PRT: The Next Big Thing In Public Transport?

Posted on July 7, 2012 in Travel

By Shobhit Agarwal:

The public transit system that is currently in operation involves transporting people in groups over pre-defined routes. The present system has inherent inefficiencies. For passengers, time is wasted by waiting for the next arrival, indirect routes to their destination, stopping for passengers with other destinations, and often confusing or inconsistent schedules. Slowing and accelerating large weights can undermine public transport’s benefit to the environment while slowing other traffic.

A large section of the population is of the view that the transportation systems of the past can not meet the transportation needs of the future or even the present.

A new system — Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) or Podcar — has been in testing phase for quite some time now, and is being looked upon as the next cornerstone in public transit system. In a PRT system, a fleet of small, three to six person automated cars, running on a dense network of guide ways, provides individual with non-stop rides between any two stations.

PRT systems have a number of touted advantages:

1. They’re convenient because they can shuttle passengers directly to their destinations without stopping at intervening stations as the stations are off the main line.
2. They’re electric but have no batteries as they take power from the electric contacts in the guideways. So they can, in theory, run on clean energy and are expected to use 4 times less energy than automobiles.
3. The pods themselves are small and very light with a seating capacity of 3-6 passengers. They have short turning radii, so they can fit into dense urban areas and are under computer control (no human driver) as a result of which can provide 24-hour service.
4. Computers that control the system find the optimum path to each passenger’s destination and avoid collisions by enforcing a safe distance between pods. The chances of collision and something unexpected happening on the guideway is much lower than that in street traffic, adding to its reliability of the PRT.
5. Vehicles wait at the stations for passengers to arrive (not the other way around) and there are no scheduled or fixed routes. Passengers decided when and where to go.
6. Because traffic is computer controlled, the number of vehicles limited and guideways built underground or over the streets, there is no possibility of a traffic-jam.
7. The operation cost is estimated to be 40% less than rail and 20% less than bus, with the average travel time expected to be 3-5 times faster than buses and 2-3 times faster than automobiles in peak hour.

A number of PRT projects have been in place. It all started at Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, UAE and was followed by Morgantown, West Virginia, USA and Heathrow Airport, London, UK. A PRT system is also under construction at Suncheon, South Korea while Amritsar, Punjab, India, is all set to become home to world’s first large-scale PRT system. In its first phase (expected to be completed by 2014) at Amritsar, the system is to have 200 pods, 7 stations, and 2 miles of track, serving up to 1 lakh people per day.

That said, it should be noted that projects like this have a way of getting derailed. Past projects have failed because of financing, cost overruns, regulatory conflicts, political issues, misapplied technology, and flaws in design, engineering or review. Masdar’s planners initially promised a PRT system that would serve the entire city. In the end, that ambitious vision was scaled back to a five-station system.