Personal Rapid Transit: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

Malcolm Buchanan writes that advances in control technology and the upcoming launch of the Heathrow Airport PRT mean that Personal Rapid Transit is ready for the spotlight.

It took a long time and the personal commitment of a president of the United States for the concept of travel to the moon to be made a reality, and there were many who doubted it would ever happen. Personal rapid transit (PRT), also called Personal automated transport (PAT), has had a similarly long gestation, and the concept was perhaps oversold in the 1960s when, in the UK, drawings were published of clumsy elevated structures cutting through Central London and looking almost as intrusive as the six-lane expressways to which they were claimed to be an alternative.

The promises made about PRT in those early days still blight it today, and there are many transport planners who will give a wry smile when told that the first PRT system will come into service over the next year at London's Heathrow airport.

Whereas PRT was formerly something that would be nice to have if it could be made to work and demonstrated to be acceptable in city centres, today it is fast becoming essential, and we now need a latter-day John F. Kennedy to challenge the public transport industries to deliver PRT systems in the variety of shapes and with the range of performance characteristics that will be needed.

Full Story: Personal Rapid Transit on verge of becoming viable



PRT is Still Dubious

Even if the Heathrow PRT "works" (which remains to be seen) it is quite unclear if the vehicles will last longer than a typical automobile, given the very high rates of utilization that will be required if the PRT line carries its projected patronage. My educated guess is "no." For one thing, the very lightweight construction of the vehicles suggests durability no better than a typical automobile, e.g., no more than 100,000-150,000 miles before replacement is needed.

vehicle longevity?

Since when is vehicle longevity the central issue to PRT? And even if it was, how many working automobile parts are there in the typical wrecking yard? The uniformity inherent in PRT design means it's easier to replace parts and get more bang for your buck. So even if longevity WAS the key point, it wins on that account as well.


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