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BlogIT is the Blog on Innovative Transit, as published on behalf of the ATRA Industry Group. It is a new initiative intended to allow ATRA IG to share its views on issues in the advanced transit industry.


Autonomous-shuttles-competition-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly

Autonomous shuttles competition: the good, the bad and the ugly

Blog by Robbert Lohmann, Chief Commercial Officer

In the 1966 classic ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ it is all about three different bounty hunters working together to get to the gold despite hating each other. In reality we never hate the competition; hate is such a strong word that we hate to use it. Puzzled about approaches, sometimes jealous of marketing budgets and flabbergasted (always wanted to use that word in a sentence!) about another exaggerated claim are more appropriate than hate. Before I get carried away, again, I do want to argue that we should be following the movie in working together to develop the market. We can all be content with a piece of the pie if the darn thing is big enough! Ultimately nobody wants to become obese: it is not sustainable in the long run.

So, please consider this a CALL TO ACTION to our competitors (Easymile, Navya, May Mobility, Local Motors, Optimus Ride, ST, E.Go Moov, Lohr, Westfield and everybody-I-am-forgetting-to-mention): let’s work together to speed up the maturation of the market and increase its size!

Indirectly, as a direct consequence, this is also a CALL TO ACTION to cities: set a higher bar and focus on daily transit issues to be addressed instead of ‘only’ asking for demonstrations, pilots and tests!

Sizing up the competition

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: we don’t compete with buses, walking or biking!

Contrary to popular belief, buses are our friends. We provide first and last mile connections to (their) stations attracting more passengers to public transit. At the expense of people using cars – not at the expense of walking a biking, which are great and healthy ways to transverse a city. In addition they allow for a great density without any pollution. The moment new transit services reduce people walking, biking or using public transit, you know you screwed up. Big time. Kinda like twelve publishing houses turning down JK Rowling. Ford building the Edsel. And Yahoo not buying Google for merely 1 million USD. Times 100, combined. That feels like a lot, but should be considered an understatement.

The real competition is personal use of cars. Even electric cars. And ride hailing services Basically anything when NOT shared. We have said it before and we’ll say it again: to keep the city of the future accessible, liveable and sustainable, we need (significantly) less vehicles in the city. Uber and Lyft are not going to save the world, they are going to destroy cities as we know them before they are going to make money (duh?!). Which is what they know or otherwise they wouldn’t be trying to start selling train and bus tickets. We need to give space occupied by moving and parked vehicles back to the citizens living and working along those streets.

Public transit is the key to achieving this.

Did I just lose you? If I have, you aren’t reading this anymore… Oh well, if I haven’t lost you (just) yet, bear with me. Yes, public transit. For those now arguing that it can never get you to your destination like a car can, it is time to wake up. The car rarely brings you to front door. Urbanization and densification will ensure that this is the case even more often. Pretty soon travelling by car is also a multi modal journey.

The best and most efficient cities in the world feature extensive and efficient transit networks. Ensuring that these are better connected, whether through Mobility as a Service, or through supplementing the networks with demand driven autonomous vehicles for the first and last mile, will make the journey more efficient ensuring it can compete with the personal use of the car.

The Good

A wise person once said that competition is good as it makes companies better. And it certainly ensures the market matures faster. So what are the key drivers? (pun intended).

Our work became a lot easier when new companies joined the market. Easier? Yes, others started helping us. Unintendedly, but probably knowingly: instead of us trying to raise awareness for our type of system, all of a sudden other companies were marketing/pushing the concept as well. The attention for driverless cars increased between 2012 and 2015 with the attention for the efforts by Google and the introduction of J3016 “Levels of Driving Automation” in 2016. All of a sudden we went from ‘a weird APM-system’ to ‘the only operational autonomous L4 vehicles’. Talk about night and day. Overnight there was an enormous increase of reference visits to the Rivium application with the realization that this is still the only autonomous vehicle application without safety drivers.

