AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the City of Austin’s multi-billion-dollar transit overhaul Project Connect celebrates the completion of its first project, the designers behind the city’s gondola proposal still haven’t lost hope in an urban cable system.

Before there was Project Connect, Austin-based Argo Design had pitched an 8.7-mile urban cable system to city and regional mobility leaders.

Ultimately, a $16,000 study commissioned by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, CapMetro and the city in 2016 found it wasn’t the preferred public transit mode.

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But the designers behind that system haven’t lost hope in one day taking urban transit to the sky. Jared Ficklin, founding partner at Argo Design, told KXAN he believes the city can never have too many transit modes — especially as Austin’s population continues to skyrocket.

The case for gondolas

“The more routes you give people, the more mobility you give people,” he said. “Mobility is a form of liberty that should spread along all people equally, if possible — it really solves a lot of the problems that a city like Austin has.”

Under the proposal Argo Design presented before the city, the 8.7-mile system would include cabins that could carry 15 people at a time, or 3,600 people in an hour.

However, Ficklin said the lack of traffic lights or ride stops that impact bus and rail mobility wouldn’t have caused the same transit delays for his version of airfare. While the speed and capacity of gondolas might be lower, he said the predictability and continuous nature of its wire line could be an enhancement to the city’s transit infrastructure.

“When someone is not doing the driving, they actually do not care as much about speed,” he said. “What they care about is predictability.”

He said the system also wouldn’t have led to the displacement of certain traffic lanes for dedicated mass transit use, which could help increase capacity while diversifying transit modes.

While the initial study found gondolas wouldn’t be the most successful transit option for the city, a May 2021 Austin Tourism Commission meeting flagged it as a future possibility for tourist-centric transportation.

With Austin’s status as a tourist destination and its housing of large-scale events like the South by Southwest Conference & Festivals along with the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Ficklin said he thinks there could be an appetite for this option.

With new city leadership at the helm and mass transit initiatives like Project Connect underway, Ficklin said he hasn’t lost hope in Argo Design’s vision. He pointed to the success of other city-led gondola operations — primarily in international destinations like Mexico City, Paris and Medellin, Colombia — as key indicators the possibility is tangible.

And, he added, there would be a significant cost reduction in launching an urban wire cable system compared to more expensive alternatives, such as Project Connect’s multi-billion-dollar light rail system.

“With the next administration in the mayor’s office, I would love to speak with them and see if they can look at this as a mode under consideration,” he said. “Then we could really begin examining feasibility more realistically…but without the city’s mode under consideration and the city actually entertaining this, it’s very hard to find anyone who would even want to put in a tourist line because we need the city. We need the city right of way to do it.”