Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) is a new and innovative on-demand system for developed or urban environments. It is designed to meet the need for congestion free, multi-origin, multi-destination public transport. PRT is designed with reliability and safety in mind to ensure the comfort and security of its passengers.

Using small driverless electric vehicles that run on dedicated guideways, the lightweight and flexible nature of the system enables it to be retrofitted into a broad range of environments and provide transportation that is environmentally friendly and operationally efficient.

Here we outline a number of the key features of Personal Rapid Transit and the benefits these features have for the passengers, engineers and landowners/developers.

Passenger Benefits: No Waiting, No Stopping, No Congestion

On Demand
PRT is an on-demand service and is designed so that you do not wait for vehicles – they wait for you. This high level of service is achieved as the vehicles which do not run on a schedule and run independently of each other wait in passenger bays when they are not in use. A journey is instigated when a passenger arrives at a station and selects their destination. This offers distinct advantages particularly compared to alternative solutions such as buses and trams which require passengers to wait for a period of time for a vehicle running on a fixed schedule. By eliminating this dwell time at the origin PRT can offer the potential for significant time savings for passengers. One example of this is Heathrow Airport where Ultra Global’s Heathrow pod has recorded an average waiting time of 10-15 seconds with 80% of passengers experiencing no waiting time at all. This is in sharp contrast to when the service was delivered by a bus running on a 10 minute fixed looped schedule.
A significant amount of time on public transport is spent dropping off or collecting other passengers at intermediate stops. PRT systems are designed so that all stations are off-line, vehicles operate non-stop from origin to destination and maintain average speeds well above that of road traffic in an urban environment. A non-stop service is achievable due to complex software designed by PRT vendors that manage and controls the flows of vehicles around a system. The use of dedicated guideways also eliminates interference from other traffic ensuring that PRT is truly direct from point to point.
In addition to a personalised destination specific journey, the benefits for a passenger of having personal space is also significant. Their remains a social stigma around the need to share space with other passengers on public transport and this remains one of the main reasons for the continued popularity of the private car. By incorporating personal aspects of the automobile, personal rapid transit can offer a viable, user friendly alternative to the private car.

Engineering Benefits: Flexible, Efficient, Green

PRT vehicles are lightweight and have the ability to navigate tight corners, likewise the guideway infrastructure upon which the vehicles run is light weight and easily routed where needed. The small infrastructure footprint of personal rapid transit was of significance to applications in both Heathrow and Masdar. A demonstration of the flexibility of PRT can be seen at Heathrow where the system was designed to retrofit into Terminal 5 in the period after the Terminal had been largely masterplanned. As a consequence and as testament to the flexibility of PRT the route followed at Heathrow negotiates two rivers, seven roads, green belt land, aircraft surfaces, glide slope protected airspace, in ground services all the while conforming to the existing T5 architecture.
Easy to Install
The disruption caused by the construction of PRT is minimal, due to the small scale of the infrastructure, systems can largely be prefabricated offsite and installed with minimal disruption to existing operations. One example of this is Heathrow Airport where Ultra’s Heathrow pod system was installed into the congested environment around Terminal 5 with no disruption to the Airport’s operations. Indeed the elimination of disruption to the airport was a key contributor to the Airport’s decision to adopt PRT.
Environmentally Friendly
In an era where it is increasingly important to consider the environment when considering a transport system PRT has a number of features that keeps environment impact to a minimum. Today, existing applications of PRT use electricity which results in the elimination of onsite emissions and leaves developments open to the use of renewable energy to charge vehicles either inductively or through fixed physical points on the network. In addition to this the energy required to charge the vehicles is significantly less, for instance Ultra Global’s Heathrow pod system presents 70% carbon benefit over a typical private car and 50% benefit over a typical bus. The Heathrow PRT operation has resulted in savings of 200 tonnes of Co2 per annum compared to the bus operation that existed previous to the Heathrow pod.

Economic Benefits: High Value, Low Cost, Integrated Solutions

As a consequence of the use of lightweight vehicles and therefore lightweight infrastructure the components needed for a PRT system are significantly cheaper than those needed to build systems with a larger and heavier footprint. Cost is reduced even further where guideway infrastructure is simplified further without the need for inductive charging and integrated safety signalling equipment. Studies carried out by Ultra Global looked at a number of international light rail systems and calculated the costs of the systems if they had been built using Ultra’s PRT technology. The results of the studies which included systems in Montpellier and Toronto indicated that on average PRT was three to five times cheaper than light rail or automated people movers. Operations costs are kept low as vehicles are driverless which reduces the number of staff needed to operate and maintain the system. Additionally as well as using simple vehicles and infrastructure, resilience is increased due to the use of IT to relay important diagnostic information back to controllers, decreasing risk and eventual maintenance needed.
Variety of Revenue Streams
In addition to savings in both capital and operational expenditure there iare a wide variety of revenue streams associated with personal rapid transit. As with the majority of transport systems there is the opportunity to gather farebox revenue for use of the service. Other alternatives include:

  • Sponsorship & advertising revenue
  • Access agreements with third parties in land adjacent to the system e.g. hotels, businesses, malls
  • Monetising passenger travel time savings e.g. at Heathrow, increasing dwell time of premium customer set in airports departure lounge.
  • Increasing tariffs due to improved service, Heathrow Airport raised their car park tariff by 20%, (patronage actually increased by 7% despite the rise)
  • PRT as first and last impression of a development/city/airport. Encourages patrons to return.
Land Design and Development:
PRT can be particularly valuable in new developments due to the ease of capturing non-fare box sources of value, and the beneficial impacts of broader planning and design issues. For example an integrated PRT system can reduce land requirements for an office park development by 40% by enabling consolidation of parking facilities – an opportunity of significant capital cost saving or additional revenue generation.