When in a market by yourself the first applications requires an intensive effort, but the second might be even tougher. Note: we are talking about permanent installations with multiple vehicles, not temporary demonstrations with a limited amount of vehicles. With competition in place, and alternatives present, a market is driven to maturity faster both on the supply and demand side. On the supply side companies are trying to maintain their competitive advantage, continuously improving their offering, product and services. On the demand side customers are uniting to exchange experiences to improve what they are demanding, moving towards standardization and interoperability.

With competition there is also a need to create/maintain a competitive advantage. For 2getthere as first mover and technology leader, this means continuous innovation and further improvement of the system performance. In the end, our business is not delivering autonomous shuttles, but enabling operators to carry passengers from A to B on a daily basis without disruptions. This also requires companies to become mature more rapidly, thus further strengthening the market moving forward.

Ultimately, competition ensures customers have a choice: it somehow isn’t appealing when there are no alternatives. A monopoly slows decision making or even grinds it to a halt – with the customer looking for (non-automated) alternatives. Being the first company active in this market we have seen this happen time and time again. We have had verbal commitments on projects, with the decision being reversed during final negotiations because the customer didn’t have a choice. Note, that we are currently in the same situation still for a particular project: no competitor can match our performance and hence the customer can’t validate his decision. Can you blame a customer? No. The only way to resolve it is by having better competition and ensure the customer has a choice. The market needs to mature.

The Bad

For a market to mature, building trust is paramount. An immature approach and overselling can result in a loss of trust that not only impacts one company, but the whole market. In the last 12 months the first driverless shuttle has been announced at least a dozen times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12). With all these vehicles featuring a steward on board. FAKE NEWS ALERT! Fact check: 2getthere was (and will always remain) the first to introduce autonomous vehicles in 1997. 😊

By now, such announcements don’t really rattle my chain anymore. You get numb over time. There are still a couple of things that still surprise me.

Let’s start with the market approach: it drives me nuts every time a customer is convinced to go for a demonstration rather than a permanent application. Come on! Really?! We need to make the next steps, not continue to repeat the steps of the late 90s!! Let’s re-learn what others have learned already. That makes sense. Not. Until recently, demonstrations were a business model by themselves. Now the discontinuation of a demonstration as the performance was not up to standard should be a signal to all that demonstrations makes no sense. This is a call to action to all decision makers worldwide: demand more! Raise the bar and set higher expectations: when moving forward, pick a real case and define a proof-of-concept. And to all competitors: help the market and our customers. Demand more. Demand real applications, not demonstrations.

We should also stop with generalizations. Each company should be responsible for its own failures. Heck, we have learned from our mistakes and closely monitor the competition to learn from theirs! When trying to explain your failure through a generalization, you are denying an opportunity to learn and slow the market from maturing. The statement ‘the market is in an experimentation phase’, while focusing on delivering demonstrations (see major irritation 1.) is not fair. If anything the Rivium application demonstrates that we are way past experimentation. If we want to build trust, and as a result really allow the market to grow, let’s start with learning from both our own and our competitors failures. And allow all customers to learn from it. It will help the market mature and grow.

The call to action: if you are in this market, join us in addressing the bad and work with us to mature the market.

The Ugly

I started the blog by calling the competition’s vehicles ugly. That’s not fair. Perhaps it is more accurately phrased by The Verge: they are odd-looking. Are looks important? Heck yes, they are what you are attracted to on first sight! Ultimately you fall in love with the performance and experience. Just like you did with your partner (hopefully). All joking aside, we do believe that our vehicle is the prettiest available. It surely isn’t boxy or a retrofitted glorified golf cart. We made sure sensory systems are properly integrated avoiding them being mounted like a bad case of acne. Skip ahead if you want, I am not even going to apologize about it, as it would be insincere anyways. Our vehicles are in a separate class: they are sexy, with best of class performance and specifications while providing an unrivaled passenger experience.

