If certain advocates have their way, Ithaca, N.Y., could someday be home to a "pod car" system. Based on this New York Times description, it sounds like something straight outta Epcot:
Pod cars are computer-driven electric vehicles that run on a
monorail-like loop, usually suspended above roads, with stops at major
The power source varies from system to system;
sometimes the cars carry batteries, and sometimes the power is in the
guideway system. At each station, commuters can summon the car like an
elevator, then type in their destination. The cars vary in size but
hold an average of four people, and might cost users 50 cents to $1.50
per trip. Because pod cars are lightweight and do not make unnecessary
stops, they are more energy-efficient than cars and mass-transit
systems like buses.
Great goals, obviously. But there are some pretty great obstacles, too:
Getting it up and running would cost about $100 million and would
require funds from a variety of sources, including the federal
government, research grants and private investment.
Critics say pod cars may sound cool, but in reality they'd require huge, ugly overhead guideways that would put a "lid" on city streets and discourage pedestrian activity.
Most interestingly, though, is that the U.S. already has one pod-car system:
One was built at West Virginia University in Morgantown in the late 1970s.
the time, federal transportation officials considered it a difficult
and expensive project, said Christopher Perkins, chief executive of
UniModal Transport Solutions, a pod car developer in Irvine, Calif.,
who was at last week's conference. "People thought it wasn't going to
work," he said.
But it still operates today, transporting 16,000 passengers a day, and has never experienced a major accident, Mr. Perkins said.
Here's a video about West Virginia University's system. What do you think? Kooky and outdated? Or progressive and ahead of its time?
Image at top: An artists' rendering of what a pod-car system in Seattle might look like. (source)
Zach Patton -- Executive Editor. Zach has written about a range of topics, including social policy issues and urban planning and design. Originally from Tennessee, he joined GOVERNING as a staff writer in 2004. He received the 2011 Jesse H. Neal Award for Outstanding Journalism
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