© 2024 Connecticut Public

FCC Public Inspection Files:
WEDH · WEDN · WEDW · WEDY · WNPR
WPKT · WRLI-FM · WEDW-FM · Public Files Contact
ATSC 3.0 FAQ
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

High In The Andes, Bolivia's Gondolas In The Sky Ease Congestion

The first of eight proposed cable lines linking Bolivia's capital La Paz (shown in the background) with El Alto was opened earlier this year. The government hopes the cable cars will ease the chronic congestion.
Martin Mejia
/
AP
The first of eight proposed cable lines linking Bolivia's capital La Paz (shown in the background) with El Alto was opened earlier this year. The government hopes the cable cars will ease the chronic congestion.

La Paz is a tough city for mass transit. It was built by Spanish conquistadors, who laid out narrow, winding streets, and sits in a bowl-like depression with neighborhoods rising up the craggy slopes of the Andes Mountains.

The landscape is too steep for a subway. So the Bolivian capital relies on 40,000 minibuses. These can handle the hills, but there aren't enough of them. What's more, the minibuses have made the city's traffic jams even worse.

So like other mountainous South American cities — Medellín, Colombia; Caracas, Venezuela; and Rio de Janeiro — La Paz is building a cable car system.

The first line, connecting La Paz to the mountaintop city of El Alto, began operating in May.

The Swiss-made gondolas have polished wood benches and broad, tinted windows. Unlike exhaust-belching buses, they run on electricity and make hardly any noise. The trip costs about 40 cents and takes 10 minutes — compared with 35 cents and a half-hour by minibus.

Sandra Gutierrez, a La Paz homemaker, says the gondolas are safer than minibuses, which are often jammed with passengers and pickpockets.

Besides commuters, tourists are clambering aboard. Approaching El Alto, nearly 14,000 feet high, the gondolas provide a spectacular panorama of five snowcapped Andean peaks.

Cesar Dockweiler, the system's general manager, says that with eight lines planned by 2019, this will become the largest mass transit cable car system in the world.

A second line was recently inaugurated, with marching bands, folk dancers and an appearance by President Evo Morales, who was re-elected by a landslide earlier this month.

Bolivia is one of the poorest nations in Latin America. But thanks to rising natural gas exports, the economy is booming. Morales is spending some of the windfall on the gondolas and other major public works projects in an effort to change the country's image.

"We should never again feel like a small country or that we are underdeveloped," Morales told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "We need optimism. We need to look onward and upward."

The cable cars seem to be helping, at least to people like Rubén Fernández.

"This means so much," the college student says. "Just a few years ago, no one believed a project like this would be possible."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stand up for civility

This news story is funded in large part by Connecticut Public’s Members — listeners, viewers, and readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

We hope their support inspires you to donate so that we can continue telling stories that inform, educate, and inspire you and your neighbors. As a community-supported public media service, Connecticut Public has relied on donor support for more than 50 years.

Your donation today will allow us to continue this work on your behalf. Give today at any amount and join the 50,000 members who are building a better—and more civil—Connecticut to live, work, and play.

Related Content