The ugly part of competition is not about vehicle looks. It is about when competitors resort to ‘trash-talking’ instead of competing respectfully. In 2getthere’s case this means the competition always tries to pin us as non-autonomous, focusing on the artificial landmarks used instead of navigation based on seeing the surroundings. Obviously leaving out that we also supply other means of localization and that they are using artificial landmarks of their own (GPS). Which, by the way, like the natural landmarks, requires line of sight and hence doesn’t work in all-weather circumstances. It sometimes works though, with customers getting hung-up on technology instead of performance, requiring an additional effort from our side to set the record straight.

And I must admit, sometimes it is easy to get caught up in a moment. I tend to have a strong opinion and combine this with a typical Dutch directness. Is it blunt? I can imagine it is to some. Is it trash-talking? I hope not, but have understood it has come across that way. I have apologized. And moved on. I am trying to avoid getting caught up in the moment again. We want 2getthere and 2getthere employees to be seen as respectful of the competition. We don’t hate them, we don’t disrespect them either – we are just convinced our autonomous systems are better and have the arguments to prove it: performance, experience, cost of ownership, service level, capacity, commercial speed, etc.

Even when working together, we can still compete by using strengths and weaknesses to create positioning.

Give me a call

So yeah, we can compete. And work together. Also with our customers. All to speed up the maturation of the market and increase the market size. Let’s move away from generalizations and other actions that don’t do any of us any favors. We did this before through the Advanced Transit Association, which would not be a bad ‘vehicle’ (get the wordplay?) to be used again. Have a look and let me know.

Remember how ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ movie ended? For your recollection: the Bad, unwilling to work together respectfully, didn’t make it to the end – the Good and the Ugly ultimately share the pie…

Disclaimer: 2getthere’s blog is a podium to share opinions and views of our industry, products and everything related to it. And being Dutch, there’s one thing we are not shy of – having an opinion. Everybody’s got them, we just express them a little more directly. OK, a lot more directly. To the point that if you aren’t used to Dutch people being Dutch, you’d think we are plain blunt. Which is not our intent. Or sometimes it actually is, but in that case we just say we’re Dutch and couldn’t help ourselves…

This Blog has been started to provide a proper podium to share our opinion, with a little bit of humor along the way. The opinion shared is that of the author, not necessarily of the company, and is obviously completely objective and should be taken very very literally. Should you beg to differ on the view expressed, please don’t hesitate to engage and share this article with your thoughts on your social media channels: if there is one thing the Dutch appreciate it is a healthy debate – no sarcasm here.

 


BlogIT-004: PRT – A Future Solution or Relic of the Past?

The term “personal rapid transit” (PRT) has been around for decades – probably originating in the 1950s or 60s. What was meant by the term may have been unclear, however, since the Morgantown group rapid transit (GRT) system, which debuted in 1975, was called PRT. In his 1978 book “Fundamentals of Personal Rapid Transit” Jack Irving described PRT as follows:

PRT would be a public transit system of small (three- to six-passenger) vehicles travelling automatically on exclusive guideways, separated from street and pedestrian traffic. The traveler and his companions would be assigned a private vehicle, not shared with strangers, to take them on a nonstop no-transfers trip from their origin station to their destination station anywhere in a large urban area…

It has taken decades for modern systems called PRT to finally emerge and all of them stray from the above definition in some way. The Ultra PRT system in operation at Heathrow Airport and the 2getthere system at Masdar City both experience and facilitate ridesharing in peak periods. This reduces waiting and increases capacity at critical times and is an important feature not covered by Irving’s PRT definition (but addressed in his book which discusses hybrid PRT/GRT service). Furthermore, recent studies have shown organized ridesharing, including some intermediate stops, can be critical to boosting capacity in high-demand scenarios. Multiple class systems have been envisioned wherein riders can pay per vehicle to avoid sharing or intermediate stops, or per ride to save money by sharing. It has been suggested that the difference between PRT and GRT is better defined by the presence or absence of ridesharing than by vehicle size.

