Infrastructure News Analysis

Tugade could be aiming for the sky

Arthur Tugade, the incoming Transport Department secretary, might just have the solution for Manila’s nightmare and daymare commuting problems. Take the passenger traffic off the roads – and put them in the air.

Cable cars, gondolas, pods – or to give them their proper name, cable-propelled transport (CPT) – Tugade believes, could be the most efficient way of relieving the traffic congestion which has now all but choked the capital. Vehicle density in Manila is 3,677 per square meter – to give you an idea: New York City is 2,504, Singapore is 1,360 and Tokyo is 967.

It is a bold plan and one that is worthy of the man who was able to rid the Clark Development Corporation of its sluggish, corruption-laden culture and poor financial returns and transform it into a vibrant operation with good governance and impressive profits.

Right now, the idea is still in its infancy – though Tugade has mentioned Metro Manila’s Pasig City area as one possible location and a cable link between Makati and Santa Rosa in Laguna as another. Logistics surveys, viability studies and cost estimates have yet to be carried out, but given the success of urban CPT systems elsewhere in the world, Manila looks ripe for one of its own.

Lagos in Nigeria, for example, is planning to have its own CPT. That city has 21 million citizens and practically no fixed transport infrastructure. Metro Manila has around 13 million citizens and a transport infrastructure which is now unfit for purpose.

Tugade’s cable cars will each have a 35-passenger capacity – that’s a small coach load – while jeepneys, the most common mode of mass transport on Manila’s roads, have an official seating capacity of 20. Do the math: 20 pods = 700 passengers = 35 jeepneys. For cars, taking 4 passengers per vehicle, its even more impressive > 20 pods = 700 passengers = 175 cars. The 10.7km CPT system in the Bolivian capital, La Paz – admittedly, the biggest in the world – can handle 9,000 passengers an hour; 3,000 on each of its three cable routes.

CPT systems are spring up all over the world – from Germany to Algeria, Turkey to Brazil – as transport planners increasingly adopt them as urban transport solutions. And their popularity is growing. Port-au-Prince in Haiti, Cardiff in Wales and Mecca in Saudi Arabia are all now at the planning stage of implementing cable-car transport.

According to Steven Dale, a CPT strategist with The Gondola Project, part of Toronto-based Creative Urban Projects: “Ten years ago people thought the idea of urban cable cars ridiculous. Now almost every city in the developing world wants one”. He pointed out that they require less time and money – considerably less – to implement and are pollution free.

Worldwide, CPT fulfills another function: sightseeing. In the case of Manila that could be a real pull for tourism – to get a bird’s eye view of the world’s worst traffic chaos without having to experience it.