In 1993, a cable car was proposed for Mount Wellington. Here are comments I wrote at the time. Now, 25 years later, a new cable car is proposed. Many of my 1993 comments are redundant, but some have not changed and need considering when assessing the 2018 proposal.


CABLE CAR

The Mount Wellington cable car can be compared to the one on Cape Town's Table Mountain. The Table Mt cable car started in 1929 and is used by about 200,000 each year.

Cape Town has a population of more than one and a half million (nearly three million metropolitan). This is many times that of Hobart. Its white population alone is three times that of Hobart and is therefore more than all of Tasmania. Cape Town gets a large number of international as well as South African tourists. It is the gateway to South Africa and to other African countries.

Tourists do not go to Cape Town because there is a cable car up Table Mt. The cable car hardly rates a mention in some tourist brochures. It is popular, but just another thing that happens to be in Cape Town. Would the Mt Wellington cable car rate any better?

Table Mt is 180 metres lower than Mt Wellington and rises steeply out of Cape Town. Table Mt has no road or easy way to the top. It's the cable car or a risky climb through vertical cliffs. Because it is so steep the summit is fairly close to the city centre and harbour. This nearness and the vast size of Cape Town mean that views are superb day and night. By contrast, Mt Wellington is further away from Hobart, and Hobart is much smaller.

The lower station on Table Mt is 3.5 km from the city centre, with the upper station a further 1 km away. The cable car makes such a steep lift that no support pylons are needed between the stations. The Mt Wellington lower station will also be 3.5 km from the city centre, but the upper station will be a further 4 km away. Several support pylons between the upper and lower stations will need to be built, with some straddling suburban homes.

Table Mt is not as high as Mt Wellington and is 1000 km further north, (same latitude as Adelaide). Operating hours in the Season (1 Dec - End of Apr) are 8am to 10pm. Out of season 8.30am to 6pm. The Mt Wellington cable car is proposed to run longer hours but probably ought to run less because Hobart's average temperature is 5 degrees colder than Cape Town.

The Table Mt cable car operates every day weather permitting. If it is chilly, windy or cloudy with poor views likely, the cable car runs nearly empty despite a restaurant and a take-away at the top.

The Table Mt cable car can carry about 20. The Mt Wellington cable car has been suggested to carry 100.

THE UPPER STATION

The Mt Wellington upper station is to be on the slope below the summit which puts it at about the same elevation as the Table Mt station.

The Table Mt upper station is at the summit and looks like a box on the skyline. It is a terminal only. From Cape Town it looks a bit like the present lookout on Mt Wellington.

A similar station on Mt Wellington would appear only a little larger than the present lookout, if it were to be put on the summit.

The upper support pylon is to be built on the top of the Organ Pipes, at the head of the Couloir. The Couloir is a vast gap where the rock walls have tumbled down. The Organ Pipes are vertical columns of rocks standing side by side like a handful of pencils. A column fell recently crashing into the bushes at its foot.

The upper support pylon is to be built on top of these rock stacks. Two 10 tonne cable cars each with 100 passengers will swing from the ropes the pylon carries. With all the stresses and strains generated, the rock stacks could split apart. Deep excavations will be needed to get down to a firm foundation. This will require a lot of blasting during construction. Many of the delicately balanced rocks are likely to be shaken loose and come crashing down. It will be impossible to ever recover the mountain to its present state.

There will need to be a road for a shuttle bus to the summit lookout and to the ski field which is a couple of kilometres further on. With roads and lots of tracks, visitors will roam about. There can be little control over this matter. Safety fences will be needed above the Organ Pipes and a system of tracks, sign posts and huts.

When the weather is bad on Table Mt, a siren warns visitors that the last cable car is about to leave. Will the same thing happen on Mt Wellington? Visitors must not be left stranded. Who will know whether they have their own cars or are depending on the cable car?

Mt Wellington experiences sudden weather changes. Warm clothes are needed. Many who ride cable cars wear T-shirts, shorts, thongs.

Even hikers may assume they will be able to take the easy way down by cable car after climbing to the top. If the weather turns bad some may become exhausted by the climb up. If they find things closed they may not have enough strength to get down again. A ranger and a rescue service may be needed.

THE RESTAURANT

A 400 seat restaurant is proposed as part of the upper cable car station. It is to be on the slope quite a distance below the summit. This will limit views to a mostly eastward direction. Wide panoramas other than to the east are impossible. Sunsets will not be in its view.

The restaurant could function as a quite separate thing. It cannot be used as a reason for having a cable car. It could be put on the summit plateau where it would not impose itself on the view. It could cater for anyone however they got to the top.

The restaurant is to be top quality, which means high prices. No doubt it will be licensed. Will it be visited by those who go by motor car? Will some come or go with too much to drink and roam around the mountain top in the middle of the night either looking for the restaurant or trying to find their cars when leaving?

Flood-lighting the area may be necessary for safety even though the dazzle of these lights would intrude and diminish the night views.

The upper station is supposed to blend into the mountain. It will show as a large block on the skyline when seen from north or south.

The natural view from the upper station toward the city and to the east will be obstructed and degraded by the upper support pylon.

