Personal Rapid Transit

As one who abhors long drives to and from work, and yet has difficulty living far enough into the big city to avoid them, I’ve always been a fan of good public transit. Unfortunately, that’s often been a theoretical enthusiasm, for while the bus seemed an attractive option when I was 14 years old and wanted to get down to the mall to drop quarters in the Defender machine, its disadvantages have seemed onerous since I got my drivers’ license. Add that to the degree to which everything is spread out in Texas, and I haven’t been on any public transit since the light rail in Dallas, which we rode mostly as a lark on the way to the zoo one day.

So when I happened across a link on Slashdot to a new kind of transit system being tested in Cardiff Bay, I was very intrigued. This systems consists of a network of interlinked roadways that run computer-controlled electric cars in little channels. The cars carry up to about 4 people, and guide themselves to the destination you choose without any human guidance. This circumvents the main downfall of existing public transit systems — that if you’re not going where it’s going, you’re out of luck. The cost would apparently be comparable to existing systems, if not actually less. It’s apparently best suited to small to medium sized cities, with a distribution between stations of about half a kilometer. There’s a news article here, a technical paper here, and some information on the US version being developed by Raytheon here.