Accessibility talks about the ability of connecting two places physically and socially. The translation of this definition highlights various aspects of transportation systems (Bosetti, 2018; Social Exclusion Unit, 2003):
- existence or availability
- adequacy (for disabled people for example)
These criteria are some good indicators for accessibility, however, they are not exhaustive (Handy, 1994). Each individual have different needs and transportation systems must be adapted to the overall context of the area or region it is being implemented in.
The most vulnerable neighbourhoods like rural, peri-urban, urban peripheral, remote and deprived areas are most impacted by lack of public transportation and accessibility (Bosetti, 2018). In most cases, the lower income groups of the population are most affected by lack of accessibility, therefore, providing accessibility is a matter of equity (Venter, Mahendra, & Hidalgo, 2019). This article will discuss the case study of Caracas, Venezuela, where cable-cars link the San Agustin neighbourhood with the rest of the city. This project has a strong emphasis on the integration of the transportation system with the surrounding urban environment.
The Metrocable Project
The San Agustin neighbourhood
This informal neighbourhood was built on the city’s hillside without any recognition from the municipality. Lack of education, violence and other social issues conduce in the isolation of the area from the capital city (Moberg, 2012). Hosting 38,000 inhabitants, it is also one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Caracas (Caracas Alcaldia Mayor, 2006), a city where social segregation through income level is integral (Lizarraga, 2012) at the same time, unequal conditions related to urban mobility and accessibility. Deregulation and privatization of the collective transport induced the emergence ofa disorganized and disarticulated sector. As this “rancho” was not indicated on the city’s official maps (Moberg, 2012), no transportation system was provided either. Uncoordinated and expensive private operators forced the inhabitants to either walk or restrain their mobility (Lizarraga, 2012).
The municipality of Caracas decided to build a new highway crossing the heart of the neighbourhood and destroying many places of habitat. At this instance, in July 2003, Urban Think Tank, an architectural agency, protested against this project (Urban Think Tank, 2011b) and the coordination between architects, planners, experts and locals brought cable car system as the best solution to serve the area (Urban Think Tank, 2011a). The major asset of cable-cars is that its construction is not as intrusive as other modes of transport. Only a few dwellings were destroyed during the construction of the project. Those destroyed were relocated in households integrated to the infrastructure. The stations’ designs were also subject to consultation with inhabitants, each building was studied to fit the needs of the locals (Urban Think Tank, 2011a).
The line, inaugurated in 2010, has 5 stations across San Agustin, and is connected to Caracas’ metro line. It has a capacity of 1200 persons per hour in both directions (Sokol, 2010). The cable car system enables to cross two physical obstacles: the hill, and the highway, both cutting the neighbourhood from the rest of Caracas and its transportation systems.
Figure 1 – representation of the Metrocable route (Moberg, 2012)
Impacts on Accessibility and Quality of Life
Before the implementation, inhabitants mainly commuted on foot (Caracas Alcaldia Mayor, 2006). In average, they would walk the equivalent of climbing 39 floors a day only to reach the transportation systems (Moberg, 2012). After the implementation, the metro can be reached within 10 minutes from the highest cable-car station. Inhabitants become connected to a 54km network of rapid and reliable transport system. Metro, buses and Metrocable are managed by the same authority, Metro de Caracas, and are under the same tariff system. Inhabitants of San Agustin, through the Metrocable, now have access to healthcare, education and public transportation (Moberg, 2012).
Each Metrocable station situated on the hill is integrated in the surrounding urban system and provides additional services. The objective is to create hubs for social and community activities. Each station has two levels: one for the transportation and the other for different facilities at each station for all the people living around. These facilities operate from the profits of the Metrocable (Moberg, 2012). These services have been determined in cooperation with the inhabitants and respond to local needs, for example:
- Station Hornos de Cal: contains a school, a schoolyard and a healthcare centre.
- Station La Ceiba: provides numerous facilities like police station, library, information centre and supermarket. An additional sports ground in the station is linked with the surrounding gymnasium.
- Station El Manguito: the construction of the station integrated households through the ‘substitución ranch por casa’ programme. Destroyed shacks were replaced by secure social housing structures connected with technical and hygienic facilities (Urban Think Tank, 2011b).
Figure 2 – Plan of La Ceiba station (Moberg, 2012)
As the Metrocable transport system creates mobility, The new facilities integrated to the project limit the need of mobility, points of interest are brought closer and reduce the need to travel.
The infrastructure has other positive effects on the life in the neighbourhood. According to the project’s architect Alfredo Brillembourg, “Residents have begun using the station roofs to advertise their businesses and crime rates have dropped relatively because of the higher visibility of the Gandolas” (Sokol, 2010). The Metrocable has now become a part of the district and its identity.
The project is inspired by the pioneer project of the cable car in Medellin, Colombia. This one is effective in its own ways mainly because it managed to link an isolated neighbourhood with the city (Bocarejo et al., 2014). It inspired many other cable car projects, like in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. However, the Brazilian project is a considered a failure because it was settled too rapidly pre-visioning the Olympic Games and the inhabitants were not associated with the project. Currently, the infrastructure is not used as it should be and doesn’t serve the needs of the locals (Broudehoux & Legroux, 2019).
The strength of the Metrocable in Caracas is its integration with the rest of the neighbourhood. The infrastructure provides accessibility to the rest of the city for the locals, but also contributes in enhancing the quality of life. After its first implementation in 2010, three other cable car lines followed, allowing the neighbourhoods of Caracas to be more integrated and interconnected.