PRT; What’s the Problem?

PRT; What’s the Problem?


John Hawthorne, SKM Colin Buchanan


Personal Rapid Transit has progressed from science fiction to hardware and systems in regular public service. But despite enthusiastic promotion, PRT is still a niche mode. What lessons can be learned from systematic comparison with other modes?


Personal Rapid Transit has now progressed from science fiction to technically proven hardware and systems in regular public service. But despite enthusiastic promotion by suppliers, PRT has yet to become a mainstream transport option. Is PRT a solution looking for a problem?

Transport systems are only successful if they meet user requirements at an acceptable cost. PRT is based on an innovative combination of technical features, which offer the potential to address different types of user and patterns of demand. Each transport mode has a specific set of characteristics, and these determine the situations in which it performs most effectively. By examining shared and distinctive characteristics, it is possible to identify how these characteristics relate both to cost and user requirements; and how lessons learned with one mode might be applied to others.

This paper presents a systematic comparison of the emerging characteristics of PRT against other modes to consider and where possible identify:

- What lessons can PRT suppliers and promoters learn from other transport modes?
- What advantages can PRT offer in comparison with other modes?
- What is holding back wider implementation of PRT?
- What are the most promising situations for PRT implementation?
- How might future developments in technology enable wider introduction of PRT?

Specific topics considered include:

- The automation/segregation dilemma – does one imply the other?
- Matching supply and demand – coping with peaks and excess
- Station optimisation – how many, how big?
- Retro-fitting vs greenfield sites – what works where?
- Forecasting pitfalls – pushing models to the limit?
- Supervision, security and control – how much and by whom?


Association for European Transport