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Hankster

Ultra Rapid Transit System

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I'd like to introduce you to Ultra. It's a rapid transit system developed in the UK that I think has tremendous promise. It should be relatively low cost, highly efficient, and offers the closest thing I've seen yet to combine the convenience of a car with a rapid transit system. Take a look at this website and this video, and try to imagine Nashville with such a system. Wow! The first system will be operational at London Heathrow airport later this year. The system is electrical and the pathways are only six feet wide.

Ultra Personal Rapid Transit Movie

Ultra PRT Website

Ultra1.jpg

Ultra2.jpg

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Hank,

I am wondering how low cost it is because it looks as if there is a lot of infrastructure to put in place. I can see where something might replace autos in the Metro areas but it would not in rural areas.

Its an interesting concept for sure.

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Actually this concept was experimented with in the 1970s in the United States with a couple of real systems built. Generally they cost as much as light rail to construct, they are much more expensive to operate, and they don't carry as many people. The best known example of an operating PRT is the one in Morgantown, WVa which basically serves the University there. You can learn more about it here. The one in the Dallas suburbs more resembles the concept show above, but in these days of funding restrictions, a system like this would never get off the ground in the USA.

The best bet for Nashville is go to light rail.

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Actually this concept was experimented with in the 1970s in the United States with a couple of real systems built. Generally they cost as much as light rail to construct, they are much more expensive to operate, and they don't carry as many people. The best known example of an operating PRT is the one in Morgantown, WVa which basically serves the University there. You can learn more about it here. The one in the Dallas suburbs more resembles the concept show above, but in these days of funding restrictions, a system like this would never get off the ground in the USA.

The best bet for Nashville is go to light rail.

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First off, the Morgantown system is called PRT, but is actually Group Rapid Transit. 21 students fit in the vehicles. PRT is 3 or 4 persons per vehicle. I wrote an academic paper on Morgantown GRT, and, for some strange reason, it's wildly popular. 300+ downloads per month for a few years: http://www.cities21.org/morgantown_TRB_111504.pdf . Morgantown was a demonstration system, so it's a bit unfair to be picky about costs:

"What started out as a demonstration project estimated to cost between $15 to $20 million dollars quickly turned into a political chess piece in the presidential election campaign of 1972. Pressure applied by the administration to complete the project before the next election combined with the uncertainty of any new technology resulted in an approximately $130MM system which took nearly a decade to complete." That's rougly $319 million in 2004 dollars for 8.7 miles of track, vehicles, and 5 stations - a bit less than $40MM per mile - not bad compared with some $80MM per mile airport automated people movers.

For ULTra PRT, the cost is $10 million to $15 million per mile, depending on the compexity of the system. This costing comes from the London Heathrow procurement folks.

A bit more description: ULTra is a battery-driven, 100-mpg-equivalent, elevated personal rapid transit system with many four-person vehicles. First deployment is scheduled for London Heathrow Airport in Spring 2009, to serve Heathrow's new Terminal 5. Working as circulator transit for office parks, airports, universities, and other major activity centers, ULTra is faster than a car. In these applications, ULTra makes carpooling and conventional transit more effective, by solving the "last mile problem." Hence, the idea is to complement bus, light rail, Atlanta MARTA (by being a circulation system for the Perimeter Center), etc. The youtube version of the animation Hankster gave is at:

ULTra PRT places columns every 60 feet or so, and each column is about 18 inches in diameter, so per Hankster's comment, it's relatively easy to come up with a system design that doesn't require acquiring large amounts of expensive right of way.

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ULTra PRT places columns every 60 feet or so, and each column is about 18 inches in diameter, so per Hankster's comment, it's relatively easy to come up with a system design that doesn't require acquiring large amounts of expensive right of way.

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You have to have ROW where ever this goes (doesn't matter if it is raised track) and the FTA is going to require clearance for safety reasons, so expect it to take up as much room as a 2 lane highway. There are dozens of similiar technologies that have been proposed that also cite the $10M-$15M mile costs but when analyzed it's fond the costs are much much higher. If you do a search on this site you will find some of them that have been posted over the years.

