Made-to-Measure Mass Transit

Driverless cars aim to give each passenger a customized ride

4 min read

A snaking array of steel pillars outside the newly renovated Terminal 5 at London's Heathrow Airport will, by the end of next year, hold up a guideway upon which little automated electric vehicles will shuttle passengers and airport workers back and forth between the terminal and a distant parking lot. In doing so, the pillars will also be supporting a transportation movement decades in the making.

The project--dubbed ULTra (Ultra Light Transport) and designed and built by Advanced Transport Systems, of Bristol, England--is but one example of a mode of quasi-public transportation known as personal rapid transit, or PRT. According to PRT purists--including the board of the Advanced Transit Association, which advocates the use of technology to solve transportation problems--this label can be applied to transit systems that have all the following characteristics: fully automated vehicles that run on a reserved guideway; small vehicles that can, like taxis, provide exclusive use for small groups or even a single passenger; nonstop service using the most direct route available; off-line way stations; and on-demand access to vehicles instead of fixed schedules [see photo, ”At Your Service”].

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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