Personal Rapid Transit

By John Addison (original post at Clean Fleet Report)

Your heart sinks as you watch your missed plane fly away while you are trapped in gridlock. Parking lots are full. More parking lots attract more cars. Streets jam and more gridlock. Public transit, airport buses, shuttles, and taxis can all help.

The best ground transportation solution that I encountered was when I attended a meeting in Chicago. We landed at O’Hare International Airport, walked to our meeting at the Airport Hilton, and then flew back to our homes after the meeting. The next best solution was at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport where I took the escalator up from baggage claim, boarded the Marta rail system, and returned to my home in the suburbs. Actually, the best solution was the web conference and collaboration that eliminated the need to fly.

London Heathrow Podcar PRT

People are continuing to fly in record numbers so better ground transportation is a necessity. As London readies for record travelers during the 2012 Olympic Games, Heathrow airport is installing a personal rapid transit in the form of six seat cars that take you from terminal to parking garage on dedicated pathways. Heathrow’s podcars are like horizontal elevators – no driver needed; just push the button.
David Holdcroft, BAA’s (formerly British Airports Authority) PRT Manager states, “This innovative system forms part of BAA’s plan to transform Heathrow, improve the passenger experience and reduce the environmental impact of our operation through the development of cutting edge, green transport solutions.” The Heathrow system is scheduled to start running in spring 2010 and expand to 18 pod cars with 3 stops over a 2.4 mile path.

San Jose Personal Rapid Transit

By 2015, San Jose plans to have a more extensive PRT system (map) that connects major hubs within two miles of the airport including connections to VTA bus rapid transit, Caltrain rail that connects to the cities within Silicon Valley and terminates in downtown San Francisco, Santa Clara University, major hotels, major employers, and the Kiss N Ride lot. By the end of the decade, also important will be nearby connection to BART and the new 800 mile California High-Speed Rail system.
Yesterday, I shared an hour discussing transportation with San Jose’s Acting Director of Transportation, Hans Larsen. San Jose is the nation’s tenth largest city. With a million people, it has four times the space of nearby San Francisco. With less urban density, get high numbers of people to walk, bike, and use transit. Yet, San Jose plans major increases in all those areas as it plans for a population expansion of 400,000 people by 2040. PRT will be important to connecting people at the airport and major regional transportation systems. San Jose Transportation
Back for the International PRT Conference in Sweden, Mr. Larsen is impressed with the feedback from other PRT implementers and with a test ride of one system. Conference Videos
Mr. Larsen now has a budget of $4 million to assemble a team of PRT experts, start plans, and evaluate alternative systems. Half the money will be for matching funds for the public and private partnerships necessary to get the first phase of San Jose Airport’s PRT system up and running. The $4 million funding allocation is from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), the transit agency, and countywide transportation planning agency for the San Jose Metro area (the 15-city area within Santa Clara County).

Global PRT Projects

A 2010 personal rapid transit conference is being discussed. San Jose would like to host it. Presenters are likely to include early implementers of PRT such as London, Masdar, Suncheon, South Korea, and Sweden where four cities are competing to be the first selected.
Globally PRT is under consideration in a number of areas where high numbers of people can be moved within a few miles such as airports, university campuses, corporate campuses, industrial parks, and city centers.
Different cities require different solutions. Some are best elevated; others can be kept on the ground. Some will use dedicated roadways designed for self-guided vehicles. Others will use tracks under the pods, or elevated guideways above. Some will use battery electric vehicles; others will always be connected to the electric grid – back to that horizontal elevator comparison.

No doubt that some will dismiss PRT as a short-term waste of money rather than a long-term investment to accommodate San Jose’s 40 percent population growth. Nearby are some innovators that were initially dismissed for having solutions that were limited, buggy, or expensive compared to the incumbent. Their names include Intel, Google, Cisco, Adobe, and EBay.

Innovation is a key to better transportation. We need intermodal choices. The modes need to be connected.
Today, many feel that the car is their only choice. In the future, we will have many choices, especially if we make connections fast and convenient.

Our transportation future will be increasingly intermodal. Each day our web or smartphone app will suggest the best way to meet our preferences. One day it could suggest car pooling to work, the next using the plug-in minivan to take the kids to a game, the next a connection of transit to PRT to rail.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and speaks at conferences. He is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – now selling at Amazon and other booksellers.