Invasion of the Pod, People?

If certain advocates have their way, Ithaca, N.Y., could someday be home to a "pod car" system. Based on this New York ...
by | September 23, 2008

Podcar_2 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 destinations.

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.

At 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 Kooky and outdated?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)

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