The dream of personal rapid transit picks up speed from boston.com
But there’s one system that, according to its proponents, combines the pluses of both options, while largely jettisoning the minuses. Called personal rapid transit, or PRT, it consists of small, light, electric vehicles, known as “pod cars,” which hold just a few passengers and run along a network of elevated tracks. The pod cars are driverless and automated: Passengers select their destination and the vehicle goes directly there, bypassing all other stations. Advocates say these systems could help ease a multitude of problems: global warming, dependence on foreign oil, congestion, and diminishing available land. They would also free commuters to safely engage in the activities they often do anyway while behind the wheel.
Interest in the United States is also on the rise. A 2007 report for the New Jersey Department of Transit concluded that “PRT has the potential to help the State address certain transportation needs in a cost-effective, environmentally-responsible, traveler-responsive manner.” San Jose recently issued a “request for proposals” with the aim of building a PRT system in the vicinity of the airport. The city council of Mountain View, Calif., where Google’s headquarters are located, is also considering the idea, as are officials in Santa Cruz, Calif., and Ithaca, N.Y. And in the Boston area, a small group of transit advocates is promoting the construction of a PRT system linking local universities.
Former Massachusetts secretary of transportation Fred Salvucci, who now teaches at MIT, says, “We have a lot of low-density suburbs that are very difficult to serve with traditional rapid transit.” Although he believes the political will and funding will be all but impossible to muster in the near term, he says, “The automobile is totally unsustainable. Personal rapid transit ought to be on the table.”
For more information: PRT Strategies