The Vectus PRT vehicles at Suncheon have six seats and room to accommodate an additional three standees, clearly assuming ridesharing will take place. The Mexican Modutram GRT system has an airport vehicle that allows standees and a six-seat urban vehicle that can be coupled into a two-vehicle train.

While Irving’s definition of PRT was later adopted by ATRA (with some minor changes), it is clear that modern PRT systems are finding reasons to stretch the definition. While “true” PRT systems undoubtedly have their place, it seems more likely that applications will continue to blur the boundaries between PRT and GRT. Is there a better name that will define these new systems adequately to separate them from more traditional systems and yet not be too limiting?

The City of San José coined the term “automated transit network” (ATN) in their 2012 feasibility evaluation for the San José Minéta International Airport. However, it implied that the term ATN was synonymous with PRT. In contrast, many ATRA members have come to view the acronym ATN as an umbrella term encompassing both PRT and GRT. ATN is defined by the three words in its name:

  • Automated (driverless)
  • Transit (excludes private driverless cars)
  • Network (access points are linked by a web of routes)

While on-board switching and small vehicles are attributes favored by many, they are not included in the definition of ATN. Thus both the Morgantown and Rivium GRT systems with their 20+ passenger vehicles are clearly included in the definition.

Since the definition of PRT is proving somewhat restrictive and since recently-deployed systems have not adhered well to this definition, ATRA is proposing moving towards adopting the term ATN as encompassing both PRT and GRT concepts and using this term more widely. This, however, does not in any way preclude the use of PRT or GRT when necessary to distinguish between these two modes. So, while many ATRA members may still believe PRT is an important future solution, the term ATN is gaining traction and better describes the range of technologies being deployed.

Peter Muller
ATRA President

 


BlogIT-003: The Heathrow Pod

The Heathrow pod is Ultra Global’s innovative Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system at London’s Heathrow Airport, the service provides passengers transport between the airport’s Terminal 5 and a designated business car park. The PRT system has been open since May 2011 and has carried close to a million passengers. Mark Griffiths is Ultra Global’s Head of Operations and has been in charge of the team of controllers and technicians responsible for the day to day running of the system. Some of the stats from the system include:

  • Saved 200 tonnes of Co2 from the previous bus service
  • Has taken 70,000 bus journeys off of Heathrow’s congested roads each year
  • Has been voted the best passenger service on the airport campus
  • The pods at Heathrow have travelled over 2 million autonomous kilometres

The Heathrow pod

How long is the operation at Heathrow?
We operate in line with the operating hours of the airport, the first flight out of Terminal 5 is at 0630 and the last one arrives back around 2230. As a consequence for the majority of the week we operate from 0300 in the morning to pick up the first passengers arriving at the airport and stop the service at 0100 the following night once the last passengers have arrived. If required we could operate earlier or later depending on the requirements of the airport. We use the two hour shutdown to carry out maintenance and system improvements.

How many staff are needed to operate the system at Heathrow?
There are two shifts each day and there are three people on each shift. We have a controller who spends all their time in the control room, we have a technician who spends all of their time in the workshop and then a third staff member, a controller tech who is duel skilled and can work either as a technician or a controller. In our research into future applications of the system we can confidently say that a team of three people could easily operate a system that is at least double the size of Heathrow.

What is the profile of passengers that use the system?
The Business Car Park is marketed at customers with an average occupancy of 2-3 days so generally it is business travellers who are away for a couple of days at a time. We have however noticed that different types of travellers use the system at other times. We experience miniature peaks at weekends where leisure travellers on weekend breaks park their car. Further still, during school holiday periods we have found that parents are parking in the business car parks, we imagine partly for the convenience but we believe primary because experientially the technology is exciting and is a fun way to start a holiday. We are also often visited by groups and individuals who are not actually travelling but are interested in the technology.

