South Bay considering pod travel

December 15, 2008 2:03:22 PM PST
The future of big city mass transit may be a lot of tiny pods rather than giant trams - pods that you summon whenever you need them. Silicon Valley is considering building just such a system because it's both convenient and green.

Personal Rapid Transportation, or P.R.T., are automated, on-demand vehicles, or pods, taking you where you want to go on a network of stations. Advanced Transport Systems is building one at England's London-Heathrow airport terminals, to be ready for use in 2009. A.T.S. is also pitching to build pods in the cities of Santa Cruz and San Jose.

"It sounds like the future may have arrived," said Laura Stuchinksy, San Jose Dept. of Transportation.

Laura Stuchinksy is a sustainability officer for San Jose's Department of Transportation. She and other city officials are considering the idea of having such a public pod system link the Mineta San Jose International Airport with area businesses, hotels and other nearby transit options, like Caltrain, BART and the VTA Light Rail.

"One of the advantages of this automated transit network is that it offers a lot of flexibility. It's much less expensive than traditional transit. It doesn't serve the same needs as high-speed rail or BART. It's a complement to those systems," said Stuchinsky.

The city is in the exploratory stages of a public-private partnership, reviewing proposals from 18 companies from Silicon Valley and around the world. A four-person pod would travel on elevated guide-ways, about 15-feet above the ground. The cost would be about four-cents a mile.

"In three years, we could deploy out 20 percent, take 20 percent of the cars off the road, and save the average working family $2,000 a year," said Bill James, JPods founder and president

James says the idea of driverless pods has been around for decades, but so far, the only existing, functioning example in the world is an eight-mile network built in the 1970s to move people around the West Virginia University campuses. James believes innovation has advanced to the point where pods are a viable solution for relieving congestion, and reducing pollution and the nation's reliance on oil.

"Cars have a 97 percent market-share of trips in the U.S.," said James.

San Jose is anticipating population growth of a half million people over the next 30 years, so an automated pod transit system could certainly improve quality of life in the city - plus generate thousands more clean-tech jobs -- an opportunity that the JPods company is vying for:

"We'll do it on our nickel. We'll build this on private capital. We just need right-of-way," said Bill James, JPods.

www.jpods.com/