Rising to the occasion; beating traffic via cable cars

Metro-Manila aerial tramways

Has it been more than two years already? With I-ACT up and running, Danny Lim running the MMDA, and another Orbos in the Cabinet, this season of traffic jams and Manila flash floods may just as well be a good time to revive one of the many novels and what some consider as absurd proposals to solve the traffic mess.

Recall that one of the many ideas proffered to solve the Metro's congealing traffic that the new administration is studying is the cable car. This out-of-the-box proposal from DOTr Sec. Tugade was welcomed by Sen. Grace Poe, the Senate's committee in charge of traffic solutions, which was then studying the grant of emergency powers.  At that time, Sec. Tugade's example was the Bolivian city of La Paz, where its 10.0km long "Telefericos" is its primary public urban transport network to which several other cable car lines, underground rail [subways], and surface transport [buses] integrate, instead of the other way around.

Fairground rides

Now we, of these 7,107 islands, may find cable car mass transit a joke considering we are not worthily possessed of the mountain peaks of La Paz, much less an alpine landscape like Switzerland.  Our heaving population megacities are founded on river deltas and coastal keys and not on steep-sided mountains, making zig-zag highways or steep climbing cog and rack railways near impossible to build. Moreover, the famous Swiss stereotype impression of cable cars is that of gondolas that take tourists or skiers to the summit for sport or scenery gazing, thanks to memories of the tourist funicular railway in the isle of Capri or Ocean Park Hong Kong.

A Cable Propelled Transit system for the Metro? image

Zip lines with Gondolas?

But we are no strangers to cable cars, thanks to out-of-favor oligarch Bobby Ongpin who insisted on a funicular for the first phase of Tagaytay Highlands back in the FVR-era nineties. And if memory serves us right, a rather appropriate aerial tram was part of the package of plans proposed by a Taiwanese investor that was to take over and link John Hay Air Base in Baguio, Mountain Province to Poro Point in La Union by the sea. The latest proposals using funiculars are from some LGU that proposed man-made island resorts reclaimed from Laguna de Bay to reach the hillsides of the Sierra Madre.

Up in the air, and quick

The cable car as mass transit is catching on in Latin America and China's populous cities more so than in other parts of the world. They are built far faster than BRT [Bus Rapid Transit] or railways and operate at a tenth of the cost. For the 2012 London Olympics, Emirates Airlines took 10 months to build a funicular connecting North Greenwich to the Royal Docks over the River Thames. Funicular railways require far less right-of-way private property expropriation than road or rail expansion. However, the question of "air" rights has to be tackled in applying such to our local urban areas.

Slow, quiet, serene and over the city

The capacity of the gondolas in the rather extensive network in La Paz Bolivia is at 3,000 pax per hour per direction, equivalent to the full capacity of a hundred stretch Jeepneys.  Though their languid pace of 16.0km/h limits their turn-around frequency, cable cars are one of the most quiet, flood-free, and arguably the most scenic means of safe public transport. In Rio, the cable cars hover in safety over the more dangerous favelas, communities that have been known to have random and frequent drug gang gunfights. Rio's middle-class "Cariocas", dependent on local hire domestic help who commute to the classier parts of Rio, live in the favelas. So just like their counterparts in other Central and Southern American cities, cable cars are the favored means of cheap and reliable transportation.

A Cable Propelled Transit system for the Metro? image

Condo to hillside direct transport

Beyond the obvious applications of funiculars in cities like Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, and Davao, cities that have seashore and mountainside communities, funiculars can have an application in the Antipolo elevations of Metro Manila. Contrary to popular opinion, cable cars are not necessarily just for hilly or mountainous regions.

Since funiculars have the advantage of less construction on the ground as cables are far lighter than beams or girders pylons can be installed far apart -  aerial trams can serve as efficient medium-capacity cross Metro commuter transport. Access to stations can be elevated by being co-hosted in the many upcoming mixed high rises going up in the Metro, like those ubiquitous condos built by SMDC [Shoe Mart Development Corp.].

Moreover, the cable pylons or towers have a footprint the size of an NGCP [National Grid Corporation of the Philippines] High Power line pylon and the great distance between pylons reduces the need to buy real estate, though there may have to be a compensation mechanism to owners of "air" rights over private property.

Go West or East

A first "MetroCable", "Aerotram" or "FuniculaMLA" could begin in the Folks Art Theater/Cultural Center of Philippines reclamation area and terminate in the vicinity of the Antipolo Basilica of Our Lady of Good Voyage. Several reasons favor this route. For one, the West-to-East Metro commuter only has scattered and dissonant PUV routes to choose from. LRT-2 serves a radial route for the North East quadrant of the City while the proposed LRT-4 is only a short stretch from EDSA to Rosario via Ortigas Ave.

The straight path over the crowded and the crooked

Moreover, FuniculaMLA's 1st route passes through zones where an LRT or BRT line would have to kink and curve at many areas in order to follow a mishmash of narrow radial avenues that can afford a reasonable amount of existing public road right of way to minimize expropriating private property over densely populated communities. Besides, there is hardly anymore available at-grade road space on the proposed route along Quirino Ave., Pedro Gil and the narrow streets of San Andres and Pasig City. Air rights will also have to be tackled at some point along the way.

A Cable Propelled Transit system for the Metro? image

Sunset boulevard to hilltop

From FAT/CCP, the cableway route will cross Roxas Boulevard, pass between the Yacht Club and Bangko Sentral to proceed to Quirino Ave. The funicular railway will cross over LRT-1, providing an interchange station in the Taft Ave. area. The route then crosses over MMSS3 [Metro Manila Skyway Stage3], then curves to align over Pedro Gil. As the course approaches the Santa Ana Church and Plaza Calderon, the route then curves over the San Andres area to align on the banks of the Pasig River.

It would be ideal that the funicular railway stations also have access to the Pasig River Ferry system. This Pasig River alignment follows former MMDA Chairman Francis Tolentino's Pasig River Skyway all the way up to EDSA-MRT station and C-5/Bagong Ilog at which point the route now leaves the Pasig River to cable over flood-prone Pasig and the end of R-5/Ortigas Ave. in Cainta. Then the cable route begins its hillside ascent to terminate at the Antipolo Basilica's plaza.

The "high" way home

It doesn't take much to imagine that such an aerial journey would take in scenic spots like the Manila Bay sunset and the hills of Antipolo. At night, the view of the city's pin-lit residences and monstrous billboards will be a sight to ease commuter's woes. Moreover, commuters riding the high-capacity gondolas are spared from road noise and stench. The gondolas should be air-conditioned and provide seats for both seated and standing passengers.

The Swiss, German, or Japanese manufacturers and designers should ensure that the gondolas are stabilized against high winds, gusts, and thunderstorms. We don't expect the gondolas to be typhoon-proof as public transport systems are grounded the moment storm winds hit Signal No. 4 anyway. Emergency protocols should be established in cases of an earthquake or if there is a fire along the route.


For the first stage of the Metro's first "AeroTram", "MetroCable" or "FuniculaMLA", fares should be set to be on par with the per kilometer charge of the MRT/LRT so that it will be affordable. Ticketing should follow existing practice using load anywhere AF Payments Bep Card fare collection system. We should be so lucky if this idea takes off.