What is Personal Rapid Transit?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Personal rapid transit (PRT) is an automated people-mover system providing public transportation between key locations in an area like a city or airport complex. It can be energy efficient and cost effective when designers establish a good working system with logical routes. People may also use terms like personal automated transport (PAT) or podcars to refer to personal rapid transit. A number of companies design such systems.

Personal rapid transit may move quicker than a taxi cab.
Personal rapid transit may move quicker than a taxi cab.

In personal rapid transit systems, people enter a car capable of holding between two and six people. The car is automated, with no driver or internal controls. Once people are on board, it leaves the stop or station and moves continuously to the next destination, where it stops to offload and take on more passengers. The system may run on overhead tracks or roads, or dedicated paths, so it does not conflict with traffic and can travel without needing to stop.

Speeds vary, but these systems generally move more quickly than walking and can be faster than buses and taxis. Sometimes people have to take slightly circuitous routes to get to specific points, but the rapid timing makes up for it. The system may be free of charge to promote public use of transit, or could charge a small fee. Many systems accommodate the use of passes and other tools to allow people to enter and exit quickly.

This form of public transit can bridge a gap between buses and trains on the one hand, and taxis and private vehicles on the other. Running numerous small cars on a regular schedule can be a cost effective way to move people around and may discourage the use of private cars, especially for short journeys. Running buses over the same route might not be feasible on that schedule, but the use of energy efficient automated cars with a small capacity can be appropriate.

One application for personal rapid transit is in airports, where people need to get around the airport, as well as between long-term parking and terminals. Some buses run shuttles, but a personal rapid transit system can be faster than shuttles, in addition to more efficient, thus cutting costs for the airport. While the initial installation costs are high, the investment pays for itself in the long term. Governments may offer grants to airports considering this option, creating an incentive to implement better transportation at the airport and attract travelers as well as airlines selecting hubs.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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