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Personal Rapid Transit
A New Option for Urban Transit
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faQ & A

faQ About Us

faQ What does PRT look like?

faQ Can small PRT pods really be a MASS transit system?

faQ Would people be willing to ride around in a closed, computer-controlled car?

faQ Wouldn't PRT be scary to ride, like a roller coaster?

faQ Who supports PRT?

faQ What would PRT guideway look like?

faQ How can the guideway be so small?

Forget everything you thought
you knew about mass transit

Personal Rapid Transit (PRT, also called "podcars") is an inexpensive mass transit technology that borrows the best features of the automobile (on-demand, non-stop travel, from anywhere TO anywhere), but glides above traffic like a monorail. A fleet of small automated vehicles, each seating 3-6 people, will travel on overhead guideways linking many small stations scattered throughout an urban area. All points in a designated PRT service area would be close to a PRT station.

By being fast and convenient, PRT stands the best chance of reducing traffic congestion — especially in low to medium density U.S. cities, where buses and train systems tend to leave a lot to be desired.

Cost Advantage

The main difference between PRT and other forms of transit is that trains and buses are what you use if you want scheduled service -- whereas when you want transit on-demand, in the future you may be able to choose PRT. Small vehicles are sufficient for on-demand transit in the same way that small on-demand elevators are adequate in skyscrapers -- elevators would have to be very large if they ran on schedules.

Because small vehicles are lightweight and cheaper, so too is the guideway (rail) they run on. They are also less intensively engineered than conventional railbeds, elevated rails or monorail beams, meaning quicker, cheaper construction (chart). This leads to a cost advantage under which PRT could be dramatically cheaper to build on a per-mile basis. Therefore more miles of PRT guideway could be built, reaching more places.

Transit Grid
©MM Get On Board!PRT

faQ Why a grid? What's wrong with train routes? What about economic development?

faQ Where will we find room for all the stations? Won't they be expensive?

faQ Is that many stations realistic?

The PRT Network Concept

The small PRT stations would be located anywhere transit service is needed, ideally 4-6 per square mile; thus, all destinations are within ¼-mile (440 yards/402 meters) of a station. Guideway connects all stations, and all stations are off-line, meaning pods pull onto a siding to board/unboard passengers at a station; pods with other destinations pass right on by. Off-line stations make it possible for a PRT vehicle to travel non-stop between any pair of stations.

faQ Doesn't PRT just duplicate the road system?

faQ If PRT is Personal, how much will buying a pod cost me?

faQ How can PRT replace cars if the rail doesn't go to your house?

faQ Sounds like chaos-- won't all those little cars run into each other?

faQ What about big buildings and stadium crowds?

faQ What would stations look like?

Green Transit

Personal Rapid Transit is inherently more energy-efficient than automobiles and conventional transit. The key to PRT's lower energy usage is its small size (translating into light weight), non-stop service (eliminating most energy-wasting starting and stopping), and on-demand service (PRT vehicles don't move until needed). The table shows how PRT measures up (other data is from the USDOE "Transportation Energy Databook," 24th Ed., Ch. 2, p.13) →

PRT can also be deployed around train stations to extend the reach and efficiency of light rail and commuter rail. Podcar collector-distributors acting as tendrils of the preexisting rail system could mean fewer people driving to access transit, more rail ridership, and therefore decreases in per-passenger energy used.

The typical ride

The nearest PRT station is no further than ¼-mile away, so you can easily walk or bike there. You take stairs or elevator to the platform above street level; if the station is in a large building, it's on the second floor. You buy your ticket from an ATM-type machine (or use a smart card), keying in your destination or selecting from an onscreen listing. The system programs the vehicle with your trip information.

Moving to the boarding turnstile, a vehicle is either waiting (empty pods would wait at stations until needed) or will arrive shortly, summoned when you bought the ticket. You board, the door closes, and you push a button to signal you're ready to go. And then you're off, to the chosen destination. The non-stop PRT trip is faster than driving.

After you arrive, the pod immediately becomes available to the next rider.

World Wildlife Fund "Skycab" video

Transport Energy Use
Mode BTUs per psngr mi
PRT1 839
Vanpool 1,362
Motorcycle 2,274
Commuter rail 2,714
Rail transit 3,268
Auto 3,581
Commercial air 3,703
Personal truck 4,057
Bus transit 4,127
Amtrak 4,830
1. Lowson, M.V. "A new approach to sustainable transport systems," 2004.

Kilowatt-hours per psngr mi
PRT 0.60
Bus 0.95
Car 1.65
Light rail 2.90
Ehlig-Economides & Longbottom, "Dual Mode Vehicle and Infrastructure Analysis," Texas DOT, 2008.

faQ Can a person in a wheelchair use PRT?

faQ What if the first vehicle has litter, or smells, or has been vandalized? What about Comfort?

faQ Do I have to share the pod?

faQ Doesn't PRT discourage social or civic interaction?

faQ Isn't it unsafe? Couldn't a criminal jump in with me?

faQ Isn't fixed rail less flexible? Wouldn't improving bus service be better?

"When can I ride a PRT?"

While there is a 1970s system in West Virginia that uses many PRT principles, exciting things are happening today. A demonstration of "Cybercab" PRT has entered public service in the United Arab Emirates at Masdar, an experimental carbon-neutal city. Construction of "ULTra" PRT has been completed at London's Heathrow Airport and should soon begin operations. South Korean steelmaker POSCO has developed and tested the "Vectus" PRT system which has been certified by Sweden/EU, and sophisticated new concepts are being developed in Poland, California and Minnesota. Sweden and India are planning to use PRT to complement their national rail systems, and San Jose has started planning an "automated transit network" for Mineta Airport.

Today's leading PRT designs utilize a combination of commonplace, straightforward engineering, and off-the-shelf components. It is only a matter of time until it will be proven to the satisfaction of U.S. decisionmakers who are intrigued by PRT, but can't justify a project until one of the new systems can show a successful operating record.

Reducing car use: The size of the problem

ULTra Heathrow page

Vectus test track

Taxi 2000 page (Minnesota)


This is a Flickr badge showing public items from Flickr tagged with masdar. Make your own badge here.

faQ Is there anything like PRT now?

So get on board! Check out PRT, and urge your friends, media, transit officials and elected leaders to do the same.

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