As a practical matter if the local transit agency requests federal funding to build a system, then they are going to do a cost/rider analysis of the system and the end result is a PRT would not be funded because they simply don't move emough people in comparison.These systems don't get built without money and I will tell you from experience they public agencies that will have to come up with the funding are going to be extremely picky about costs, especially about untested technology.

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Monsoon,

1. Cost

You are right to be skeptical of PRT cost per mile

A. One of the last big PRT efforts, the Raytheon Marlboro, MA test track, produced a PRT design that was far more expensive. Raytheon was never successful in commercializing.

B. I am a full-time employee of Advanced Transport Systems, makers of ULTra PRT. I should clarify that my cost quote of $10M to $15M per mile is based on Heathrow paid expenses and bids-in-hand

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Well, it's an interesting system, but I can't see the actual benefits given the personal aspect. Yes, four can sit inside, but eight can fit in an SUV. Will the cars not move until all seats are filled? If not, it's more of what we have now. Just more exclusive and seemingly all constructed on the government's dime.

I like the possibility of doing away with stopping at intersections and the fact that the cars are electric. I just can't see this putting a serious dent in traffic on any of the major arteries. Enlighten me?

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It's a system for moving people in an airport. It's not a municipal transit system. There are a whole host of cost issues, requirements and drivers that will affect the construction of a municipal system vs one that is constructed completely on airport property.

The system at Heathrow costs $50M and runs 2.4 miles. This means it costs $20M/mile and they did not have ROW costs, nor are they paying for station construction in this figure. Furthermore it takes an entire car to move 4 people 25 miles/hour. Spec this up to something that a municipal system would require and you have costs that would most likely exceed that of LRT. For example the carriages on the LRT in Charlotte move 265 people at speeds of 55/mph.

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I am a passerby here. I have an academic interest in PRT and I often comment in PRT discussions. I go by the name "A Transportation Enthusiast" in other forums, and ATren on Wikipedia. I have no affiliation with PRT or PRT companies - it's purely academic for me.

To respond to a few points raised here:

It's a system for moving people in an airport. It's not a municipal transit system. There are a whole hots of cost issues, requirements and drivers that will affect the construction of a municipal system vs one that is constructed completely on airport property.

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.....When you think about the advantages of such an infrastructure - reduced need for highway expansion, reduced downtown parking, improved transit cost efficiency, vastly better passenger service, not to mention vastly reduced local emissions and greater walkability in the city core - even $30M/mi seems like a bargain.

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It might be a bargain if it were truly this cost, but I continued to be amazed how, in these discussions, significant cost drivers are left out of these discussions. Furthermore, in most places in the USA, this system is going to complete directly against the automobile and it loses simply because the infrastructure has already been built for it. So the $30M/mile would be much better invested in something such as light rail that can actually allow for more growth in already congest areas.

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But do you dispute the fact that PRT would be much more efficient to operate than light rail?

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Yes I do. It incorporates the worst aspects of automobile transit with the costs of LRT infrastructure. As I said above, it amazes me these proposals keep getting made when the reality of the situation is this is not the way to take transit.

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As am I. I have no idea what that has to do with this subject however.

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PRT has it's place. I tend to think of it as a sort of horizontal long distance elevator. It works well in controlled environments, where you aren't going to face a large problem of safety or vandalism. And it works well where you have a fairly even spread of use. Anotherwords, large campuses and the like.

The problems with PRT conceptually, though, are specifically dues to the fact that it IS personal. First and foremost you have safety issues. In a controlled environment where you can assure everyone will get their own private car, and you aren't likely to have someone who will jump in the car with you, this isn't a huge problem. But can you imagine the first time a single woman is riding gets in, someone at the last minute hops in the car with her and then rapes her? The lack of privacy of a group transit solution also serves as a benefit in this case. You also have a huge issue of vandalism from kids riding around, without anyone being able to see what they do. I could only imagine the problems you would face in a depressed neighborhood with drugs and prostitution (unless, of course, that IS the goal! : ) )

You also face a huge problem if you have peak ridership. A college has peaks between classes, but those peaks are very close and even out. But as a commuter type instrument, you would have to allocate for huge demands in the morning and evening, with low demand middle of the day. In theory, you could easily vary the number of cars available, but by the time you build a system robust enough to handle those high demands, you are too heavy to be efficient with light volume use.

The biggest problem, of course, is that it doesn't address what people really like about their cars. It's not the point to point travl - it's the fact that it is your OWN SPACE. Not something you ride in for a while - but a place where you are in control, where you can store your stuff, leave when you want and remain when you want. It's not about where you are going, but what you are bringing with you - your own little mini-room.

Actually, we already have PRT available, although it really only works from point A to point B. The aerial gondola and chairlift are essentially PRT systems that only operate between two points. Detachable cars or chairs can leave as needed (except for balance) and are only used by one group.

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But can you imagine the first time a single woman is riding gets in, someone at the last minute hops in the car with her and then rapes her?

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Monsoon,

The $50MM figure given was given by the press, and this includes the equity investment by BAA in Advanced Transport Systems, makers of ULTra PRT. BAA will spend less than $50MM on the Heathrow ULTra system itself. The costs I gave, $10MM to $15MM per mile, still hold.

Here are some comments by well-known urban planners about PRT:

Peter Calthorpe of Calthorpe Associates & Fregonese Calthorpe: We need better transit circulator technology: personal rapid transit:

  • <LI class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; mso-margin-top-alt: auto; mso-margin-bottom-alt: auto; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1; tab-stops: list .5in">In a six-page paper, <A href="
http://www.calthorpe.com/clippings/UrbanNet1216.pdf">http://www.calthorpe.com/clippings/UrbanNet1216.pdf , Calthorpe writes: "All the advantages of New Urbanism - its compact land saving density, its walkable mix of uses, and its integrated range of housing opportunities - would be supported and amplified by a circulation system that offers fundamentally different choices in mobility and access. Smart Growth and new Urbanism have begun the work of redefining America's twenty-first century development paradigms. Now it is time to redefine the circulation armature that supports them. It is short sighted to think that significant changes in land-use and regional structure can be realized without fundamentally reordering our circulation system." <LI class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; mso-margin-top-alt: auto; mso-margin-bottom-alt: auto; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1; tab-stops: list .5in">At the CNU '05 conference, Calthorpe said, "One of my pet peeves is that we've been dealing with 19th Century transit technology. We can do better. We can have ultra light elevated transit systems (personal rapid transit) with lightweight vehicles. Because the vehicles are lighter, the system will use less energy. I used to be a PRT skeptic, but now the technology is there. It won't be easy to develop PRT technology and get all the kinks out, but it is doable. If you think about what you'd want from the ideal transit technology, it's PRT: a) stations right where you are, within walking distance, b) no waiting."

"We've been building too much TOD without the T. PRT is the T."

Sir Peter Hall: "The social perception of public transportation depends on the quality of the transportation. I think we may be looking to technological advances in public transportation to create new kinds of personal rapid transit. We had a big breakthrough announced only a week ago that a British system called, literally, PRT, Personal Rapid Transit, is going to be adapted for Heathrow Airport progressively over the next ten years. And when you drive your car into Heathrow to one of the parking lots, you will get your own personal vehicle and program it to go to your terminal, or vice versa. And if this is as successful as I think it will be, this could be a big breakthrough in developing new kinds of totally personalized rapid transit, which could transform our cities in ways that we can't yet see." Dec 15, 2005, Natl Building Museum.

