Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend the Sustainable Transportation conference here in Ithaca. While not able to be in attendance the whole time, I thought I would share with you some of my experiences. I'm very new to the 'podcar' or 'prt (personal rapid transit)' idea, so my aim is to communicate what I learned to people with my level of understanding. Certainly, I'm no expert in mass transit of any kind, let alone this new wave of personalized mass transit.
Let's clarify a few things first:
What is a podcar or PRT? is a form of
- A podcar or personal rapid transit (PRT) is a form of public transportation with individual cars that ride on a guided rail. They operate on electricity and function similar to an elevator or a driverless taxi. Individuals wait at a station until a podcar arrives, climb in (up to 5 people can ride according to panels held at Podcar: Ithaca), and press a button indicating where you would like to travel. Without repeated stops to pick up others, like a subway or bus, the podcar would take you directly to your destination. In this way, the podcar system is much more personal than other forms of mass transit where you must share a space with at least 50 other people you may or may not know.
Who came to this conference?
- This conference was attended by people from all over the world. I met people from the Netherlands and Sweden who were already implementing the podcar system and praising its successes. I also attended a panel that was moderated by someone very familiar with current automobile design, who talked about the difficulties of getting Americans and other cultures to embrace any form of mass transit system.
Okay, now on to the meat of the issue. In the parts of the conference that I attended, I heard about using Second Life, an interactive virtual world, to understand the technical aspects of building a podcar in a given city, and also using it to address the concerns of the citizenry affected by the new podcar system. As a geologist, this was really interesting to me, because the computer programmer giving the talk said she uploaded ACTUAL TOPOGRAPHIC DATA from the US Geological Survey to recreate the terrain of the town, and then used digital images like those from GoogleEarth for landuse data. The recreation of the town depicted was amazing, and showed architects the best way to build the potential podcar. Adding a podcar element to the virtual town, the computer programmer could then take the program to a town hall meeting and address concerns of visual pollution, how the podcar system would work, where it would run, etc., etc., with actual images that townspeople could relate to.
I also attended a panel that was full of creativity. Concerns of whether to call the system podcar (to relate to current cars) or PRT (negative connotations of mass transit) were discussed, as well as the status symbol of owning a car both here and abroad. Ideas were tossed around about personalizing the inside of podcars with something similar to an ipod that would automatically reset radio dials, greet you, and possibly even change the color of the outside of the podcar! I told you, some of these ideas were very creative.
Where do I stand? I think it's a neat idea, and I'm excited that we, as Americans, are beginning to look into alternatives. Plus, they look a little like roller coasters, and I love thrill rides. Is this the right idea for Ithaca? Perhaps it would be a cost effective solution for getting college students up and down the hill without running large buses up and down repeatedly, and would clear up congestion around the Commons. I do think that it is something that large cities without subways in place already may wish to look into, and podcar is a pretty cool, futuristic name! If podcars did come to Ithaca, I'd certainly go for a ride!
for more information on cost/etc of podcars, I found this blog. You can be your own judge. Happy trails!