Transportation – A New Approach

Published by Darron Toy on


Our current transportation system is unsustainable and when it comes to improving it, we tend to take an incremental approach – increase fuel efficiencies by 5%, add high speed rail or more carpool lanes, but incremental can only take you so far. If we gave everyone an an electric car, we’d still have congestion. So rather than the incremental approach, I propose we try something different. Let’s first design the ultimate transportation system and THEN decide if it’s possible. So what would this ultimate transportation system look like? First, the system must be fully automated. An automated system is a safe system. Automated vehicles would see in all directions and in complete darkness. An automated vehicle would never tire or be distracted by children. It would have nearly instantaneous response times and the combined knowledge of every vehicle in the system. It would save thousands of lives, not to mention countless injuries. An automated system is an efficient system. Vehicles would know exactly which route to take and how much braking force to apply. In fact automated vehicles would rarely break at all, instead moving through the system in precise coordination with every other vehicle. An automated system provides mobility for everyone – young people, the elderly, the handicapped, and freight would move through the system with no human intervention at all. Second, the system must provide door-to-door service. Eighty-six percent of all miles travelled are by automobile, not public transit. That’s because people are either unable or unwilling to make transfers. Nobody wants to lug groceries between bus and light rail and for most of us the bus does not stop at our doorstep. Only an individualized transportation system can accomplish this. In transportation this is known as the “last mile” problem, the mile that is most difficult to service. So in our design we will stipulate that the vehicles will take you directly to where you want to go, WITHOUT transfers and WITHOUT stopping. Finally, our system must be energy efficient. It must take you from point A to point B using the LEAST amount of energy. And that requires an electric motor. Gasoline engines operate at 15% efficiency, electric motors at 80% efficiency. Gasoline engines create exhaust. Electric motors are clean, quiet, and extremely reliable. Finally, electricity is energy agnostic, meaning the source is whatever makes the most sense – wind, solar, nuclear, or all of the above. So this brings us to an important design decision. Do our vehicles run an asphalt or in rails? The answer is rails. The inherent problem with the electric car is the battery. It makes an otherwise environmentally friendly design, environmentally unfriendly. A system that runs on rails doesn’t need a battery, instead drawing power directly from the rail. And it’s not the deadly third rail you might imagine. 48 volts is sufficient to move individualized vehicles. It’s the same voltage many amusement park rides use. But aren’t rails too restrictive? Not really. Think about everywhere you traveled today, everywhere you go hundreds of people travel those very same roads, day after day, and if we overlay rail on top those very same roads, you have the same mobility. And there are other advantages to rail. Vehicles are much easier to control. No bouncing off potholes are sliding off the road. And once you built the system, rails cost less to maintain. Finally, rails are environmentally friendly since you’re not running rubber tires over asphalt. So we have individualized vehicles running over our existing road infrastructure on rails. Since all vehicles must perform reliably, individual ownership is no longer practical. Vehicles would instead be a shared resource, a sort of automated taxi service. You just call up a vehicle, ride to your destination, and step out, leaving it free to seek out the next passenger. And like a taxi, you would pay by the mile. The other advantage of a shared resource is that you only need enough vehicles to cover peak usage. And since automobiles spend the vast majority of their time parked, we need a lot fewer vehicles. Fewer vehicles to produce, fewer vehicles to maintain. And just imagine what we can do with all the parking spaces we no longer need. We could turn parking lots into parks, gas stations into rest stops, and since the system wouldn’t require the full road surface, we’d have a lot more room for bicycles and pedestrians. So how can we convert from the system we have now to the system we’ve described? The challenge isn’t the technology to run automated vehicles. DARPA’s design contests and Google’s driverless cars prove we already have the technology. In fact it’s actually a lot harder running automated vehicles on asphalt roads shared with humans. A design that instead restricts vehicles to rails would be much easier to implement. The real challenge would be the transition. It would need to happen fast to minimize disruption. We would convert entire cities, one neighborhood at a time, not in months or weeks, but in days. Remember, we’re not bulldozing new roads, we’re mounting rails atop the existing ones. It would look a bit like how a child assembles a toy train set. As quickly as each prefabricated rail section is installed it would be ready for use. How fast could we lay down rail? In 1869 a record ten miles of rail was laid in a single day. And this was at a time when they used horses and pickaxes, not modern construction equipment. If the record back then was 10 miles, just imagine how many miles WE can install in a single day. So there you have it. This is one vision for the future of transportation. Perhaps you have another. Ultimately the numbers will dictate the solution. Each proposal must address the same basic design requirements listed earlier: safety, convenience, efficiency. And each design has a cost, both in dollars and to the environment. I understand that people like to drive – so do I. And it will always be places to drive, fun places. But nobody enjoys sitting in traffic or searching for parking spaces. The reality is that our current system is just not sustainable. At what point do we decide that there are too many cars on the road? Incremental is not going to solve this. We need to think beyond small changes. It’s time to reinvent transportation.


44 Comments

barbworlds · December 29, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Apart from the fact that you promote nuclear power as an option for the future (or maybe I got it wrong and you just refered to the status quo) this sounds very sensible. Thanks!

mcdramabear · March 20, 2014 at 1:57 am

Very concise and direct!  I agree with all points made until I do more research and possibly find a better solution.  I do see an issue economically with the millions of cars that must be decommissioned; and auto dealerships that must be closed.  I think at that point, looking at the problem realistically and holistically, we have solved a pretty big problem and created potentially a bigger problem (people out of work and system not built to handle too many people not working).  I think this solution can only be implemented along with a whole bunch of other ideas in order to keep society moving on in a way we are familiar with.  If you can keep individual car ownership an option for most people in the short term; I think this has a much better shot at getting pulled off. This isn't me trying to put you down in the least!  I am trying to think this out with you.   I think economic concerns are too important to most people to not address; although I would be totally for the idea as you present above. Bravo!

Adrian B Sims · June 27, 2014 at 11:48 pm

excellent. I strongly support this idea!

Adrian B Sims · June 27, 2014 at 11:50 pm

One suggestion, creating multiple sized vehicles would be important, for safety. In bad neighborhoods, riding with unsafe people is not ideal. Instead, have a service where people can request the amount of seats they want in each unit (vehicle).

Val Tito · September 13, 2014 at 4:54 pm

fixed rails will not work the answer lies in the unfixed rail system.

Jake Thompson · September 18, 2014 at 2:33 pm

HUGE problems with this:

1. It still encourages sprawl, just as cars do.
2. It discourages walking, due to the promised door-to-door service, just as cars do.
3. Street tracks are incredibly dangerous for cyclists – wheels get caught in the tracks which often results in cyclists getting thrown over the handlebars. If every street had tracks on it, that means no more bicycles.

Just like the self-driving car, this allows continued automobile-oriented development. The real solution is to invest in smart growth, density, walkability, bicycle infrastructure, and public transportation. That "last mile" problem is solved when your destination is no more than a block or two from a transit station.

Charles Mugo · September 21, 2014 at 8:50 pm

this is great

Fernando Morari · October 27, 2014 at 5:11 pm

How much would it cost?

kyle quinn · November 6, 2014 at 2:10 am

1) with your rail on road design when fully loaded big rigs go over the rail it will put a lot of pressure on the rail, every time the road needs maintenance that section of rail has to be shut down, every time you try to cross the rail it's like a speed bump, and on roads with a high speed limit you will have to slow down a lot to not damage your car creating traffic jams.

2) sense it is electric you won't hear it coming on a blind corner, big rigs won't know it's in their blind spot.

3) it's on rails so it can't give way for emergency vehicles, can't avoid accidents, it has less traction than cars,

John Wang · July 11, 2015 at 5:08 pm

As an engineer, I love the PRT concept but there is a reason why we don't have it already and that reason is profit.   True, the vehicles in a PRT would require few materials and worksmanship to build, essentially fibreglass boxes with a computer and a small motor of perhaps 20 hp, the low speeds and the dedicated guideways means that the expensive safety measures of modern cars would not be needed, but this only means it could be less expensive if the production volume were similar.   Fact is, the PRT concept limits the production volume to the minimum needed for functional transportation, the institutionalized maintenance also means a longer life cycle i.e.: buses often exceed 30 years of service, the lack of personal ownership means consumption can not be significantly increased artificially by marketing, basically PRT's production would be sharply curtailed after the initial deployment phase and their per unit costs would be high due to a lack of volume despite their simplicity of production.   We don't know to what degree such a loss of market would be but we have bounds with current public transit which are essentially custom built on an infrequent basis to private automobiles which are produced in massive quantities.   The PRTis the logical choice if your goals are safety, environmental and energy conservation, and maximum benefit to society but private automobiles are unfortunately the choice if your design criteria was return on investment to the investors, jobs and the economy.   Where would our economy be had the automobile industry not discovered fashion and designed obsolescence.   What would happen if we changed quickly from two to three cars per family to a third or an eighth per family?   What would happen to those currently employed by the automobile industry if only a few vehicles per year were needed for replacements and demographic growth?  

