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San Jose takes a look at pod car system

June 2, 2010 7:47:13 PM PDT
San Jose could become the first city in the United States to put in what's commonly known as a "pod car system." The cutting edge transportation technology is now carrying passengers at London's Heathrow Airport and San Jose is studying if pod cars would make sense here.

A promotional video from the pod car company Ultra PRT shows its system at work at London's Heathrow Airport. Still in the testing phase, it will open officially sometime this summer.

The fully automated, zero-emission, elevated electric transit system lets passengers pick a destination, and takes them directly there. It travels non-stop at 25 mph.

"For Silicon Valley, it's like a packet-switched people mover. It's like the Internet for people," says Steve Raney, an Ultra senior staffer.

San Jose is thinking about bringing pod cars to the Bay Area to link the ever-expanding airport with Caltrain and future BART stations, light rail, the convention center, and possibly office parks and retail centers.

The VTA just dedicated $4 million for a feasibility study.

Laura Stuchinsky is the sustainability officer for San Jose's Department of Transportation.

"We're going to do an analysis in the next nine months that will give us an in-depth analysis of the technology. Is it really ready? And also feasibility financially and see if we can operate and build the system and not put VTA or San Jose in the hole," says Stuchinsky.

Stuchinsky says if the answers are yes, the next phase will be designing a system and selecting a vendor.

UK-based Ultra shows its system in an animation, but there are other companies out there. San Jose estimates the cost at $200 million, which is much cheaper than a $600 million estimate for an underground people-mover.

In October, San Jose will host an international pod car conference. The city thinks there's more than a transit opportunity here and that the Silicon Valley could become the global center for commercializing this new technology.

"It's a highly automated system that requires a lot of computing power and we are central for computer and information technology and the human computer interface. Those are all things that Silicon Valley does par excellence," says Stuchinsky.

Passengers could be riding pod cars in San Jose as early as 2015.


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