Personal Rapid Transit


Heathrow Airport, London ULTra PRT system. Image: Martin Lowson, ULTra PRT


At the dawn of the computer age, in the mid-20th century, Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) was envisioned as a small, computer-controlled driverless transit vehicle that would provide excellent timely transit service in lower density environments. Its considerable cost put the PRT system out of favor with transportation professionals for several decades, but now the timing is right for a second look.

First implemented at West Virginia University in the 1970s and still in operation today, the University’s PRT system has moved millions of passengers to date. London’s Heathrow Airport recently introduced a PRT system that links parking to the international terminal. San Jose, California’s recently renovated Mineta airport is planning for a PRT system to link the airport with new development—exploring the relatively new urban form known as the Aerotropolis—and linking to the other types of transportation in the region, such as Caltrain, light rail, and buses. PRT is an ideal conduit with which to connect and interconnect existing systems.

PRT gets lots of credit for its greener aspects: since the vehicles are so small, the energy source can be solar, and other alternative energy sources can also be used. Since PRT and its stations are small and compact, it has less impact on the pedestrian nature of a community.

A PRT system in Suncheon Bay, South Korea, recently became fully operational and several cities and towns in England and India are planning to implement the new technology soon. Many other systems are in the planning stage around the United States and world.