Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Posts Tagged ‘gondola

Sea to Sky Gondola

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Arriving at Summit

Ever since I heard about this proposal I have been looking forward to riding this gondola. I had no sympathy at all for those who opposed it. This is the only way that most people can experience the alpine, and the impact on the regional park – and the Stawamus Chief in particular – is negligible. While a great deal of media coverage was devoted to “concerns” about the Provincial Park, the gondola actually is on land outside the park boundaries. What it does do is make it possible for ordinary people to enjoy the view over Howe Sound, and appreciate the beauty of the surroundings – as well as what is being done to them. I felt then – and still do – that much of the sentiment expressed was of the “after me, no more” principle. The young and super fit can climb mountains and they feel that should remain their exclusive domain. Most gondola installations have been to promote winter sports, especially skiing. There are many more recreational opportunities that the Sea to Sky gondola opens up – if you are in that small group of people capable of thriving in the back country. For people just looking for exercise, and a new place to do that, I am told that the Sea To Summit trail is “better than the Grouse Grind” – whatever that means. The cost of an adult day ticket ($34.95 plus tax) is only $9.95 for those wanting to hike up and ride down. There are also (small) discounts for booking on line

Sea to Sky Gondola

It opened while we were in Italy – and yesterday they had a summer solstice festival, which I hear was quite successful. So we tried to get there early on Sunday to beat the crowds. We also had lunch at the peak as they have Howe Sound Brewery ales on tap, including the quite spectacular Sky Pilot ale. Why they apologized that it was not called an IPA I have no idea. The view from the bar terrace is terrific.

Sea to Sky overview

The operators have built two easy trails: the Panorama Trail (1.6km) to the Chief Viewing Platform and the Spirit Trail (400m) – both gravel surfaced, gently graded and thus accessible to both wheelchairs and strollers. There is also a somewhat superfluous suspension bridge which adds to the appeal for many visitors. I quite like the view straight down into the tops of the trees, but there are many who are nervous of such structures. Of course the Capilano Bridge is a tourist attraction in its own right and one that has been financially successful despite the (in my view) superior and free alternative across Lynn Canyon.

Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge

To get there, you have to drive. The operator thinks that there is plenty of public transport and only operates its own shuttle bus between the base and the long term parking lot at weekends. What would have been far better, of course, is a regular passenger train service. The sale of BC Rail makes that a highly unlikely possibility. The only service now is the Whistler Mountaineer – a service owned by Peter Armstrong, and aimed squarely at wealthy visitors. It does not provide any service to the local communities along it route. Nor will it.

Sea to Sky Gondola pano

I am not going to simply write a promotional piece for a private sector developer (which includes Mountain Equipment Co-op) , but I will say that I was impressed, and I will bring visitors here in future. I have no doubt at all that there will be more development of this new destination. That’s actually a Good Thing. I have used a tourism oriented gondola in Charlotte Amelie, on St Thomas – one of the US Virgin Islands. It gives a nice view of the cruise ship terminal – and that’s all. I felt somewhat swindled. The Sea to Sky is expensive, and it is over an hour from Vancouver if you drive the speed limit (no-one else does) and there is the usual downtown traffic – Burrard Bridge rehabilitation and a partial closure of Howe Street for the Jazz festival just being the start of the summer festivities. But I felt it well worthwhile and I am happy to recommend it.

First Span

Written by Stephen Rees

June 23, 2014 at 9:55 am

Posted in tourism, Transportation

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SFU Gondola: Great BCR, Shame about the Business Case

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Translink released the CH2M Hill Burnaby Mountain Business Case report (dated October 2011) yesterday. And the story got picked up quickly by Atlantic Cities.

It seems to me to illustrate what has been going wrong with public investment decisions in recent years. In terms of its Benefit Cost Ratio this project ought to rise high in any comparative analysis of potential transportation projects. There is always a long list of projects that could be done, but not all of them will turn out to be positive. Often the local environmental impact of a major transportation project – or the the cost of its mitigation – will outweigh the benefits – usually travel time savings, especially if all the costs and benefits are measured objectively. In this case, while local residents have objected loudly object the anticipated impact on them, the overall benefits are significantly higher than the costs.

  • 1.5 million hours of saved travel time for current riders and an estimated 500,000 of auto travel time savings as commuters switch to the more efficient service;
  • Fewer transit service interruptions due to snowy conditions on the winding roads up to SFU;
  • Over 26 million in fewer vehicle kilometres traveled annually, which translates into savings on gas, collisions and an overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of about 7,000 tons annually.

“The total value of these benefits, over the 25-year life-cycle, totaled more than $500 million, creating a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 3.6,” the report notes, adding that a BCR of greater than 1.0 indicates that benefits surpass costs.

In a world where governments are concerned about such things, even though there may not be enough revenue to cover the costs, a BCR of 3.6 would be significant enough to make a case for public sector (taxpayer) support. Social benefits – or what economists call an overall welfare benefit – are worth paying for, even if the market does not have a mechanism to produce that. But these days governments in general have abandoned ideas of social welfare, and espoused the notion that somehow government is just another business and it is only the financial case that matters. Government expenditure is held to be necessarily wasteful and inefficient – unless it is spent on projects like huge weapons or prisons (which have no discernible  benefits at all, just high private sector profits).

Translink currently cannot finance any new projects beyond the Evergreen Line, since its financial resources are restricted by the province. So there is no way to cover the projected $120m in capital costs or the $10m extra in operating costs. Buses are cheaper. And cheapness, it seems, when it comes to public service, is all that matters. Travel time savings, lower emissions (local pollutants and greenhouse gases) and greater reliability are not worth paying for. Well, not when you have already shot billions on highway projects that will not achieve any of those benefits. Of course, in the case of BC, the assessment process ensured that the highway project would be built anyway and the case for it would never be effectively questioned. Its environmental costs would be ignored, and the case would be based on time savings that ignore induced travel that will quickly overwhelm the short term travel time savings.

I cannot say I like the Atlantic’s use of stock photography. Here is another of my Peak2Peak gondola shots – since that was a favoured technology for SFU at one time

Peak2Peak centre span

Peak2Peak centre span - my photo on flickr

Written by Stephen Rees

January 12, 2012 at 11:26 am

Gondola planned for Burnaby Mountain

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Burnaby News Leader

Burnaby Mountain could soon have a gondola line serving Simon Fraser University and the rapidly-growing community of UniverCity.

The SFU Community Trust has put forward the concept of an estimated $68.9 million project that would run between the Production Way SkyTrain station and the transit loop at the east end of the SFU campus. Trust CEO Gordon Harris said a gondola transit system would improve reliability and travel times to and from Burnaby Mountain, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions currently produced by the fleet of diesel buses that run up and down the mountain

This is an excellent idea. It cannot of course simply be implemented by the Trust – who own the UniverCity development on the mountain. They are now talking to the Province and Translink. Based on the figures presented in this story they should proceed. Travel time from Production Way to the current transit loop would be 6 minutes – not the 14 (minimum) it takes by bus. Operating cost is around half that of buses – and the capital cost is not much more than the $50m it will cost for a replacement fleet of buses. Ridership is currently around 20,000 a day. Obviously it will be much better if the gondola is integrated into the Translink fare system than run privately.

One major advantage of the aerial tramway is that it can operate in snow and not leave people stranded on the mountain top.

Peak2Peak unloading

Peak2Peak unloading my picture

Peak2Peak

Peak2Peak my picture

Written by Stephen Rees

February 10, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Posted in transit

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