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World's longest cable car system to carry Bolivia's commuters

Posting in Transportation
 
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Every day, close to 200,000 people commute between El Alto, Bolivia -- at more than 13,000 feet above sea level, the highest major metropolitan area in the world -- and La Paz, the nation's administrative capital. But soon many of those people will be traveling not on the congested roads, but through the air: The world's longest urban cable car system is about to open here.

If you've ever felt the frustration of being helplessly trapped in traffic within sight of your destination, then these commuters know your pain. The two major metros are separated by just a few miles. But because of the region's mountainous geography -- La Paz lies at the bottom of a sheer-sided canyon -- there is just one winding major route between El Alto and La Paz by road, which means these short bus trips take an hour or more. 

The solution is to carry commuters above the congestion. When all three lines are operational, the region's new cable car system will cover nearly 7 miles and transport 18,000 passengers per hour. In addition to slashing commute time, the electric-powered Mi Teleferico (My Cable Car) system could reduce pollution in the area by keeping some cars off the road.

Cable cars are an attractive option here also because they don't require a large infrastructure footprint to build, especially when compared to tearing down buildings to create new roads. The terrain around the Bolivian capital isn't easy to work with, but that's nothing for Doppelmayr, the Austrian company constructing the system. Its general manager Javier Telleria tells the Guardian: "Ninety-nine percent of our cable cars are built in high mountainous areas with large slopes, landslide and glacial areas that are equal to or more complex than La Paz." 

Mi Teleferico opens to the public in May. The first couple has already gotten married in a gondola, and spokespeople for the system say it will be equipped with Wi-Fi. The big remaining question: How much is the fare? Today it costs 2.50 bolivianos (36 cents) to take the arduous bus ride between La Paz and El Alto. Commuters might be willing to pay a little bit more for the scenic, relaxing ride to work aboard this $230 million transit system in the sky.



— By on April 19, 2014, 3:22 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure