The Here, the Now and the Next

January 22, 2017

    Welcome to the first in the series on recent and upcoming trends in the world of transportation. Throughout the year we will be giving you the low-down on movements within the mobility sphere and investigating proposed future plans that could be entering our daily lives (hopefully) within the next decade.


    The traditional Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit System

    One of the topics that has caught the attention of many in the mobility world is personalized on-demand rapid transit. We’re often viewing it as something that will be created in the near future, but reality shows us otherwise. There has been a shining example of on demand rapid transit successfully operating between the campuses of West Virginia University since 1975 in Morgantown in the United States. It was the first, and continues to be the only fully operational Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system, which allows passengers to board self-propelling cars that travel directly to their destination without stopping at stations en route. The system is made up of a combination of underground and elevated tracks which allow the passengers to cruise past the inefficient single person vehicles that occupy the city and creep slowly. The PRT in the city is affectionately referred to by locals as the People Mover. This congestion which once dictated the scheduling of classes at the University’s three campuses, now seems outdated and an element of transport planning of days gone by. The uniqueness of Morgantown’s PRT is found in its multi-modal service. In addition to its scheduled setting during peak travel hours, users press a button to operate an on-demand service which responds dynamically to passengers’ requests, during low-demand hours the PRT reverts to efficient circulation mode – with fewer cars traveling the tracks. This effectual approach to public mobility lead Arlie Forman, West Virginia University’s Associate Director of the PRT, to hail the project as, “…an example of how cities can better cope with pollution, traffic and environmental demands.”

    Passengers enter pods at a station in the Masdar City PRT system

    More recently, the mobility market has been penetrated by numerous new visions of PRT. One example of this was realized in November 2010 in Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates. There, the autonomous system connects the city’s outer car park and the Masdar Institute for Science and Technology. The PRT system allows the compact Masdar City to be completely car-free and carbon neutral as the system is powered by rechargeable lithium batteries. The makers of the system for the city were happy to announce a 75% increase in passengers since 2014, attesting to the functionality and appeal of the PRT for Masdar’s travelers. The company that supplied the Masdar system also plans to expand the network and introduce general rapid transport in the surrounding area in the near future.

    Another proposed model for PRT which is in the development stage is the elevated skyTran project. The network will be made up of 2 and 4 person magnetic jet pods that are computer-controlled and glide along a steel framework, the system’s on demand element will also allow users to order the service through their smartphones. In 2016 the company announced their first technology demonstration system, a construction prototype. This utilitarian first version is an important safety step towards realizing the dream of more efficient transport in the densely populated urban and suburban milieus. The first proposed pilot will likely be in the city of Tel Aviv and if completed will make the idea, first proposed in 1990, an actuality.

    A proposed image of how the skyTran network may blend into the urban environment

    The personal rapid transport sector is being disrupted and this means exciting times ahead for commuters in our bustling cities and will contribute to a more sustainable development approach for our planet.