Medellin, Colombia: the metrocable as the world’s first cable propelled public transit

Social transformation in informal settlements through mobility innovation.

Jota (jose) Samper


The Medellin’s cable car (Metrocable) is the “world’s first true CPT [Cable Propelled Transit] system [in the world]”(Dale 2010).  Since its inception, the metrocable as an urban CPT system has become a staple of Latin American cities that are trying to deal with the issues of dense urban form resulting from informal urban development. The metrocable, since its first implementation in Medellin, has been imported to other cities in Colombia and also outside of it, including Caracas and recently Rio de Janeiro.
The planning and practice of such an idea is the product of more than a decade of research at the planning department in the City of Medellin. While many cities before 2003 played with the idea of using a cable car systems, the first attempt was the result of failed project. In the mid 1990’s, the city of Medellin was interested in implementing a touristic cable car that would connect some of the Andes mountain parks to the center of the city. This project was deemed politically unfeasible and shelved.  A few years later, while looking for alternatives to deal with transportation issues on the steep hills of the mountains where most of the informal settlements are located, some of the planners revisited the previously shelved technical specifications and cost of a CPT metrocable.
The final specifications were a concerted effort between the planning department and the very profitable Empresa Metro de Medellín Ltda. This metro system runs from one end of the city to the other.  The metrocable was attached to the already existing rail metro network which makes the system more efficient and also sustainable long term. The connectivity of the cable to the already existing transportation network of the city is one of the aspects that some cities have not applied when translating this system to other latitudes and yet this connectivity is probably the most important dimension.

Key Interventions

The first  Metrocable served Medellin neighborhoods Comunas (Districts) 1 and 2 via Line K which opened in 2006. It is 1.8 km long and contains the following four stations: Acevedo, Andalucia, Popular, and Santo Domingo. The estimated construction cost was $26 million USD. It was paid with funds from the municipality and the Empresa Metro. It climbs 399 m (1,309 ft) at an average speed of 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) and has a capacity of 64,000 trips a day. It reduces travel time up to 1 hour and 30 minutes for the most remote areas.
The Medellin Metrocable system contains three lines, Line K, Line J and Line L (Cable Arvi).


Measurable Outcomes

Given that the system is connected to the metro and its passengers do not need to pay for an extra ticket, this system not only saves time for these communities but it also reduced the cost of travel by one ticket. This can imply a savings of more of 500,000$COL (277$US) a year per individual. For many community members in informal jobs, this amount can equal two months of income that they could not otherwise sacrifice away from feeding, housing, and clothing their families.
Each new station provides new public spaces and the security services that make these areas some of the safest in a neighborhood know for levels high levels of insecurity. As a result of such improvements in public space and security, areas around the stations of the transportation corridor reported an increase in commerce of up to 300% in the first years of the project’s implementation.
The planning department today is in the planning stages to add another three cables in other neighborhoods. This implies that Medellín will have a total of six metrocables by 2014. The preference of this system over other ideas has to do with the relative easiness of development and its low economic and social costs in comparison to any other massive transportation strategy that require massive evictions. These evictions for the metrocable only happen at the stations.

Governance (SW to formalize structure for governance)

Medellin found itself in a good position with creative planners and engineers at the time of implementation of the first Metrocable.  Supported by a strong bureaucracy with clean (non-currupt) finances and a public private partner like the Metro de Medellin, one of the few profitable metro systems in the world. This permitted the city to experiment with something new and with positive results.
The participation of the community in the discussions about the project’s implementation is one of the weak areas that still needs to be improved. Community members were informed about the changes that would happen. But actual feedback from the community did not happen. Up to today, the metrocable strategy has only been implemented in areas developed informally, which implies that many community members lack titles to their land and lack necessary leverage to challenge the state initiatives in transforming their environment.  This metrocable is still an untested strategy in formal areas and doing so in the next stage will permit us to better understand this system’s applicability to other contexts.

Individual Success Story Conclusions

Beyond the transportation advantages that the system has provided to the community in terms of public space, easy of mobility and heightened security, the Metrocable has become a symbol of the transformation of the city in general and in particular of the marginalized communities where it is been implemented. The metrocable is a local, national and international tourist attraction that brings foreigners to these once isolated areas. In a subtle way, this changed community mobility and tourist attraction has changed the way community members who live in these areas are seen by the more wealthy city residents throughout the city.