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11185Masdar and PRT

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  • Christopher Miller
    Feb 1, 2009
      Treehugger has an article today from its reporter at the World Future
      Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi on plans for Personal Rapid Transit as a
      part of the transportation infrastructure in Masdar.


      Some very interesting comments fromt he planner being interviewed
      about the contexts where this is workable compared to mass public
      transportation, including the cultural context in Abu Dhabi. I also
      find their planned 7 m/s speed (around 25 km/h or some 15 mph) a bit
      of an eye-opener: about the same as riding a bike at a good clip.


      Abu Dhabi to Debut Personal Rapid Transit �Podcars� Later This Year
      by Jesse Fox, Tel Aviv, Israel on 02. 1.09

      BUZZ UP!

      PRT car designed by Zagato, unveiled recently at the World Future
      Energy Summit.

      The designers of Masdar City, Abu Dhabi's new post-petroleum city, are
      not bound by the usual set of rules and constraints. Money is not
      really an issue, and the political leadership is always willing to try
      out innovative ideas that the rest of the world regards as unproven,
      unorthodox or just plain fantasy.

      One of them is PRT, personal rapid transit, a system of transportation
      featuring compact, driver-less �podcars.� In Masdar, where the streets
      will be entirely free of automobiles, a network of these compact
      electric taxis will provide clean and quiet transportation to the
      city�s residents, as well as commuters. The first PRT cars are set to
      begin running later this year. Admittedly intrigued, TreeHugger sat
      down with one of the system's designers recently at the World Future
      Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi to hear more about the project.

      Luca Guala is a transportation planner with Systematica, the firm that
      drew up the plans for Masdar's PRT system. According to Guala,
      Systematica's planners spent months working with Foster + Partners,
      the city's architectural planners, to integrate sustainable transport
      solutions into the city's design.

      In addition to PRT, he says, a light rail line will snake through
      Masdar, most likely running between Abu Dhabi's international airport
      and the city center, some 20 km away. Although no cars will be allowed
      into Masdar City, nine multi-story parking lots will be scattered
      along its perimeter. Residents, commuters, visitors and buses will all
      have dedicated parking spots there, allowing them to own and use cars
      outside the city walls.

      TreeHugger: Would it be fair to describe PRT as a system of
      transportation which combines the sustainability of a light rail with
      the convenience of the private car?

      Guala: The PRT system in Masdar City will be a complementary system to
      the light rail, which will cross the city. PRT is not a system that
      can move huge masses of people, for that you need a light rail or a
      metro. A metro can move 60,000 passengers per hour � that�s equal to
      about 20 lanes of highway.

      One of the differences between car travel and public transportation is
      the experience of traveling at rush hour. On the highway, you may be
      stuck, but you�re sitting in the comfort and privacy of your car.
      Meanwhile, on the subway you're in motion, be you�re packed in with
      hundreds of other people.

      Masdar City's PRT system will have no rush hour congestion. When the
      computer sees that the network is approaching capacity, it will simply
      not allow cars to leave stations. This will not happen frequently, and
      when it does happen, passengers will be asked to wait for a few minutes.

      Generally we foresee no more than a three minutes wait for passengers
      at a station, but there may be special occasions when the wait time is
      longer. If the Rolling Stones have a concert in Masdar, an event like
      that is bound to create congestion, and you may have to wait for more
      than three minutes. But we do not expect anything like that on a
      normal workday morning. You won�t be late to work in Masdar City
      because of traffic.

      The PRT vehicles will travel at speeds of approximately 7 meters per
      second, with the longest routes in the city being perhaps 2.5 km. So
      let�s say you reach a station, wait maybe 1.5 minutes for your car to
      arrive, travel for 5 minutes if your destination is relatively far
      away, and then exit the station, which will take around a minute. So
      the longest trips in the city will be around 7, perhaps 10 minutes long.

      PRT cars will move along rights of way, approximately 6 meters under
      street level. [Masdar City�s streets will be raised off the ground,
      but buildings will be built at ground level, with the first couple of
      stories serving as basements and space for technical equipment.]

      We decided not to build elevated tracks in Masdar. Elevated tracks
      would put the cars between the first and second floors of buildings,
      and no one wants to see cars, even silent ones, zooming past their
      window. Plus a spaghetti grid network might not be so nice to look at
      from below, and could become a real visual issue in the city�s narrow

      TH: What will it be like to travel on the PRT system in Masdar?

      Guala: Passengers would descend a flight of stairs or an elevator to
      the station - perhaps an escalator in larger stations, but we decided
      to use only a few escalators, since they are more energy intensive.
      Elevators are necessary for the mobility disabled.

      You will swipe a smart card through a machine, and a welcome message
      will appear. One option is that the system will recognize you and
      greet you personally: �Good morning, where do you want to go today?�
      Perhaps the system will remember your usual path, and offer it to you
      as an option. After you click on your destination, the system will say
      something like, �Your car is arriving in 2 minutes at platform number
      3.� You may have to stand on a line, and you will be able to identify
      your car by its number.

