London Heathrow and Masdar City are both set to become the modern test for a very interesting transportation system called Personal Rapid Transit, or PRT. This system is one right out of science fiction, and really seems to make a lot of sense. According to Wikipedia's entry on the subject, this sort of transit system is one that carries passengers from point to point, but in a way that is far more effective than a regular bus or light rail line. While it's not as mobile as a network of automobiles, in that it runs on a track, it brings passengers directly form point to point in individual vehicles.
This isn't a concept that is new, even if it sounds and looks like something from the future. In 1975, Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit of West Virginia University, has been operational since 1975. This system was designed to link together West Virginia University, and was built as a demonstration of the system. Linked together with five seperate stations, MPRT covers almost nine miles, and transports almost 16,000 riders per day, who largely fund the system through a cheap fare. This system is apparently not a true Personal Rapid Transit system because it does have set stations and a schedule during peak hours, while it can take people directly to destinations on off-peak hours.
The systems that London and Masdar City are planning are true systems, guided by automated systems that will carry passengers directly to their destinations. In London, the system will connect a parking lot to one of the terminals, while in Abu Dhabi, cars will be banned from the city, leaving this to be the only transportation system, along with light rail service. There are apparently other systems planned in Europe, as well as one in Santa Cruz, California.
I really like this idea, and I think that it can be successful, and a good alternative to mass transit in large urban areas. The system helps to undercut some of the main problems with mass transit, such as delays, busy schedules and breakdowns that affect whole lines by creating a very versatile network that can cut down on transit time for commuters. There are obvious problems with this system, especially in highly developed cities. It would be a massive undertaking for most places to establish an additional transportation system in pre-existing routes that are already likely in heavy use. Projects such as London Heathrow make sense because there won't be a dependency on preexisting roads and rails, and there is a bit of space in which to build this. I have a very hard time seeing a city such as New York or London proper adopting something like this simply because of the infrastructure costs associated with it.
But there are major benefits as well. These systems are environmentally friendly, essentially pay for themselves through commuter costs, and would be much more comfortable and direct as opposed to subway and bus systems in cities. Plus, it looks like a very cool system. The London cars that are being put into service look sleek and exciting, almost as if they have jumped from the pages of a science fiction novel or film. Furthermore, they are run on a computer network, which could likely locate a destination and origin, and plot the most effective route. With other cars in the system under the same control, it seems likely that there would be little problems with traffic or congestion as a computer would likely be able to control everything in the system. They would even be able to keep the cars apart, and this would go a long way towards preventing accidents that are inevitable in the roadways now.