*Update August 10th: The reports from administration and video of the meeting is available here: https://pub-edmonton.escribemeetings.com/Meeting.aspx?Id=880d5f9d-e79e-444c-9525-164ffa143e5a&Agenda=Agenda&lang=English
We will have a chance to vote as a new council and finally ground the Gondola on August 10th.
First of all, I widely heard negative concerns about this idea during the municipal election. I thought I might put forward these concerns.
I'm not anti-Gondola as a technology. I think it can be an incredibly efficient and economical technology for moving large numbers of people up and down slopes. Yes, I've seen them work at ski-hills. Yes, I've ridden the Portland one.
I also think we should explore the value of tourism and the visitor economy. I’ve heard from many in our tourism space that are eager to see any kind of tourism idea, such as the Gondola, that are worthy of consideration.
But the steak is not here to match the sizzle.
Like all public proposals, one of the first things we must examine is: who profits, and how much?
As Peter Lougheed instructed, we must think like owners. This is our river valley and it is intended for public benefit to all of us, rather than exclusive or private profit. Development in the river valley according to the City Bylaw must be essential. This criteria alone should have seen the project rejected.
This project is not essential, and if it was, it would have been proposed by our Edmonton Transit System (ETS).
It is important to clarify that this idea was NOT birthed by City administration or City Council, but by a group of private developers through a design charente and contest.
We must be clear that this is a private business opportunity with a very clear profit motive. It’s about making a few people money, not the mass movement of many people, or else it would have been proposed by ETS as part of the extensive transit redesign over the last number of years. This is a private program for private profit, just like a limo rental company or the e-scooters.
I don't actually believe the Gondola is the issue here, it's about securing land around the stations. This isn't a transportation play, it's a development play.
Here's a number of other concerns constituents have sent me:
So who makes the money?
It’s not actually about the Gondola at all. It’s about private developers profiting on land around the Gondola route. We saw this with the Downtown arena as well - not the arena, but the land around the arena.
So what's in it for us?
There is enormous upside to the developer investors, but little benefit to the public. In fact, there is enormous risk.
The business case:
Many have commented that the path to profit is not from the Gondola, but the land around the Gondola. The business case has an expectation of transit revenue. That means for every dollar provided to the Gondola business owners, that means one less dollar to fund public transit for the rest of us. It is clear that the Gondola owners are not expecting it to be profitable on their own merits. There have been concerns about the ridership numbers put forward as well as the profitability.
Indigenous Land Concerns
I've heard from many opposed to this development on sacred land in Rossdale. I intend to share on this when I have permission to do so.
A bad precedent for sky clutter and river valley encroachment
I’m worried about the idea that another company could try and bring forward an additional Gondola from Goldbar to Highlands or Windsor Park to Crestwood. If other organizations want other routes, are we creating a spiderweb of wires across the valley, impeding our beautiful views?
Our own "Orphan Well" site?
What happens if the business operating the Gondola walk away from the project? We’ve seen too many former gas station around the city that are left abandoned just like the hundreds of other orphaned wells around Alberta. Look at what has happened to rural landowners.
There have been weak assurances provided to community thus far that we would not be stuck with oblisks of metal and concrete cluttering up our roads as a future monument to our foolishness. Comparisons have been made to the "Funicular", the opportunity costs of that spend, and operational challenges with that project.
Protecting the River Valley
We have a river valley bylaw that is very clear that development must be “essential” the construction of concrete pillars and cutting down forest along the riverbanks, plus the mechanics, are a challenge to many conservationists who have been very vocal about any form of “non-essential” incursions. An environmental cost-case must be publicly available and rigorously peer-reviewed.
Rossdale/Whyte Ave/ Downtown connectivity.
If connectivity is the goal, we could create more express transportation, tour buses, or other relevant tools. I think there are many more practical and affordabile options. We can enhance the High Level Bridge with active transportation connectivity. We can but a BRT Lane on the Walterdale bridge. We can double transit service once ridership merits.
This Gondola at best is a distraction from needed investment in public transportation.
The public deserve a right to look at the books and the business case not merely presented to council at a closed-door meeting. There is great value in public and peer review. We must learn from the mistakes of the Downtown Arena Deal in 2007. Critical oversight pieces like the operation of Northland arena were missed by the last council.
We must learn from the mistakes of blind boosterism.
The last council 2017-2021 approved a partnership agreement with Prairie Sky Gondola to continue working on this proposal and a land agreement. It will come before City Council on August 10th.
Please read the book: "Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars? Public Transportation in the age of Google, Elon Musk and Uber" by James Wilt.
August 2nd, 2022: Please take a moment to read this fantastic piece: Why We Should Say No to the Prairie Sky Gondola By Nisha Patel
I wanted to share with you this letter to the editor from Gabe Shelley:
What is gondola's business plan?
Edmonton Journal (Print Edition) • Gabe Shelley • Jun 21
Edition: Early • Section: Opinion • Page: A6
Someone please help me. I keep reading about the gondola project, and while it sounds exciting, I cannot see how it is viable.
The capital cost is said to be $155 million. At a conservative six-per-cent carrying cost, that is about $9 million per year.
Add the cost of operations (staff, maintenance, marketing, administration, et cetera) and the proponents say this is another $8 million. The gondola cannot operate when the winds are blowing hard, nor when there is fog, or snow, or when it requires maintenance. So, say it can go 250 days of the year.
This means that the company will need $68,000 in revenues per operating day to break even.
At a projected price of $10 per ride (this is the number I heard), the gondola will need to attract 6,800 riders per day - every day. I ride the High Level Streetcar once a summer. I would probably ride the gondola about the same. Where will the other 6,799 riders come from? And in the winter? Someone please explain the economics of this, because while it is enticing, to me it makes no financial sense.