      The second option is that you will enter your destination into the
      system when you are already sitting inside a car.

      Initially, the system will be very simple, with only a couple of
      stations. During this period, the system will function kind of like an
      elevator � you press a button and go to the third floor. Think of it
      as a horizontal lift. Later on it will be more sophisticated, and
      passengers will be able to get within 100 meters of any destination.

      The cars will not run on tracks, but will operate within a kind of
      grid network, and take the shortest paths to get where they need to
      be. The cars will have wheels, and will be battery powered.

      TH: What kind of history does PRT have in practice?

      Guala: PRT systems have had problems with things like cost overruns in
      the past. Few systems have actually been fully built and implemented.
      The one in Morgantown, West Virginia is the only one currently in
      existence. There is also one under construction inHeathrow airport in

      Morgantown was built some 30 years ago, and was extremely expensive.
      They had to invent many of the components of the system from scratch,
      including the computer system. It was a prototype in every sense.
      Today, the computerization aspect is almost trivial. If your laptop
      had been around back then, it would have been powerful enough to
      implement Morgantown�s control system.

      The only pure PRT systems going up today are the ones in Masdar and
      Heathrow � different systems which work according to similar logic.
      One of the companies involved in developing the system here in Masdar,
      2getthere, has developed a system for transporting freight containers
      in the Rotterdam port in the Netherlands that works exactly like PRT.
      In Masdar, cargo will also be transported by PRT, using special
      freight cars.

      TH: How was the system planned out?

      Guala: We used the same �predict and provide� models that are used to
      plan new roads. We had rough data about things like population size,
      arrival times, etc. We ran a few models and found that a few areas
      came out congested, so we interacted with the town planners and tried
      to get the best placement for various land uses.

      A schematic representation of a PRT system vs. monorail. Image
      courtesy ofSystematica.

      For example, something like a conference center, which attracts a lot
      of people all at once, could become a local generator of congestion.
      So we said: let�s move it slightly to the side. The end result is a
      large patchwork of land uses, with none of the city�s districts
      clearly defined by a single use, like offices, residential and so on.
      That is ideal from a transit perspective, because it diffuses demand

      In Masdar, you will be able to live very close to where you work. The
      districts will be in use at all hours. There will be nodes of activity
      at the intersections of routes, but the trick is that each nodes does
      not serve people doing the same thing and traveling at the same time �
      thus no traffic is created.

      TH: How did the specific cultural context in Abu Dhabi affect the

      Guala: Well, I am Italian. I bring with me a certain cultural model �
      namely the good parts of the Italian city. I think it is possible to
      apply the Italian city model in Abu Dhabi to a certain extent. But you
      can�t just transplant something to another culture and make it work.

      The classic Arabic city has many similarities to the Italian city.
      There was a common way of living in the Mediterranean Basin, in
      Christian as well as Muslim areas. From a town planner�s perspective,
      the classic Arabic �medina� [dense Middle Eastern city with narrow
      streets and interior courtyards] and Venice are similar. Masdar City
      takes its inspiration more from the Arabic medina than from the
      Italian city.

      There are other cultural preferences involved here as well. People in
      Europe are used to taking public transport. It�s not necessarily like
      that here. Plus there is more sensitivity here to the privacy of the
      family, which led us to suggest a different kind of system, more
      suited to the local cultural context.

      TH: Is PRT cost-efficient?

      Guala: This will be an expensive system. It has to be that way,
      because it�s a prototype. From an energy perspective it�s extremely
      cost-efficient, which is what Masdar [the Masdar Initiative is the
      corporate body that is building Masdar City] wants. The maintenance of
      a system like this is more expensive than that of a system based on
      buses, but the level of service is absolutely unreachable by other
      forms of public transportation.

      The huge advantage of PRT is that it is �on demand,� including during
      off-peak hours. During peak hours, PRT is less efficient than public
      transport. But PRT is a 24-hour service, just as available during off-
      peak hours as it is during peak hours. This is much more efficient
      than running empty buses all night. There are advantages in terms of
      personal security as well � no long waits in the middle of the night,
      for example.

      I don�t really know about the financial aspects in detail, it�s not
      really part of our job as planners. It is technically possible to
      cover costs with ticket fees. A fee roughly equivalent to the cost of
      a taxi ride would cover the costs of the system. There is a huge
      investment cost in a system like this, but after it is prototyped, the
      costs will come down. The actual cost of PRT is lower than the costs
      for a light rail of the same capacity.

      TH: What kind of prospects are there for PRT in other places?

      Guala: There is a lot of interest in PRT right now, especially in new
      developments. In existing cities it�s a bit trickier to make it work.
      The optimum place for a system like PRT could be in smaller towns and
      in contained, controlled environments, like hospitals, universities,
      new business districts, places like that.


      Christopher Miller
      Montreal QC Canada

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