Advantage 1: Lightweight, Low-Cost, Elevated Guideway
One significant problem faced by most public transit systems is the cost of infrastructure. Light rail track costs $50 million per mile or more. Most PRT systems (e.g. UltraPRT) use guideway with costs starting at $8 million per mile. These high prices can make it difficult to deploy a system initially and can make fares uncomfortably high without substantial subsidies.
EcoPRT has a target cost for guideway at $1 million per mile. This number can be achieved through cost-saving measures such as: 1) light weight vehicles, 2) narrow vehicles, meaning narrow guideway and 3) single-vehicle-per-segment control strategies. This combination keeps guideway weight low, meaning that it can be hung on inexpensive, easily installed poles. A modular approach allows quick, easy installation of elevated guideway on the poles. EcoPRT’s approach also allows for easy guideway disassembly and relocation as the system evolves.
Eric Lamb, Manager of Transportation Planning for the City of Raleigh:
“Due to the small footprint of the vehicle (in-line seating) and low weight, there could be significant cost savings in building an elevated guideway when compared to other types of fixed guideway systems.”
Advantage 2: Lightweight, Low-Cost Two-Passenger Vehicles
The weight of a light rail train easily exceeds 100,000 pounds, requiring massive structures for elevated track. However, that track sits idle 99% of the time because trains pass by each point of track at intervals of 10 minutes or more.
In the EcoPRT architecture, extremely lightweight vehicles weighing less than 1,000 pounds utilize the guideway with headways as short as 1.5 seconds. Passengers sit in tandem, meaning that the vehicles are narrow (e.g. 40 inches wide). Hundreds of these lightweight, inexpensive vehicles replace a single light rail train.
EcoPRT vehicle compared to automobile.
The advantages of this approach are numerous. From a guideway perspective, the light weight, narrow footprint and low instantaneous loading caused by a single EcoPRT vehicle means that the guideway weight and cost fall significantly. The guideway utilization rate is much higher with EcoPRT, while the load on a single segment is very low.
Dr. Larry Silverberg, associate chair of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at NC State:
“Automation keeps the vehicles adequately spaced, which is necessary to keep the loads on the roadway at a minimum, eliminates the need for manual operation, so it allows for intelligent routing and efficient use of the roadway…”
Vehicles will use off-the-shelf components and a lightweight design to keep up-front vehicle cost as well as maintenance costs low. The target vehicle price is $10,000 or less.
Advantage 3: Small Footprint Guideway
The narrow dimensions of the EcoPRT vehicle enable a narrow guideway. The guideway is supported by poles spaced 50 to 100 ft apart resulting in a a very small footprint on the ground. This means that EcoPRT guideway can fit into many existing rights of way including: roadsides, medians, green ways and power line easements. The impact on the ground is no different from an existing string of telephone poles along the side of the road – a very common feature in any urban or suburban setting.
Eric Lamb, Manager of Transportation Planning for the City of Raleigh:
“In terms of environmental impact, Seth and Marshall wish to develop a system with a small physical footprint that would fit within existing road public street rights-of-way. If legal liability and encroachment details can be worked out, this could be a very plausible idea.”
Advantage 4: PRT Convenience
EcoPRT takes advantage of many of the convenience and efficiency features found in the PRT genre. These features include:
- Fully automated vehicles
- Vehicles waiting at each station for immediate boarding
- Point-to-point routing – the passenger travels from starting point to destination without any intermediate stops at irrelevant stations.
- No stopping means much quicker transit from point A to point B.
- Numerous, small, convenient, inexpensive stations located throughout the system’s range.
Advantage 5: Low Cost Per Mile
Because vehicles, guideways and stations are all designed with low cost in mind, the amortized cost per mile traveled for the integrated system is low. The low cost means one of two things, depending on the intent of the EcoPRT system being installed:
If the intent is to provide free or low-cost travel (e.g. on a college campus, a corporate campus, an amusement park or an urban area), the subsidized cost of installation and operation will be much lower than competing systems.
If the intent is to provide a for-profit transportation system, the cost per mile as reflected in the passenger fare will be low. The fare price will be a function of these amortized costs:
- Station cost = cost of station construction and maintenance
- Guideway cost = Cost of guideway, installation, maintenance
- RightOfWay cost = cost of any right of way access in the system that is not free
- Vehicle cost = up-front purchase cost for the vehicle plus lifetime maintenance costs
- Energy cost = cost of electricity to run the system
- Overhead cost = cost of insurance, administration, billing, security, etc.
The target for the fare is approximately 50 cents per mile – matching the federal mileage reimbursement rate for automobiles, with an additional nominal charge for setup and the two stations used in the trip.
By keeping the cost per mile for the complete system in line with existing automotive costs, and by additionally eliminating parking costs, it should be easy for riders to choose to use EcoPRT.
Dr. John Stone, Civil Engineering Professor at NC State:
“As a faculty member in Civil Engineering who specializes in transportation engineering, urban transportation, and land use, I believe their concept is a novel combination of existing technologies for a relatively inexpensive autonomous transit system.”
Advantage 6: Fares Reimburse Guideway and Station Costs
In a for-profit installation of EcoPRT, the passenger fare completely covers the amortized cost of guideway and stations. Therefore, if a private developer or business interest (e.g. shopping mall, office complex, etc.) wishes to connect into an existing EcoPRT system, they may do so with the understanding that the cost of their infrastructure will be reimbursed over time through rider fares.
Advantage 7: Organic, Market-Driven Growth
In a for-profit installation of EcoPRT, imagine the following situation: A college campus with 20,000 students has installed an EcoPRT system to provide transit on campus and to surrounding student apartments in the area. Because 20,000 students have access to the system, a local bar/restaurant district in the area may have a strong financial incentive to install guideway and a station that connects into the campus system. They can do this with the knowledge that the fare structure will help to reimburse the cost of the new infrastructure.
A local shopping mall might have the same incentives. Now that the bars/restaurants and the mall connect to the system, a local hotel cluster may wish to connect in order to provide additional entertainment options for hotel guests. A local office complex may wish to connect to gain easy access to the hotels. And so on. Once a small seed system exists with ridership, there are natural market forces that would encourage the system to expand for economically valuable reasons. A positive feedback loop is established that causes the system to spread naturally throughout a region.
John Kane, CEO of Kane Realty (owners of North Hills Shopping Center)
“If there was confidence in the development community that a PRT system could offload parking demand, developers could be another key stakeholder in funding such a system.”
Advantage 8: ADA and Federal compliance
EcoPRT is being designed from the ground up with compliance with both American Disabilities Act and current federal regulations.
Vehicle and fixed guideway systems are regulated under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. CFR659, entitled “RAIL FIXED GUIDEWAY SYSTEMS; STATE SAFETY OVERSIGHT”, describes the safety regulations to operate a fixed rail, personal rapid transit system. Furthermore, low speed vehicles are defined under CFR Part 571, FEDERAL MOTOR VEHICLE SAFETY STANDARDS. Initially, EcoPRT’s vehicle will be limited to 25 mph but as PRT systems mature, we expect those speed limits to increase.
ADA regulations are covered under 49CFR37, “TRANSPORTATION SERVICES FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES (ADA).” EcoPRT’s stations and vehicles will be wheelchair accessible.