Heathrow pod control interface

Have the passengers reacted to the system in the way Ultra imagined?
As this was Ultra’s first system we had very open expectations about how passengers would respond to the system. In many ways they have met our expectations; the intuitive nature of the system has meant that passengers have had no trouble using the system and any issues are responded to immediately by our staff in the control room. With quite a regular customer set we have noticed the development of an unique personal rapid transit etiquette, passengers will often invite others to share pods or simply ask if they can ask to share themselves. Having monitored social media over the course of the last few years we have had a real insight into the thinking of our passengers. We are delighted to see that passengers not only appreciate the experience of using the pods but that it is delivering a positive, tangible difference in terms of the quality of service provided by the airport.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced since opening?
One of the biggest challenges is that the introduction of the PRT system in May 2011 raised the expectations of passengers hugely. Passengers who were used to waiting 10 minutes for a shuttle bus now have an average waiting time of 10-15 seconds with 80% of passenger having no wait at all. Not every passenger who rides the system will have a pod immediately available to them and it is up to us to ensure that the minority of those who have a short wait are kept informed of when the next pod will be available. We have worked hard on ensuring the processes are in place to make sure that passengers are well informed and experience the best service possible.

How will you ensure that the service continues to provide a reliable service in the future?
As a company we are dedicated to the continuous improvement of the service at Heathrow. As part of this, and in response to our experience thus far, there have been a number of improvements to the system – both in terms of software and hardware. Some examples to highlight include big improvements to how we respond to snow and ice, our designated Ice Management Vehicle was largely rebuilt during the summer of 2013. Likewise we are now on our 6th release of our software ,which includes automated recovery of the system in any instances. All of this has enabled us to provide a service that has averaged over 99% reliability over the past 32 months.

Heathrow pod station

How often are the vehicles maintained?
Part of the reason we have been able to operate with such a reliable service is that each of the vehicles are constantly feeding back diagnostic information to the control room. This includes measures such as state of charge, tyre pressure and payload – to name but a few; consequently we are able to detect and diagnose issues often before they even occur, limiting the amount of time needed to maintain the vehicles. In addition to this, all vehicles are routinely checked on a daily/weekly/monthly/six monthly and yearly basis with checks varying from visual inspections to full MOT style examinations where the vehicles are taken apart.

Can we expect any other developments at Heathrow in the next 12 months?
In the very near future we are expecting to carry our 1 millionth passenger which is a huge landmark for us and the ATN/PRT industry in general. We continue to develop the system at Heathrow – new software releases are expected in the near future and upgrades to some of the queuing lanes within the business car park which, like those at Terminal 5, will be kitted out with chargers. We are also expecting the airport to expand the Business Car Park at Terminal 5. Often on a Tuesday/Wednesday the car park reaches its 1300 space capacity, therefore the airport is looking to deck the car park and expand capacity by several hundred spaces. We are pleased with this as it proves that passengers are clearly delighted by the service provided to them.

 


BlogIT-002: On Headway Discussions – Author : Joerg Schweizer

There is nothing magical about PRT headways. The headway is the time interval between two successive vehicle noses passing by an observer who is standing beside the PRT guideway. The headway is important though, as the maximum vehicle flow (or the carrying capacity) is inversely proportional to the minimum achievable headway. What inspired people’s fantasy is that PRT’s automatically controlled vehicles could reduce headways significantly with respect to human driven cars and trains, thus boosting carrying capacity of PRT lines to a point where urban congestion problems would magically disappear, while maintaining the individual service qualities of private automobiles. This is indeed an intriguing thought, in particular when headways are close to zero seconds: while a headway reduction from 6 seconds to 3 seconds increases capacity from 600 to 1200 veh/h, a headway reduction from 1 second to 0.5 seconds ( just half a second!) would increase capacity from 3600 to 7200 veh/h.  The latter corresponds to the capacity of a freeway with 3 lanes per direction or an urban road with approximately 6 lanes per direction—a large road that could be replaced by a PRT guideway of only 1.6 to 2m width. This is why short headways have been termed as the “holy grail of PRT” and there have been endless debates on Internet sites and mailing lists on if and how PRT can achieve such short headways. The short headway discussion has even historical roots as all early, usually state financed PRT projects, aimed at developing PRT with mass transport capabilities.  This is probably why many critics have put forward extreme demand scenarios, like football stadiums or the lunch break at huge office building, claiming that these would be show-stopper applications for PRT.

