PRT now a reality

THE BIRTH OF THE PRT concept can be traced back to the 1950s when research was first conducted into alternative public transportation methods– a new, innovative transport system using advanced, commercially-available automation to address the needs of urban transportation.

The 1970s witnessed considerable theoretical analysis of PRT, and how such a system would operate as a viable means of transit. However, the proposals were too advanced for the technology of the time and were considered too complex and expensive.

With today’s advanced technology and the experience accrued over the last 30 years, together with the global imperative to pursue an eco-friendly, sustainable transport system, PRT has evolved from a high-tech dream in the 1970s into a practical, cost-effective, convenient and desirable transport system, custom made for the stringent demands of 21st century living.

What is PRT?
The PRT of today uses small, lightweight, driver-less vehicles to carry individuals or small groups non-stop from the origin station to the destination station. Stations sit on the network of lightweight guideways.

Stations are off-line (located on the side track), meaning that vehicles are waiting for passengers at the station without blocking the traffic flow at the main track. This makes waiting times for passengers negligible and there are no intermediate stops during the entire journey, which reduces the user’s total travel time.

Vehicles are personal and travel individually selected routes. The capacity of the PRT system is still substantial and comparable to any public transportation, thanks to the three seconds long intervals between the vehicles. Furthermore, since the system is operating on demand, energy is used only when there are transportation requests.

SOLVING THE PRESSING TRANSPORT needs of a growing population is one of the biggest challenges facing governments worldwide.

Land for building roads is a scarce resource and is often prohibitively expensive, and at peak hours many cities are already gridlocked with traffic congestion.

The capital and operating costs of extending conventional overground and underground rail networks are very high and invariably require subsidises; even then, building large rail stations and laying new track around existing infrastructure is sometimes impossible. Compounding these problems is the global obligation to reduce pollution by developing eco-friendly and sustainable forms of transport. PRT is the answer to all of these challenges.

More cost effective transport
PRT is more cost effective than traditional public transport – and it provides higher service level. The operating cost is lower because PRT is driverless and does not run according to any timetables. PRT system also uses lighter vehicles that require smaller guideways and stations, hence cheaper infrastructure cost.

Non-stop, on-demand service
Users of PRT will enjoy a range of benefits that were not possible before. For example, non-stop, on-demand service means that the total travel time is shorter than any conventional mass transit system. In addition, PRT users obtain higher levels of service in a private and secure vehicle. The great advantage in service level is evident especially at off-peak hours, when PRT still provides negligible waiting times 24/7 without an increase in cost.

A system accessible to everybody
Many public transport systems are old and were designed without accessibility for the functionally disabled in mind. PRT systems, conversely, offer wheelchair access at every station, making the system accessible to everybody.

In fact, PRT is inherently accessible in that the stations can be geographically well-spread and located more densely, allowing shorter distances to the nearest station. This is possible because the guideways are small and can be easily installed; the stations can be integrated inside or immediately adjacent to buildings, making travel direct and fast. To benefit from another unique quality of PRT, that it is a personalised system, an adequate
proportion of vehicles can be specifically designed to accommodate not only carrying wheelchairs, but also groups suffering from rare conditions, e.g. very strong allergic reactions.

Environmentally attractive
Crucially, the environment is also a beneficiary with PRT. As motor vehicles are responsible for about 50 per cent of greenhouse gases and 26 per cent of the world’s total energy consumption, encouraging people to use public transportation is a good thing. PRT, consisting of small, lightweight electric vehicles, will make public transportation a more attractive alternative to using your own car.

THE DESIGN FLEXIBILITY of PRT has immediate advantages for town and city planners.

Small, off-line stations that are relatively inexpensive can be densely positioned without slowing down the service, in contrast to conventional rail transit with large vehicles that stop at every station. Moreover, each station can be sized to local demand in terms of the number of berths and extra station lines.

With PRT, city planning does not need to be constrained by linear designs when planning a network that covers vast areas, rather than specific corridors. This is great news for city planners faced with areas where buildings are not conveniently lined up in a row. Instead of forcing developments to fit in around a transport system, PRT can be made to fit in around new developments. Indeed, its small guideways and stations can actually be
constructed inside building lobbies.

Application sites
PRT can be used in towns and cities in a variety of applications, and can play a central role in developing an area into a thriving and vibrant location for its inhabitants and workers. Areas with a high demand for local transit, at off- and on-peak-hours, are ideal for PRT – university campuses, large shopping areas, large hospital areas, theme parks, airports, etc. PRT can also be used to complement traditional public transport. For example, it can be used to connect areas and neighbourhoods that are currently not served by existing public transport to large bus and rail terminals.

Passengers’ perspective
People invariably use private vehicles in areas where public transport is inefficient, inconvenient or both, the unwelcome by-product being heavy congestion and even gridlock at peak travel times. PRT is a great alternative because it is efficient and convenient; always providing good service with low waiting time, and it is also eco-friendly. It can be used to transport users from a town or city centre to out-of-town car parks, minimizing altogether the need for people to drive in to town or city centres. PRT will also be popular in areas that have limited or expensive parking charges.

Increase of property value
Furthermore, an area that is served by an easily-accessible, reliable transport system that provides excellent commuting opportunities is a more desirable place to live. This is excellent news for the residents of any region that implements a PRT system, as the value of property will rise.


Status and Potential of Personal Rapid Transit. A 2003 in-depth report on the state of public transportation in the USA and how PRT can be effective  (PDF)


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