Oakland A’s think they can get fans to a Howard Terminal stadium by gondola, are probably wrong

I have a bad cold and had been hoping to just leave everything for tomorrow’s news roundup, but then Village Voice transit reporter Aaron Gordon sent me this:

The Oakland A’s are exploring using a gondola ski lift to transport fans from downtown to the Port of Oakland’s Howard Terminal, where the team is thinking of building a new ballpark…

And though it would hardly top direct BART service to the ballpark, a gondola system could carry anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 passengers an hour — delivering them to and from either the 12th Street BART Station or from a couple blocks to the south, near Oakland’s City Center and Housewives Market.

Okay, so, several things. First off, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross seem to have confused trams and gondolas, which are different technologies, something we’ll return to in a minute.

The bigger issue I have is with that “4,000 to 6,000 passengers an hour” figure. First off, that sounds really ambitious. There are two urban aerial trams in the U.S.: the Roosevelt Island tram in New York City (which you’ll remember as the thing Spider-Man saved people from while the Green Goblin talked like Gilbert Gottfried for some reason) and the Portland Aerial Tram in Oregon. The Portland tram holds 78 passengers per car, and runs every six minutes; that’s 780 people per hour, which not anywhere near 4,000 to 6,000.

But! As this guy who cares a whole lot about gondolas notes, you could run smaller ski-lift type gondola cars that hold six to ten passengers around every ten seconds. That gets you a somewhat more respectable 2,160 to 3,600 passengers an hour.

Which is still nowhere near enough to get people to an A’s game. You’re going to need to transport at minimum ten times that many passengers — and they’re not going to arrive conveniently spread out over an hour, but will all queue up right around game time, see the long lines for the gondola, and then say “Screw this, I’m walking across the train tracks.”

Or as Gordon summed it up to me, “It is arguably the dumbest plan I’ve ever heard.” It honestly makes more sense as leverage to try to keep the Howard Terminal site on the table while negotiating for a better deal for the Oakland Coliseum site, though given that the A’s owners are negotiating with the same city and county in both places, it’s not really that much of a threat. For now, let’s file it under Sports Team Owners Propose the Craziest Things — if it ever becomes more real, there’ll be plenty of time to make fun of it later.

17 comments on “Oakland A’s think they can get fans to a Howard Terminal stadium by gondola, are probably wrong

  1. The system Disney World is currently building with 3 lines is expected to have a capacity of about 5000 passengers per hour.


    • That disneyblog article is one of the few places I’ve seen with any mention of capacity and the math makes one question the 5,000 number. That same article says each car carries just 8 people so that means 625 cars arriving per hour, or just over 10 per minute. They’d really need to be getting people on and off quickly to keep up that sort of pace.

  2. Howard Terminal is under the control of the Port of Oakland, which, though associated, is not the same municipal entity as the City of Oakland. Alameda County isn’t involved at all in the ownership of HT.

  3. This is a really funicular discussion! (Ok, not relevant).

    The one thing that always gets me about theoretical discussions about throughput is ignoring the human element (I think traffic engineers refer to that as “saturation headway” but there is headway even without saturation). People do not get on or off public transport in a generally orderly (ok, I have never been to Japan but certainly in the U.S.) way. When I took subways regularly I noted that there was a “saturation” premium and when things were extremely busy everything got slower including things that should not have (like people’s behavior). Any tramway in Oakland would have people slowing things down for a meaningful amount of time (every 6 seconds does not even work at the most orderly ski resort) and will get worse when crowded.

    • Fair points, for sure. Ski resorts are a bad comparison because they almost exclusively handle the able-bodied who are familiar with things since they ride it multiple times per day. I bet the same sort of system in place at a ballpark would be lucky to be half as efficient due to many more people with mobility issues and/or first-timers.

  4. “Which is still nowhere near enough to get people to an A’s game.”

    I dunno, have you *been* to an A’s game lately? Seems like it’d be more than enough.

  5. The A’s have one of the greatest fan bases in sports. I don’t know why “LAStevie” is commenting. L.A. is the biggest joke when it comes to sports. Lack of fans, no local sports talk, road team fans are the majority.

    The 49ers always have a an extra Home Game in L.A.

    • Come on man, really? One of the greatest fan bases in all of sports? Or the biggest front running fan base. It’s no secret that A’s games never even come close to selling out unless a team like the Yankees or Red Sox come to town. You sound like my rabid, irrationally thinking Raider/A’s fan brother who still thinks its 1989.

    • Everybody tone it down, please. As important as the traditional (?) Dodgers-A’s fan beef is, this is veering close to personal attacks territory. And also has nothing to do with gondolas *or* aerial trams.

      (Gondolas vs. aerial trams beef, however, would be greatly welcomed.)

    • Yes, the fans here in LA are lousy but there’s tons of local sports talk. 570 am & 710 espn am have nothing but sports talk radio when there are no games on the air.

  6. Oakland already fell for the Mt Davis scam. Would anyone be even slightly surprised if they fell for a monorailesque gondola scam?