Post by Nick Chu
A couple days ago a reader sent us a link to a proposed aerial PRT transit system called the SkyTran.
At first glance, it looks kinda cool and sorta stands out from some of its PRT counterparts — its got a slick futuristic vehicle design; it’s suspended on lightweight tracks and it was co-developed by a very credible organization, NASA’s Ames Research Centre.
And unlike some other conceptual PRT systems, there’s even better news — it might actually get built! Tel Aviv announced its intentions to be the first city to construct a fully functional line by 2014!
This got me thinking, maybe those genius scientists at NASA finally figured out a way to solve mass transit and traffic gridlock! Amazing! Right?!
Well unfortunately the initial excitement kinda wears off quickly when you realize that a functioning prototype has yet to be built — even though the concept was proposed over 20 years ago. Now this is not atypical of new transit technologies, but when you start analyzing the numbers and proposals, the SkyTran really starts to look like another one of those pie in the sky ideas.
The SkyTran makes similar claims found in almost all other “revolutionary” transport technologies, you know — high safety, quick travel times, low implementation costs, quick construction times, high sustainability and etc etc.
Some of the basic stats I’ve been able to find online are:
- Maximum speed: 150km/h (though SkyTran admits it will be much slower during initial operations)
- Cost: ~$8 million/km
- Station spacing: 400m
- Vehicle capacity: 2 persons per pod
- Energy usage: Neutral, once solar panels installed on guideways
Now based off these numbers, there doesn’t seem that there’s anything particularly exceptional — except maybe the energy neutrality part. But perhaps the most unimpressive thing is that the 2 person capacity pods basically means that line capacities will probably be so low that it won’t make much of a difference — unless you build dozens of these lines.
And here is where the concept breaks down for me (there are other aspects but I won’t go into them for brevity reasons): they claim the system will operate like a taxi! And this statement was made after proposing a $50 million, 6.4km network in Tel Aviv that only connects Atidim Park and Tel Aviv University.
So in other words, unless the City spends hundreds of millions of dollars on criss-crossing Tel Aviv with whole bunch of SkyTran lines, you’re essentially left with an incredibly expensive yet poorly connected aerial taxi.
And at this point, it makes you wonder. What’s the point in installing something like this when Nissan just announced their intentions of introducing the world’s first self-driving cars in just 7 years. And that’s not even the best part: Nissan estimates that they can transform your regular car into an autonomous one for a bank-breaking $1000.
Now you be the judge: $50 million for a shiny elevated SkyTran line? Or maybe just automate 50,000 taxis/cars to improve traffic flow?
I know which one I’d choose.
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