Earlier this week, San Jose, California, granted initial authorization to develop a network of autonomous vehicles dedicated to specific roads.
- This system, which is still in development, is called personal rapid transit (PRT).
- Each vehicle will seat up to four people in an electric pod that transports passengers between San Jose Mineta International Airport and Diridon Station, the hub of San Jose regional transit, Bloomberg reports.
- If development proceeds as planned, the sleek, electric pods will ferry passengers to and from their destinations by 2028.
- Since seeking airport connector proposals in 2019, San Jose officials have received bids for electric buses, trams, and self-driving transport options.
- Officials’ final decision to hire a startup from southern San Francisco came as a surprise to many.
Why it’s news
Many cities are seeking additional public-transportation systems—both to get people around urban areas and between major hubs like airports and train stations. However, the infrastructure investments in those are quite often prohibitive.
Plenary Americas and Glydways Inc. are leading the design of the new airport connector system that reduces those infrastructure costs. In their design, the companies described a network of autonomous vehicles on 5.5-foot paths rather than the standard 12-foot lanes. This system has a smaller carbon footprint and is more efficient than a typical mass transit system.
PRT as an alternative to mass transit is not a new idea. This idea focuses on smaller, automated cars or mini-trains carrying fewer passengers on a network of roads separate from regular traffic. Though the concept has existed since at least the 1960s, few PRTs have been attempted, and even fewer are in use today, Bloomberg reports.
San Jose’s intention to implement this system could change that. PTRs are cheaper to build and operate than traditional mass transit systems, according to Glydways. The Automated People Mover at LAX covers about 2.25 miles and costs $2 billion to build. Glydways estimates that its airport connector, which will cover three miles, will cost less than a quarter of the LAX system. Even better, Glydways says its method will turn a profit, Bloomberg reports.
Part of the efficiency of these systems comes from its on-demand operations. Rather than constantly running partially or completely empty buses and trains at all hours of the day, cars on a PRT only run when passengers summon them. A ride will cost the passenger around $6.
There is still plenty of red tape in the way before San Jose’s PRT plans become a reality. The city authorities have authorized a “predevelopment agreement.” Environmental and engineering reviews will come next, followed by a validation report.