Personally, I believe that PRT's would be the moral choice if nothing more than for the lives saved but people want jobs and that means more production than is required just for transportation sake and that means the transportation issues will have to be approached incrementally from the automobile sector to at least reduce our economic reliance on cars gradually.   PRT's will eventually occur but will have to start as self driving luxury vehicles marketed at a high price and restrictive legislation to limit shared use of vehicles ( we're already seeing such measures begin with the Uber issues ).   As with the cell phone industry, the restrictions and essentially monopolistic cartels would be slowly dissolved to be closer to a system which brings the economic benefit to the consumer but meanwhile, we have a lot of people in our economy to feed, people reliant on personal vehicles not for commutes but for their livelihoods.   Yes, PRT's now, are far more logical and society would gain much from a transportation redesign but our concepts of economy and capitalism dictates otherwise, we're simply not a logical and reasonable people and cannot be so long as we cannot source motivation by means other than greed and consumerism.

Oh, a 48 VDC conductor would not be practical.   Sure it's enough for one or even a few vehicles but for the number of vehicles on even a small city street, the conductor would have to be extremely large to handle the current and the energy loss are proportional to the square of the current, we are already encountering this problem in computer data centres as telecommunication industry designs based on 48 VDC are implemented.   Even the 600 VDC conductors of the "third rail" has problems delivering power to current LRT's.   The solution would have to involve high voltage and AC power, but of course these are addressable technical issues.

I love PRT's but the transition will take far more vision, altruism and sacrifice than our society currently has or it will take time and never really be fully achieved.    We're very likely to be taking the second route.

Hannah Miyamoto · November 19, 2015 at 12:05 pm

When I heard "door to door," I knew the creator of this video had never done a rigorous financial analysis of PRT. The cost of stations, guideway, and vehicles prevents individual service at maximum volume, and shared ride service makes "door to door" service impractical. PRT is the future, but only as an additional mode of public transportation.

Hua Zhou · November 23, 2015 at 6:53 pm

can give a try in a brand new city, such as in China, to see if it works.

Penny Ellis · January 8, 2016 at 3:23 pm

Replace the rail with maglev technology and I'm on board!

caposton · January 16, 2016 at 6:12 pm

Maglev Evacuated Tube Technology

Max speeds up near 4000mph (for long distance travel)
1/10 cost of high speed rail
Quiet
Safe (system is completely automated)
Estimated cost for a 2hr trip from New York to Beijing – $100
Lower maintenance cost because maglev makes no contact between tube and pod – no friction & no air resistance (because it operates in a vacuum.
4-6 person pods are very comfortable
Pod can be diverted to nearest exit by the travelers (no more then 15mins between exits) for bathroom and rest break (Although no trip would last more then 6 hrs – time to travel completely around the world)

Cameron Schwarz · January 21, 2016 at 11:20 am

I just find it incredibly difficult to understand how you came up with this hugely complex idea without realising that it's basically the same as a tram network… It's like you've used long division, cross multiplication and Pythagoras' theorem to solve the problem – "What is 2+2?"

EBERTH SIDNEY · January 26, 2016 at 6:51 pm

this video was posted in nov/09/2013. There was evolution. It has already been put into practice ? Already hesitate company that manufactures the system?

vikititor · February 2, 2016 at 8:39 am

nice idea – i think that is feasible. GOOD!

MOISES F IZURIETA · March 21, 2016 at 6:23 pm

I think the solution is in the air, Flying cars using electric motors, there is a lot of room in the sky, no congestion, no polluting, no accidents, etc, etc.

Isaac Lombardi · April 3, 2016 at 1:32 am

Good idea! But how would intersections work?

Thiago Aleixo · April 10, 2016 at 10:43 pm

I Always thought this.

FatherElectric · April 23, 2016 at 6:32 pm

Why don't you just walk, ride a bike, and take the bus every now and then? Is that too low tech for the hyper over-privileged? Who on earth so lazy and pampered that they require for themselves some bs rail line to every doorstep? The moment I see that is the moment i don't want to live on this planet anymore.

taiwanjohn · April 25, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Embed the rails in the pavement, so that cars and trucks can use / cross the same lanes if needed. It would ease the transition.

Devraj Panchhiya · April 30, 2016 at 5:54 pm

it will happen 100 years from now

Justin Gamino · May 13, 2016 at 6:54 pm

This is what it looks like if railroading is still king of transportation if cars never actually existed

Phil Thomas · May 20, 2016 at 7:52 pm

I think this is a great idea, but I still think public rapid transit should be used in high traffic corridors. The PRT system could be integrated and bring people to stations. This would be more energy efficient, require significantly fewer vehicles, and cost less for users. High traffic would allow for short waiting time for trains. During low traffic hours, when there are fewer trains, people could also choose to to ride the vehicle straight to their destination, and pay the cost associated with that. Most importantly, public transit is already built and operating efficiently in many cities.

Thomas MAIN · May 25, 2016 at 11:48 am

What about changing lanes, with rail?

Othman A. · June 29, 2016 at 11:29 am

I've had the same idea in my mind before watching this video but with some major differences in the concepts of it, I see it's really useful, and in these days it becomes so important to implement day after day,,, however, my vision is that we can implement this system into small city or village as a pilot project to prove the concept and it's efficiency to the people out there, after all, this is a mind-changing project, wish you best of luck, and if you would ever get involved in such project like this, please sign me up as I would like to participate and get involved, I'm a telecom engineer who got many interests in developing cities and our way of living, may ideas, and many plans in pocket, I'm also a 3D artist, again, wish you the best of luck 🙂

Trey Cowher · July 4, 2016 at 4:30 am

I mean I personally believe that we need a realization that human powered transport is the best for the earth right now. I know it's not the most efficient or fastest mode, but I wish that others cared about not being lazy as much as I did. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about the energy crisis.

Gigi Simbajon · July 14, 2016 at 4:29 pm

I'm glad that there are concepts being brainstormed to respond to this global and very significant concern yet none has ever come up with a concrete solutiion. Although the idea shared in this video can be feasible but there are still some flaws like in the aspect of mobility.. I believe modified bicycles must be provided for elders and the disabled. Personally, 'community rides' (like a vehicle for a size of two medium families) would probably solve congestion, thus, help in the energy conservation…which would like 3X the size than that in the video… I am not really supportive of individual vehicles.. they create more congestion…Can the car industry be more service-oriented than profit-oriented?

Christian Speight · July 31, 2016 at 9:29 pm

Howdy, My name is Chris, and I see great potential in this idea. Although I was thinking of a similar idea on a larger scale. I don't think this will go into effect unless someone can receive billions of dollars in funding. If you are up to date with Tesla, you can see they have plans similar to this where vehicles are rented out during the day for profit (using his Tesla vehicle lineup). The biggest differences are 1) he wants to incorporate bullet trains into cities to speed up transportation and 2) He has the funding to do so. I love the idea personally, but just like solar roadways, this is a huge infrastructure change that will require a lot of legislation and a big budget. I think America is heading towards bullet trains and automated vehicles, but unless a big super power like GM or Tesla is on this, it will be hard to implement. Best of Luck, and if you want to pick my brain for more opinions, I would be happy to answer them.-Chris

IndigoAurora · August 12, 2016 at 2:58 pm

This is amazing

Andrew Heydt · August 20, 2016 at 7:42 pm

we really need to do this so much more and better in America china and india extremely important that we do so much much better asap this really cant wait

jason bauer · August 24, 2016 at 2:24 am

Interesting idea

Mike Franz · August 28, 2016 at 4:45 am

0:39 "Let's design .. system and then decide if it's possible.." – no sober engineer would say that.
State of the art research, technological feasibility and economical viability evaluations precede design. If Gary followed the procedure he would know that PRT exists from mid 1970s and he would (hopefully) understand and enlighten us why it hasn't gone beyond shuttle services in a few places in the world.
Before inventing the wheel, just google "PRT".

Mike Franz · August 28, 2016 at 5:09 am

And another thing, this PRT stuff is merely vision or project charter – one of more than forty project documents.
Any progress since 2013?

maximbadunov · September 29, 2016 at 10:56 pm

SkyWay batter

Paul Meyer · October 2, 2016 at 9:03 am

I could not agree more .However, Neoliberalism and Economic Rationalism will make losers of us all.

杨新亮 · October 23, 2016 at 2:07 am

My home town ——成都 BRT of Chengdu https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e31TqRu0Q3A

Srinivas Kotha · October 28, 2016 at 1:26 pm

Thanks for the post. Actually I am also having same ideas in my mind about transportation.

Andy Appan · December 25, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Automotive : double speed, 1/3 fuel for same ton-hp; 6x kmpl; 1/6 co2e. normal cost roi= 400 %

Pk New Changes · February 19, 2017 at 3:37 pm

A Joke Yeah your location if their is a track

Miguel Gutierrez · July 21, 2017 at 3:24 am

I like this system something that can be add is that if a person wants to own a car they can. It can have a double engine like hybrid. and work with the rail system. It return to the owner house once it not used or he let the system use it until the owner wants it back.

Faiz Basha · March 11, 2018 at 12:28 pm

This is not a very smart idea, Rails are expensive and its difficult to regulate its track switches with so many vegicles running simultaniously. This Issue of traffic only exist in the US where public transit is lacking, much like europe and asia the easy solution is public transit and redesigning a whole system

Dream Journal Projects · March 11, 2019 at 2:54 am

I agree on a majority of the content minus the idea of moving along rails. Forgive me if I sound critical but what if something gets on the tracks? The PRT on rails cannot go around it. Whereas if something gets in the middle of the road, a PRT on the road can go around it. Nevertheless, I like the idea of using less energy by having motors.

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