Sunday, September 14, 2014


The world of advanced mobility spoke a Swedish-accented English early this month at PCC8 at Arlanda Airport.  Where are the metro-loving, transit-exporting French in these exchanges?


The 8th Podcar City conference in Stockholm (Sept 3-5) emitted strong signs that PRT (aka ATN, podcars, GRT and perhaps dual-mode systems) is now a serious contender for urban transit implementations. As ride-sharing start-ups garner big buck investments from even larger global Silicon Valley dynamos, it seems that PRT is on the verge of getting long overdue public support and private funds.  

Magnus Hunhammar is in the center of the sun-kissed Icebreaker

As evident in plans for a huge Green activist march in New York City Sept 21--  timed  just before aUN Summit on Climate Change -- heightened interest in PRT is coming from an urgent world search for ways to reduce carbon emissions. Themed as To the next level!, PCC8 in Stockholm took podcar discussions to higher operational, financial and political levels. Bravo to chairman Magnus Hunhammar, director of the Institute for Sustainable Transportation and to Hans Lindqvist, chair of the association of Swedish municipalities moving to embrace PRT solutions, known as Kompass!

Modest Implementations Within Reach

Discussions at PCC8 excited many. One session previewed the newly released assessment of the Automated Transit Network industry by San Jose State University’s Mineta Transportation Institute. The USDOT report was internally and externally reviewed, and includes a significant recommendation that ten-station PRT projects are within technological reach. A live hook-up to San Jose with three of the research team who were at PCC8 made this clear. The report is available at

PRT developers Ultra and Vectus were also actively present in Stockholm in early September, along with several new Chinese entrepreneurs. The team from Tubenet impressed all with their future-embracing outlook and Asia-scoped action plans. Swedish consultant Ingmar Andreasson wowed the largely Swedish-US gathering with quantitative analysis indicating that PRT capacities can be boosted to levels more comfortable for transit officials.

A Venue near Arlanda Airport
Tubenet’s podcar design uses quite small vehicles that can operate at three “tiers” -- 40, 60 and 80 km/hr -- coming from a country where transit is in boom mode. Vehicles running within a tube have overhead power rail and solar collectors atop the tube. This Chinese R&D program is working on a 4km, 12-station test network running in 3 years based on existing vehicle and guideway prototypes. A metro-wide 446km network has been simulated for the ancient city of Xian (population. 4m).

No one from France participated in PCC8.  Podcar visionary Christer Lindstrom, whose French mother taught him la belle langue, was perhaps the closest thing. France prides itself on innovative transport and earns lots of foreign currency planning, building and operation metros and bus systems. How triste that no one from France or Germany seems to be paying attention to PRT potentialities
Political Questions and Challenges

The Swedish Transportation Administration’s Chief Strategist Bo Olsson is not and cannot be a podcar “fan”. He must take an objective standpoint. At PCC8 he advised that taxi-sized vehicles as typically envisioned for PRT are not necessarily optimal for all urban mobility needs. Larger vehicles make good sense in thinking out future modal priorities. Olsson also cautioned that PRT guideways are a negative due to their costs and aesthetics.

The mainstream transit world - engineers, planners, contractors and operators - is still largely dismissive of PRT. None of them were at PCC8. They are busy with the worldwide metro boom which is increasingly driverless. By and large, Swedish civic leaders think of PRT as “science fiction”. Their European and American counterparts do too. The big difference is that in Sweden, officials have a qualitative and quantitative grasp of PRT. In the US, they hardly know what it is.

Crystallizing Interest

Sweden’s sophistication with PRT is based on analysis and simulations that offer dimensions to public discussions. Goran Tegner is a major leader in these debates and pointed out that Stockholm transit ridership is stagnant. Andreasson’s new research indicates that PRT capacities can be boosted by use of coupled, larger vehicles, each trip scheduled to 2 or 3 stations during peak hours. For a California city, a 48 km, 50-station network can distribute 13,400 in an hour from a regional rail station (link capacity 6000pphpd).

Ron Swenson in a Pod

Dozens of Swedish municipalities and institutions are working to advance PRT visions. Two new ones popped in at PCC8 -- from Stockholm suburbs Sundbyberg and Botkyrka. Plans for Uppsala were “frozen” last year, but are not dead. EU officials have asked why an application for funds has not been submitted. Meanwhile this university town of 200,000 residents is studying streetcar options.

Four development nodes envisioned outside Stockholm’s growing Arlanda Airport are showing broader and, in the long run, more financeable podcar ambitions. Major office expansion of the airport’s Airport City, a successful segment of retail, hotel and meeting facilities wedged between the main passenger terminals, is underway. A PRT network connecting all this and the town of Marsta is widely understood by airport and local officials to be a sustainable option that will reduce carbon emissions and make the area more efficient and prosperous. This has been drafted into a report, and a panel of four political candidates from different parties at PCC8 agreed that it is worth pursuing.

Based on these discussions, the maturation of the many aspects of PRT technologies made over the last decade and the new USDOT report, PCC8 ended with a clear statement: public officials can plan and implement better mobility options with confidence. And next year -- in San Jose?

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