MATRA ARAMIS headway

But does PRT really need very short headways in order to find useful applications? The reality is that most urban areas are served by bus lines with modest carrying capacities (an urban bus with 75 passengers each 3 minutes transports 1500 passengers per hour). A PRT system with a headway of 3 seconds and an average vehicle occupancy of 1.5 to 2.5 passengers could match such capacities, while offering a comfortable non-stop ride, higher average speeds and guaranteed arrival times.  A two-lane, urban road with  traffic lights every 500m has similar capacities. Connecting car parking into city centers is an important application that requires even lower capacities. Thus PRT is more likely to compete with the road system with medium transport capacities, rather than with high capacity metro lines.

It is always important to remember that, in contrast with conventional transit, PRT  does not require  high concentrations of people – there is no need for PRT lines to intersect at central places where passengers can transfer. Nor does PRT create high demand surges by itself as each unit has 6 passengers maximum and vehicle arrivals are rather continuous. As PRT lines cost a fraction of light rail, one would build more guideways to cover an area instead of concentrating all the demand on a few lines.  It is often argued that capacity problems may occur where PRT is used as a feeder for conventional rail stations. This is true for big metropolitan stations,  but simulation studies clearly demonstrated that  short-term demand surges caused by an arrival of a single train (or airplane) can be handled by PRT if  stations and empty vehicle depots are located at strategic places.

Nevertheless, it is also true that PRT with even shorter headways and higher capacities could conquer a larger market.  But why has no PRT with sub-second headways made it to the market? A repeatedly asked question, nourished by the fact that several sub-second headway systems have already been demonstrated to work? For example Cabin Taxi in the late 70s or the platoon of  automated cars tested during the Californian PATH project in 1997.  Surely there are many technical details to analyze, but the main problem with short headway controls has been to quantify the probability of a fatal system failure, or likewise, the mean time between unsafe failures. This probability is necessary to certify the system for public operation as well as to assess the risk and potential insurance costs involved. The mean time between unsafe failures can be extremely long, as PRT must be at least as safe as the systems it replaces or competes with. For example, a micro-processor system for vital rail applications (which consists of several redundant processor units) has a time between failure in the order of 10hours or some 114,000 years. The efforts necessary to determine the mean time between unsafe failures have been regularly underestimated. It is not sufficient to run vehicles on a demonstrator for 500,000km  or more – instead, the probability of all vital components must be known (or tested) and the consequences of their individual and combined failures must be assessed. Also software must be proven to be error proof for all possible inputs, which is challenging with increasing complexity.

Now the PRT developer has basically two options: to develop a PRT specific control systems from scratch or to assemble a control system from already safety certified components and software.  As the first option is extremely costly, current PRT manufacturers preferred to buy in all or most of the vital components. However, this choice does also limit the ability to reduce headways below certain limits, because currently available vehicle control systems have  been designed for rail systems and more recently for cyber-cars, but certainly not for PRT with very short headways in mind. This is an important fact to acknowledge, as there have been misleading discussions on what are the available “off-the-shelf” components. The state of the art in train control (Automated Train Protection, ATP) does practically not allow headways much shorter than 3s. But any progress made in control systems for trains and the automobile sector could be beneficial for PRT too.

So what conclusions can be drawn? First, short headways are important but there are many transport applications where current PRT can be employed – linking car parking, feeders for public transport hubs, airport shuttles etc. Not being able to provide sub second headways is not a show-stopper for PRT.

