low disruption and has no significant effect on existing road vehicular traffic. The columns or posts can be drilled and bored through the ground (about the size of a normal Meralco power pole). Pre-fabricated guideways are then laid on top of the erected columns/posts. The turning radius for the PRT is only 0.5 meters, as compared to the LRT’s 25 meters and MRT’s 300 meters.

The oldest PRT system was built in a campus in West Virginia way back in 1975. This was followed by a system that started operating in the United Arab Emirates from 2010—after a hiatus of 35. The world’s next commercial PRT system has been operating successfully at London Heathrow Airport since 2011. The largest PRT system was built in Suncheon, South Korea, in 2014. Will the Philippines be next on this list?

Tugade likewise said that he has already identified the red flags at the Department of Transportation, and he is willing to resolve these with the help of the public’s trust and prayers.

I trust that the Secretary of Transportation would not unwittingly allow himself to be used by private businesses, which have interests that have to be pushed (or shoved?) in the department. My prayers are with you, Mr. Secretary.

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4 Comments

  1. praphulla chaudhari on

    Finalizing on an Urban Transport system for a particular city or route has three main parameters. 1. Passengers per pour in peak direction, 2. Available Right of Way 3. Horizontal and vertical profile of alignment. The cable cars can take upto 7000 PPHPD with long span up to 2000m depending on land profile. On flat terrains ṭe span can go upto 600-1000m with tower height 60m-150m. It needs to travel in straight line and cannot take turns. At every turn one needs to provide an angle station. One section with MDG can be upto 4 kms length and with TDG or 3S 7km.
    On other side PRT can go upto 36000pphpd. Can be elevated or atgrade but with dedicated corridor. LṚT, MRT are now out-dated technologies. With development in fast changing technology world PRT stands perfect solution for new age cities. It has many advantages over other linear transport solutions.
    Praphulla Chaudahri, Expert on Urban Transport Solutions.

  2. This summer, the Spartan Superway at San Jose State University is hosting interns from universities in Brazil, South Korea, and France to further the development of a 100% solar-powered PRT system. Perhaps universities in the Philippines would be interested in collaboration with these universities.

  3. sounds good… build them from key mrt/lrt loading stations to major work, shopping & provincial transport systems… it will not only decongest thr present metro-rail system it will also rastically reduce traffic and travel time… maybe PDU30 can can make use of Mr. Vitancol’s expertise, something that the latter has been denied him because of politics in the last two administration

  4. Yes, a PRT system should be a candidate technology. There are quite a number of them available and under development around the world. The newest one is called Modutram and it comes from Mexico. http://www.modutram.com Many more are described at http://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itran/prtquick.htm The latest information will be presented at a conference in Belgium later this year – called Pod Car City 10. There is a link to info about it at this webpage: http://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itrans/whatnew.htm