Game Changers 2020 Essay Series: Up in the Air

Up in the Air

Dave Kaval, President, Oakland Athletics

Broadly speaking, I believe that all technology should serve to advance humanity’s ability to improve our lives. For me, in my job as the president of the Oakland Athletics, this means that technology should serve to improve the City of  Oakland and the people who call the  East Bay home. As part of the A’s ongoing efforts to build a new ballpark in Oakland, we have come across a technology innovation that I believe is a total game changer: an aerial gondola.

Gondolas (the aerial, ski-lift variety, not the Venetian boats) have become more and more popular in recent years as urban transportation solutions The first urban gondola system was built in Medellin, Colombia, in 2004. This gondola, the Metrocable, changed the fabric of Medellin and provided access to opportunities – jobs, education, citizenships – to residents of underserved and inaccessible hilltop communities.

Medellin experienced rapid expansion in the late 20th century, as informal neighborhoods, often unplanned and out of the purview of the city government, crept up remote hillsides. The government faced a dilemma about how to provide even basic services to these new communities, as widening the winding dirt roads to create new bus lanes or building new metro lines would have been too costly. A technology innovation was needed to solve this accessibility crisis. Enter the gondola, which has enabled residents of the hilltops to travel directly to the valley floor and its metro stations.

Not only does the Metrocable now carry more than 30,000 paying passengers a day, taking a ride on this gondola is the city’s most popular tourist activity – a pretty impressive feat for a method of public transportation.

The Medellin experience with gondolas is just one example of many similar stories that have been unfolding in cities around the world over the past two decades.

There has been such an explosion of urban transportation gondolas because they are cheaper, easier, and quicker to build than any other form of new mass transit, often, up to 10 times cheaper than underground subways or light rails.

Gondolas can be electrically powered and can be driven by any renewable power source available in the region. It can typically have a lower carbon impact than more traditional modes of transportation.

At the A’s, we are excited to build America’s first 3S urban gondola system to carry our fans from BART (the Bay Area’s rapid transit public transportation system) to the ballpark on gamedays. Just as the Metrocable connected the Medellin hilltop communities to the rest of the city, so too shall our gondola link the Oakland waterfront at Jack London Square to the rest of the Bay Area. I am proud to be leading such an innovative and groundbreaking project for our community.

July 12, 2019