Automated transport systems/Personal Rapid Transit

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Imagine you need to get across town for a party. You leave your house and walk along a tree-lined pedestrian avenue. Overhead is a light, silent monorail with pods zipping along it. After a hundred metres, you come to a stairway along the track, climb it and press a call-button, just as you would for an elevator. Within two minutes, a pod the size of an automobile, made of lightweight, strong materials, glides up to you, stops, and opens its doors. You get in and find a console with a touch-screen map of the city. You select your destination, sit back and enjoy the ride as the pod whizzes to the party at 100 miles per hour without ever stopping.

SkyTran PRT.jpg
This is Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). It combines the personal size and customized routing of a car with the speed, efficiency and automation of light rail. A central computer plots the quickest route for the pod to travel from any point in the system to any other point, co-ordinating the movement of every pod in the system so that each can travel without having to stop. A city built using PRT in lieu of roads (such as Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates) would allow for quick, clean, automated, energy-efficient, point-to-point transport 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since PRT would take up a lot less space than roads, we could reclaim the huge amount of urban land that is devoted to transport in 20th century-style cities and devote it to something more pleasing.

PRT has been technically and logistically feasible for decades, but economic and political difficulties have held back its development.

PRT is a logistical concept more than a technological one. It could be implemented with a variety of technologies: rail-based or wheel-based vehicles, on-board or in-track propulsion and using a variety of energy sources. It can run at ground level, underground or on elevated tracks. Magnetically-levitated pods would allow for especially high speed and energy-efficiency.

Morgantown, West Virginia's PRT system has been successfully in operation since 1975. It now carries 16,000 passengers a day, costs only 50 cents and has a reliability rate of 98%.