In July, 2020, TBARTA completed an Innovative Transit Technologies (ITT) Feasibility Study. as the first step toward evaluating three emerging technologies: aerial gondolas, air taxis and hyperloop. The ITT Study detailed each technology’s current development, their intended operational and service capabilities, and their potential.
One recommendation was to explore local interest in pursuing an aerial gondola project in a specific corridor. TBARTA and Forward Pinellas (the Land Use and Transportation Planning Agency for Pinellas County) met with leaders from Clearwater and St. Petersburg, and each city expressed interest in examining separate corridors.
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The Pinellas Aerial Gondola Feasibility Study will examine two potential corridors/routes in the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, with a target completion date of April 2022. The corridors are not in competition with each other; the study will assess each corridor based on its own merits, needs, and feasibility. The purpose and intent of the study’s report is to provide TBARTA, Forward Pinellas, the City of St. Petersburg, and the City of Clearwater with sufficient information to decide whether to continue consideration of one, both, or neither corridor. Potential recommendations include advancing to a more detailed environmental assessment or a design/build contract.
This project will conduct a rigorous, detailed, and unbiased analysis of each corridor that determines:
- What is the purpose or need of a gondola (i.e., strategic goals) in each proposed corridor?
- What areas of each city should the gondola service?
- How much will it cost to build a gondola operation, and who will pay for it?
- Once the gondola is built, who should own and operate it?
- What will be local government’s financial obligation to the gondola service?
- What technically valid aerial gondola options exist to meet each city’s purposes and needs?
- Which of those valid options is superior (the so-called “Preferred Alternative”) and how do we define “superior?”
- What are the technical, economic, social, environmental, and political ramifications of implementing the Preferred Alternative?
- Should the agency proceed with one, both, or neither of the Preferred Alignments?
Background: Project Conception Report
The scope of the Pinellas Gondola Feasibility Study includes stakeholder and public engagement, gondola alignment alternative analysis, SWOT analyses, and a study of project financing and economics. Click the image above the read the report.
Video: Gondola Overview Presentation
Steven Dale of SCJ Alliance provided an overview of the Aerial Gondola Study to TBARTA's Citizens Advisory Committee on August 11, 2021. Click the image above the watch the presentation.
Frequently Asked Questions
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Right now, no. The purpose of this study is to explore whether there is technical, social, and financial merit to the concept of an aerial gondola in either Clearwater or St. Petersburg. If so, what would that project look like, what would it cost, and what will it take to implement?
Both. Pinellas County transit serves both residents and visitors, and gondola service would do the same. The goal is not to make this a tourist attraction for people who would take it merely for the view, but for the gondola to be a form of public transportation that serves both visitors and commuters.
That is undetermined and is one of the questions the study will examine. Part of the project’s scope is to determine whether a viable economic model exists and, if so, what that looks like. Some aerial gondolas are fully-owned and operated by a public transit agency, others are owned solely by the private sector, and others operate in what’s called a Public Private Partnership (P3 or PPP) where both the private and public sector share the risks and rewards.
The project team will conduct a series of workshops and meetings on this project. As those meetings are scheduled, information will be posted on this website. If you wish to be kept informed about this project and how it develops, please send us an email at email@example.com to be added to the project mailing list.
That’s one of the goals. Frequency of service, short wait times and schedule-free service at all times of day, mean total travel times should improve. How much they can improve is one of the questions the study will examine.
One of the strategic priorities of the team is to eliminate or minimize impacts on private residential homes. The feasibility study will determine public rights-of-way and the project team will aim to design a system that follows these pathways to reduce impacts to nearby residents and property owners.
Ropeways (including cable cars and gondolas) are among the safest form of transportation in the world. A number of factors contribute to ropeway safety. These include multiple system redundancies (i.e., backup motors, cabin recovery, etc.), strict regulation, and system management. In the United States, there has been just one single lift-related fatality on an aerial lift since 1993.
Urban gondolas can be cost-effective. Ropeways can cost 1/3 to 2/3 the price of a comparable rapid transit system (i.e., LRT, BRT, heavy rail). However, similar to other public transit systems, construction costs can vary and may depend on a number of items related to technology choice, design/architectural choices, the level of customization, and local factors (i.e., cost of labor). In a western-nation context, station design and architecture are one of the largest drivers of cost and need to be adequately controlled. Gondolas can be financed via a mixture of private and/or public funds. For instance, the Portland Aerial Tram was built with funds from the Oregon Health Sciences University and the City via tax increment financing.
Yes. While the vast majority of gondola cabins are built with passive ventilation systems, it is possible to integrate heated seats and air conditioning into gondolas that operate in hotter and cooler climates. In this study, air conditioning will get significant consideration. Worldwide, only a few gondola systems have this feature, and it may add significant costs. Part of the purpose of this study is to examine the cost and feasibility of air conditioning for both Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
TBARTA has done so in other studies, including the Innovative Transit Technologies Feasibility Study of 2020. The scope of this study is to more closely examine aerial gondolas, which have been growing in popularity around the world and are increasingly finding a niche as a cost-effective and efficient form of medium-capacity transit.
That is undetermined. Various fare structures will be analyzed by the team over the course of the study with input from a variety of stakeholders.
Some urban gondolas are free to riders who transfer from other parts of the transit network. Others are standalone systems with a universal price point. Others have prices for children, adults, tourists and even dogs(!).
While every cable car system is different, aerial gondolas are typically built within 1-2 years of permits being issued.
Urban gondolas travel at average speeds comparable to buses and streetcars operating in mixed traffic and semi rights-of-way. When passenger loading and unloading times are taken into consideration, average travel speeds for urban gondolas seen around the world range from 9-13 mph (15-21 km/h). Comparatively speaking, streetcars and buses operating in mixed traffic have average speeds of 5-20 mph (8-32 km/h).
Ropeway systems have been built in almost all climatic conditions imaginable — from snowy mountain peaks, to sandy deserts, to the middle of a seismically active sea crossing. The lightning capital of the world, Singapore, operates several cable cars safely and reliably. Part of the purpose of this study is to ensure that the system is designed to be resilient in the face of local wind and lightning conditions. Consultations and analysis will determine whether or not lightning detection/prevention systems are technically and financially viable, whether or not they would be viable in the Tampa Bay Area, and the degree to which system stoppages would occur due to wind and lightning.
They often mean pretty much the same thing. The terms “cable cars,” “aerial gondolas,” “ropeways,” and “cable-propelled transit” systems are generic names for the technology as a whole.
Aerial gondola systems have experienced significant technological advancements in recent times. For instance, urban gondolas built in Colombia and Venezuela can transport up to 3,000 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd). Higher capacity systems can transport 4,000 pphpd. The maximum capacity is up to 6,000 pphpd.
Both gondola stations and cable cars can be built to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities. Station platforms are level with gondola cabins to enable passengers with mobility challenges to easily board and alight. Gondola cabins operate at “creep speeds” during in-station times to facilitate movement. Urban cable cars can also be completely stopped by an operator if more boarding/unloading time is necessary. New advances in the technology allow for “dual boarding” areas where cabins are brought offline and to a complete stop for riders with mobility challenges.
No. TBARTA works to advance transit options that can integrate with local transit agencies and private transportation capabilities. Except in rare instances, urban gondolas function best in city environments when they are part of an overall multi-modal transit network. Given their maximum capacities at 6,000 people per hour per direction (pphpd), they generally operate at their optimal capabilities as feeder systems, first-mile/last-mile solutions, local circulators, and as a means to traverse challenging topography.