Second, the PRT industry is very young and relies on sub-components from control systems of already established transport systems. PRT has taken a rather normal path of transport system evolution: the first railways did not connect major cities, the first airplanes did not cross the Atlantic, and the first rockets did not orbit the earth. But each system created a need to develop specialized key components: the superheated steam engine, the light weight combustion engine (followed by the jet engine) and the predictive flight controller finally allowed the respective transport system to conquer their potential market. It remains to be seen how fast a component supply industry  for PRT will develop. But in the short term, PRT will serve the many markets where it is currently most competitive.

 


BlogIT-001: Movers and Shakers

The advanced transit industry has been in development for a long time. With the first advanced transit system being realised at West Virginia University in 1975. From this point the industry slowly started to grow. New concepts such as Cabinentaxi and PRT 2000were pioneered but never fully matured, due to their development becoming rather more expensive than expected. The vehicles became larger and heavier than intended and/or the system transforming into an APM concept.It is only by the late 90s that the industry regained some momentum. With the introduction of a next generation of group transit systems at Schiphol airport and Rivium Business Park in the Netherlands which were followed shortly by the Bristol PRT test track. The latter, in particular, raised awareness of PRT and sparked an interest in the concept – both from proponents and skeptics.

Ultra Global PRT Cardiff Test Facility

Today there are two operational PRT applications: at Masdar City (Abu Dhabi) and at Heathrow (United Kingdom) plus, of course, the original Morgantown application. A third application is moving rapidly towards its official opening at Suncheon (South Korea). These first PRT applications are the start of the accelerated growth of the industry.

With all the fuss about it, for those working in the industry, it is sometimes difficult to forget that the concept is still widely unknown. Those that have heard of PRT, have heard it all: they know the history, the details, the possibilities and the claims that are being made. They represent the famous 80/20 rule: only 20% of the people is familiar with PRT, while 80% still is unaware of the concept and the capabilities.

At this stage of the development of the industry no aspect is standardised, making it difficult for anybody not working for a developer to know all the ins-and-outs and possibilities of each concept. There is no one-size-fits-all system. There are no rules-of-thumb. So how can a consultant gain enough knowledge to be able to properly advise his customers? How can customers obtain sufficient knowledge and an independent assessment about whether advanced transit is a viable solution for their transport issue?In fact there is such a diversity in technical solutions and characteristics, that the term PRT is being used for different type of systems (high speed vs. low speed, 2 passengers vs. up to 8 passengers, short distance – as a feeder – vs. long distance) which aren’t even alternatives to each other. One of the conclusions of the recent San Jose study was that the landscape of advanced transit is not easy to comprehend with the myriad of systems available.

With the term PRT perhaps not covering the load, new vocabulary has been introduced: ranging from Pod(cars) to Automated Transit Network and CyberCars. Adding to the confusion is how the systems relate to what people already know. Is PRT or Podcars a subset of APMs (Automated People Movers)? Do they relate to the Google cars?

VECTUS Suncheon Bay Project, South Korea

This is further complicated by a heated pro-con debate. PRT evokes a love or hate relationship. With the much of the discussion taking place online, all views and opinions are available at once to those new to PRT. This first contact can seem overwhelming; PRT is either the holy grail of transportation or the biggest scam in the history of transportation. It is, as you might expect, neither.

Where is this leading? It leads to ATRA. For years ATRA has been an organisation driven by dedicated individuals believing in advanced transit and what it could contribute to society. Now ATRA is transforming into a branch organisation providing a platform for discussions on advanced transit. Its website providing unbiased and relevant information on the current capabilities. The Industry Group within ATRA has been set up with the aim to unite industry participants, whether vendors,  consultants or academics. ATRA IG strives to educate the market on the possibilities, restrictions, limitations, opportunities and characteristics of the available systems. ATRA should be a guiding force in providing knowledge, distribution, research and consultancy.

In the end it is a task for ATRA, and all those contributing to it, to create clarity. Clarity for those interested in the advanced transit. Clarity in vocabulary. Clarity in the capabilities and restrictions. Clarity on what is proven, what is in development and what is a concept. Clarity amongst the different concepts.

The industry is continuing to mature and ATRA and ATRA IG are here to drive the process.

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