Four DFW cities have expressed interest in gondola-style transportation systems. Image courtesy of Swyft Cities.
May 25, 2023
Traffic congestion is a decades-old problem in Dallas-Fort Worth, and it took a Mountain View, California-based company to bring an innovative solution to North Texas — with a brief stop in New Zealand first.
With plans for high speed rail in the Metroplex stalled, a transportation option that most associate with amusement parks and ski resorts is under discussion.
Four DFW cities — Arlington, Dallas, DeSoto and Plano — have expressed interested in pursuing gondola-style mobility networks to address their growing traffic congestion issues.
SKY’S THE LIMIT
The gondola solution was first pitched to the cities through the North Central Texas Council of Governments, an association made up of local governments in North Texas with a mission, in part, to recognize regional opportunities.
NCTCOG’s Regional Transportation Council offers a Certification of Emerging and Reliable Transportation Technology program that allows for transportation technology providers to implement innovative solutions to transportation issues in Dallas-Fort Worth.
The CERTT program connects transportation technology innovators, whose transportation solution requires safety, operational and/or other types of certifications prior to public use, with interested local governments, said program manager Brendon Wheeler.
One to seven miles is considered the “sweet spot” where the gondolas are most effective but Swyft Cities say their vehicles have sufficient range to reliably handle trips of that length or longer.
“This program seeks to provide a level playing field for technology providers and for local governments interested in new transportation technologies,” he said. “Technology providers work with local governments to identify suitable locations for the deployment of testing and certification facilities that can then be converted to public use after certification is attained from the appropriate authorities.”
Wheeler confirmed that the four cities noted above submitted applications for round two of CERTT, which involved Swyft Cities, a company that builds advanced gondola systems, as the technology provider.
“Generally, the applicants are interested in first- and last-mile transit connections, circulation within congested mixed-use districts and crossing barriers that make non-automotive travel difficult,” said Wheeler.
He said Swyft Cities will be making the final decision on what opportunities it wishes to explore further.
HOW THEY WORK
A video from Swyft Cities shows how the smart gondolas traverse urban landscapes.
According to Jeral Poskey, CEO and co-founder of Swyft Cities, unlike traditional gondolas where the cables move, they use “smart gondolas" that are electrically self-propelled and move independently along fixed cables.
Poskey went on to say that smart gondolas can do things that traditional gondolas can’t, including handling complicated turns and switch or merge lines. This enables the creation of large, complex networks that can provide an alternative to walking, cycling or driving, particularly in areas with major highways or heavy traffic congestion.
“[Our] vehicles are autonomously guided,” Poskey said. “So, it works a lot like an Uber. You request a trip on our app and the app will direct you to the closest station. When you arrive there, your vehicle is waiting for you. You get it and go.”
Poskey said that every trip is nonstop from origin to destination.
“There are no intermediate stops, so each trip is fast and comfortable,” he said. “Stations are offline, so you bypass all other stations along the way. Vehicles can switch lines, enabling you to travel anywhere across the entire network.”
Swyft Cities technology was developed at Google. The prototypes exceeded all goals for cost and user experience, according to Poskey. Swyft Cities was spun off as an independent business to commercialize it and bring it to the world.
Swyft Cities' first pilot site, a multi-use real estate development in New Zealand, will break ground later this year.
While these submitted projects in Arlington, Dallas, DeSoto and Plano are not yet funded, they are the first step in an ongoing conversation between Swyft Cities and interested municipalities. NCTCOG will continue to provide support as needed for future project planning.
Swyft Cities first pilot site, a multi-use real estate development in New Zealand, will break ground later this year.
The gondolas' range can vary depending not only on terrain and geography, but factors such as distance between stations, average trip lengths and capacity objectives.
Poskey said that generally speaking, they consider the “sweet spot” where Swyft Cities is most effective as mid-distance trips roughly between one and seven miles, and their vehicles have sufficient range to reliably handle trips of that length or longer.
“More importantly, it can be expanded very easily,” said Poskey. “It can start with a small system and expand into larger networks. Each station that is added geometrically increases the value and utility of the network, because each station in the network now has an expanded number of possible trip destinations.”
Poskey went on to say that the gondolas' infrastructure is lightweight and very flexible to build, so construction is fast and cost-effective. Vehicles can seat four to six passengers with room for two additional standing passengers. They are ADA-compliant, with room for a wheelchair and attendant. Riders can bring a bike on board as well.
Poskey said that financial arrangements may vary considerably depending on the specific locations, and the policies and priorities of the host city. Generally, however, where appropriate, Swyft Cities supports exploring innovative public-private partnerships to create financial arrangements that are beneficial to all stakeholders.
In terms of prices that riders would be charged, it would depend on many different factors for a given city or location.
The Swyft Cities gondolas can seat four to six passengers with room for two additional standing passengers. They are ADA-compliant, with room for a wheelchair and attendant. Riders can bring a bike on board as well. Courtesy of Swyft Cities.
Poskey said that there are many applications where gondola networks can be beneficial. In addition to cities, Swyft Cities can benefit private real estate developments, university campuses, shopping and entertainment complexes, tourism sites, airports and many other locations.
Some examples include:
• Connecting residential, office, retail and entertainment areas.
• A circulator to move people around in and between shopping and entertainment districts.
• A feeder to provide last-mile connections to improve access to existing mass transit.
• Connecting disconnected neighborhoods or districts separated by freeway overpasses, railroad tracks, bodies of water and other obstacles.
• Connecting university campuses with surrounding communities.
While gondola networks could be a viable solution to traffic problems in certain areas, Poskey said that the company’s goal isn’t to replace cars, it’s to supplement them by providing an alternative transportation choice.
“To be clear, we’re not trying to eliminate cars,” Poskey said. “But for most trips, there are better ways to travel. Most of the personal trips that people take are between one and five miles. Those are actually inefficient to take by car, especially when you take into account time spent looking for parking. Studies show that more than a quarter of us spend more than 15 minutes every day just looking for parking spots. This is wasteful not just on our time, but also environmentally.”
By reducing the need for infrastructure that supports cars, while at the same time encouraging the development of higher density neighborhoods, gondola networks could also be seen as viable choice when it comes to more sustainable transportation.
“Roads and parking are highly carbon intensive in terms of materials, using concrete, asphalt and steel, representing tons of embodied carbon,” Poskey said. “They also contribute to the ‘heat island’ effect in cities, raising ambient temperatures in neighborhoods.”
The gondola systems are ideal for denser multi-use neighborhoods that combine housing, offices, retail, entertainment and recreation, said Poskey. This reduces energy consumption and emissions by reducing the distance to travel between those functions and services.
“Denser, multi-use neighborhoods also enable creation of more open, green spaces to improve sustainability of cities.”
Poskey went on to say that according to Swyft Cities’ calculations, if deployed globally in most major cities, their gondola networks could avert more than 2 gigatons of CO2 emissions per year.
“That would have a major impact on global sustainability,” Poskey said.