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I've seen this argument before, and it doesn't make sense to me. How is this any different than a single woman walking to her automobile in a remote parking lot? I'll tell you how it's different: the remote parking lot is surrounded by other cars where a rapist can hide; the remote parking lot may not be well lit, and will not be covered monitored by surveillence cameras. A PRT station, on the other hand, is not likely located in a remote place; it's well lit; there are no dark corners where a rapist can hide; and there are security cameras.

Furthermore, what rapist would force himself into a vehicle where he is CAPTIVE? Think about it: a rapist would committing a felony in a vehicle which he cannot control and which is taking him to an unknown destination! For all he knows, that vehicle is going to a crowded marketplace where he will be immediately exposed to dozens of witnesses. Hey, it could be going to a station right in front of a police station! He'd have to be incredibly stupid to do something like this.

Compare this to the dark parking lot: once the rapist has forced his way into your automobile, he can gain complete control and go wherever he wants.

So my question is: given these risks, why on earth would a rapist (or any violent criminal) choose PRT over a dark alley or remote parking lot?

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If one looks at this rendering it immediately shows the shortcomings of this concept. Imagine each of those automobiles replaced by a PRT car on a track. All you have done is move the congestion, inefficient use of resources and expensive vehicles off the street and on to a more confining and restrictive track. Instead of wasting money on something like this, light rail would be a much better choice.

I don't understand why it is a good idea to move all these vehicles onto a track. It doesn't solve any problems.

Ultra2.jpg

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Says Monsoon:

If one looks at this rendering it immediately shows the shortcomings of this concept. Imagine each of those automobiles replaced by a PRT car on a track. All you have done is move the congestion, inefficient use of resources and expensive vehicles off the street and on to a more confining and restrictive track. Instead of wasting money on something like this, light rail would be a much better choice.

I don't understand why it is a good idea to move all these vehicles onto a track. It doesn't solve any problems.

Monsoon,

Did you see the quotes by Calthorpe and Sir Peter Hall? These people might not be as smart as you, but they have very strong professional reputations and they went to school for a long time and they wrote alot of books that a bunch of people read and their books are ranked as some of the all-time Top 50 by Planetizen. I think it says alot that they believe in PRT. It's pretty interesting to see Calthorpe hammer on 19th century LRT technology. He's saying that LRT is a bad choice for circulator applications (this is because LRT provides low LOS in such situations). He's not saying that LRT is always bad, but he's saying that he needs really great circulator technology to create great smart growth / new urbanist places.

I have the impression that you are pretty intelligent and a good problem solver. I believe you could answer some of these PRT questions yourself. Also, I don't think you're giving the PRT industry much credit for solving the issues you raise. Anyone who considers working on a PRT project has to figure out decent answers to your questions before they take on PRT as a vocation - the point is that it's very hard come up with any novel objections to PRT that haven't been addressed via design - the large set of PRT issues is quite well known. If PRT is such a dumb idea, why are smart people working on it?

1. Taxis make multiple trips per day, cars used in commuting sit there for 10 hours being unproductive. PRT works by that same, more-productive-than-a-car-that-sits-around taxi analogy. Hence, PRT vehicles are much more productive than cars.

2A. For carpool commuting, let's look at a 3 person carpool. One car carrying 3 people comes to a big job center and parks, and two out of the 3 commuters distributes themselves to their offices via PRT. At lunchtime, the 3 workers may take PRT to go get lunch, zoom over to the gym, go shopping, etc. So, in this example, we've saved 2 cars from coming to the job center.

2B. For transit commutes, folks indicate that, if a great last mile solution exists, they're more willing to solve their first mile solution. So, in the instance where PRT entices folks to commute via "first mile - line haul transit (including LRT) - PRT last mile," a car is saved in each instance.

Here's a peer-reviewed paper on PRT as part of a comprehensive mobility solution to get commuters out of their cars:
Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board,
Suburban Silver Bullet: PRT Shuttle and Wireless Commute Assistant with Cellular Location Tracking
, TRB, National Research Council, Washington, DC, Number 1872, December 2004, pp. 62-70.

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