Ski lifts in a tropical city? An Indonesian answer to gridlock

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Rush hour traffic in Bandung, Indonesia. Rush hour traffic in Bandung, Indonesia.

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Gridlocked and cash-strapped cities in tropical Indonesia may find a solution in ski resorts.
In the former Dutch hill station of Bandung, city planners have approved Indonesia’s first urban aerial gondola system, which could move as many as 4,800 people an hour between two shopping areas. It would cut a trip through the busy city center to 4 minutes from half an hour by car. The companies building it are hoping that cities like Jakarta and Bogor will follow.
“We just need to begin,” said Sandjaya Susilo, president director of PT Aditya Dharmaputra Persada, the Indonesian company developing the project in the country’s third-biggest city. “Once people see it, they will say why don’t we use it all over Indonesia?”
Cable suspended vehicles, used since the late 19th century to ferry people up mountains and hills, have emerged as an urban transport option and offer particular attractions for Indonesia’s bursting cities. They are cheaper and faster to build than ground-based mass rail systems and take up a smaller footprint, reducing the potential for land disputes that often hold up infrastructure works in the world’s fourth-most populous nation.
“The technology is different now, the cabins are big,” said Ridwan Kamil, the mayor of Bandung, a city of 2.5 million people. “Just take a look at South America, they are now relying on the cable car.”
‘Flying buses’
Such systems, traditionally used for ski slopes, mines and tourist spots, could provide a partial fix for the chronic infrastructure shortcomings of Indonesian cities. They also offer President Joko Widodo the chance for small wins as he seeks to end years of underinvestment in roads, railways and ports.
The potential for urban gondola lifts and aerial cable cars in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy provides an untapped market for companies like Leitner-Poma of America Inc. and the Doppelmayr Group, which is supplying the system in Bandung. Such solutions are already being used in cities like Bolivia’s La Paz, London, and Portland, Oregon.
“They are literally like flying buses,” said Markus Hagspiel, a business development executive at Doppelmayr, which is working with Aditya in Bandung. The city will be the first in Indonesia to adopt the method for transportation, the Austrian company said.
Doppelmayr has already pitched its product to Bogor, a traffic-clogged city south of Jakarta, according to its mayor. Aditya’s website has mockup photographs of what aerial gondolas in Jakarta could look like.
It’s not a complete solution.
Limited capacity
While aerial trams can overcome geographical obstacles and have low operation costs, they raise issues of privacy as passengers would be able to look into buildings, said Laurent Dauby, director of rail transport at the International Association of Public Transport, headquartered in Brussels. Operation during windy weather could also be a concern, he said.
They also can’t handle the same volumes as larger transport systems like rail, according to Doppelmayr. The Bandung project, due to start construction in mid-July, will have cabins that hold 8 people each.
“My advice for Bandung is don’t waste your money on something that has not been tested, like a cable car,” said Yoga Adiwinarto, Indonesia director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. He supports bus rapid transport systems, which he said are affordable.
On Indonesia’s most-populous island of Java, where more than 140 million people live in an area smaller than Illinois, gridlock is commonplace. More than 1.2 million new cars were sold in the country last year, and Jakarta commuters spend more than two hours on the bus on average a day, according to a 2014 survey by the transport institute.
Packed weekends
Bandung, once known as “The Paris of Java” for its restaurants, cafes and boutiques, is packed with tourists from Jakarta each weekend. Difficulties in finding investors are holding up plans for a monorail, according to PT Jabar Moda Transportasi, the government-backed company tasked with the project.
The initial 875-meter aerial ropeway in the city will have parking for 500 cars in a stackable system, with an investment of as much as 10 million euros ($11 million), according to Susilo at Aditya. Tickets will cover operational costs, and the return on investment will come from malls at the two stations, he said.
Mayor Kamil envisages a network that will eventually run 10 kilometers (6 miles), making it one of the more extensive in the world. Future lines will need state funding because there will be less space for malls at stations, Susilo said.
Speedy construction and the relatively limited land needed for aerial cable cars are the main attractions, said Bima Arya Sugiarto, the mayor of Bogor who was pitched the technology by Doppelmayr. The city is also considering other options like ground trams or light railways, he said.
“We are really interested, but the challenge is for us to get the funding sorted out,” he said. “If we do nothing, then our city is going nowhere.”

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