The natural view from the summit toward the city and to the east will be degraded by the upper station and by the upper support pylon.

What is to stop other restaurants and take-aways opening at the summit or a MacDonalds next to the bottom station?

On Table Mt, the restaurant is about 50 metres from the upper station. It is on the same level as the station. It is on the summit plateau out of line of sight from Cape Town. It offers an all round view. Sunsets are superb. It caters for between 50 and a 100. Meal costs are much dearer than in Cape Town.

There is a take-away next door.

BEGINNERS' SKI FIELD

Just like the restaurant, the beginners' ski field can exist alone. It cannot be posed as a reason for a cable car. It doesn't need a cable car to function, but perhaps the cable car needs a ski field and a restaurant to seem important.

The Mt Wellington ski field is to have man-made snow in a location near the existing road. The road is usually clear of snow and so a motor car will be the quickest and cheapest way to get to the site. Large car parks will be needed if the ski field becomes popular.

Because the ski field is a long way from the upper station a shuttle bus will be needed. As stated earlier, this will require a new road from the upper station to meet the present road at the summit. This extra road will be another scar on the mountain.

Taxi drivers will get into this shuttle trade. They will also drive visitors one way, to or from Hobart city. They will be cheaper than the cable car.

Extra huts, food outlets and a first aid station will be needed at the ski field.

COST OF THE TRIP

Say you and some friends go by cable car to do some skiing. After waiting around for the shuttle bus, you finally get to the ski field to find it crowded out by those who came up by motor car. Another wait to ski the beginners' slope and then shuttle back to the cable car. Was it worth the money and the waiting around? The costs to get to and from the station, the cable car fares and the shuttle bus fares will add up. The ski field will have a usage charge. Compare this to the freedom of a party or a family going up the mountain by motor car when they like and where they like for the cost of a Sunday drive.

The Mt Wellington cable car fare is to be $16. At a recent test cricket match the entrance fee was also $16. Even though this bought a full day of test cricket it was very poorly attended. Reason: $16 was too expensive! The $16 cable car fare buys a few minutes ride only and maybe a view. It's just not worth it.

Because of the expensive ride in the Mt Wellington cable car, many will use it one way only. The other half of the trip will be by motor car, bus, taxi or on foot. To save money, some members of families will go one way by cable car and be picked up by the family car instead of making the return trip using the cable car.

International tourists will find the $16 Mt Wellington cable car expensive to ride. Table Mt costs 15 Rand return, which converts to about $6 Aus.
 
American
German
Mt Wellington
11.60 US
18.00 DM
Table Mt
4.70 US
7.20 DM
NUMBER OF CABLE CAR USERS

Assume main season of December through May = 182 days of 16 hours.
Assume off season of June through November = 183 days of 10 hours.
Assume there will be a trip every 20 minutes (3 per hour).
Trips December - May = 182 * 16 * 3
Trips June - November = 183 * 10 * 3
Total trips for the full year
Estimated number of first year users
Average number per trip
    8,736
    5,490
  14,226
188,000
    13.22
The points raised earlier suggest that far fewer users are likely than 188,000 per year. The average is thus likely to be less than 13.22 per trip. The proposed 100 seat cable car seems far too large. A 400 seat restaurant also seems too large.

USAGE AND VIABILITY

Many Tasmanians will only use the cable car once, just to see what it is all about. The Table Mt cable car gets repeat users because there is no other way to the top.

Tasmanians, particular Hobartians, will not use the cable car unless the weather is perfect. Hobartians, being on the spot, can wait for perfect conditions.

The Mt Wellington cable car will be popular as a nine days wonder. It will be rushed at the start but its popularity will wane. An annual 3% increase in usage has been projected but seems unlikely.

When the cable car is not running because of bad weather will the various facilities remain open? (1994 update: The weather was very poor during the 1993/94 summer. A few times the weather stayed bad for several days in a row. This would have had a bad effect on the cable car usage and viability.)

WHY DO PEOPLE GO TO THE MOUNTAIN?

Most people go to Mt Wellington to see the view from the top. For those who like scenery it doesn't matter much how they get there. The cheapest method will do. The present road costs nothing. People stop there cars at many points and take their time to view and photograph the spectacular scenery that continually emerges. The cable car misses all of this in its rush to get to the top.

One crazy idea suggests the mountain road be closed so as to force usage of the cable car. Undoubtedly the owners of the 400 seat restaurant on the summit would soon complain at the loss of business and the road would be re-opened.

Do people ride cable cars because they want to ride cable cars or do they just want to get to the top to see the view? Despite what may be first thought, cable car travel is not very thrilling or ideal for seeing a view. It rarely lives up to one's hopes. You can't stop and look at something that catches your eye.

If you are seated you might not see much because your view may be blocked by those standing up. Even standing, you may find that your view is mostly the back of someone's head. If you get a window in a corner you will get some kind of a view, similar to the fleeting glimpses of treetops and roofs of houses one gets from a plane when it is taking off or landing.

On other mountains, cable cars or rack railways are built when normal roads are either impractical or impossible to construct. To have both on Mt Wellington makes no sense.

4th October 1993

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