The most relevant comparisons are with the Edinburgh Tram, as this is one of the latest technology systems, and the Cambridge Guided Bus, the latest UK guided bus scheme, both chosen to reduce congestion in city centres and provide improved public transport.
Firstly, comparing the infrastructure for each; the Edinburgh Tram has caused enormous disruption during its installation, which has been ongoing for many years. All underground services have had to be to re-routed away from the trackbed, which has to be level and able to support axle weights in excess of 10 tonnes. For most of the Cambridge Guided Bus’s route, it follows a dedicated concrete guideway along the route of the old railway, which has been costly to bring up to a suitable standard. After leaving the guideway, the bus travels along a dedicated bus lane, before the last part of its journey where it has no priority and has to share the road with all other traffic, thus negating some of the advantages of the dedicated guideway.
In contrast, BeemCar has its own RoW, as it passes harmlessly over the top of existing traffic, with no effect on existing road or rail traffic. It needs only support posts, which can be installed without major disruption to traffic. This means that the space below BeemCar does not need even to be level or firm, and it can be used for other purposes.
Moreover, Tram and Guided Bus routes are restricted, as it is not possible for them to share some of the single lane, single carriageway urban ‘A’ roads with the existing road traffic. Indeed, the Edinburgh Tram route deviates away from well populated roads to share the local rail corridor, as it cannot pass down Corstorphine Road. This means there is no public access down this stretch, which severely reduces the number of potential passengers and their access to the route. In contrast, BeemCar operates 5m above the existing traffic, and can be easily routed along single lane, single carriageway urban ‘A’ roads, without affecting the traffic below or reducing the width of the road, with as many stops as required set to meet passenger demand.
In addition, the routes of both the Tram and Guided Bus are very restricted as they are unable to tackle steep gradients, unlike BeemCar, which can tackle inclines in excess of 30º, which in Edinburgh, would mean BeemCar could easily be extended into the old part of the city. In the Cambridgeshire countryside where the buses are restricted to the concrete guideway built on the old rail trackbed, BeemCar’s flexibility would enable it to be rerouted across fields to link more villages en route into Cambridge, compared to the few, dedicated rural stops that the Guided Bus provides.
With an aging population and the need to cater for all passengers with disabilities, it is important to make adequate provision to meet these needs. Also important, is to provide for the cyclists, who are growing in numbers, which often involves taking bicycles on public transport. However, there is a growing problem in that trains, buses and trams will generally limit wheelchairs and bicycles, sometimes to one per vehicle, and often that has to be pre-booked. In contrast, all BeemCar pods will be able to transport a wheelchair, bicycle or mobility scooter, with accompanying passengers.
Unlike the Tram and Guided Bus that operate to fixed timetables, BeemCar is demand-led, which means that a pod will arrive in a short time, if there is not one waiting already. Moreover, most urban train and bus services do not operate through the night, with a reduced weekend service, whereas BeemCar is available 24/7 and it is autonomous with no drivers.
Cost is another important difference; the Tram is costing over $1.2bn, with a route shortened by a third, which works out at nearly $100m per km, whereas BeemCar’s costs will be less than a sixth of the cost of the tram for a twin beam installation. Spending the $1.2bn on BeemCar could have provided a 120km network where more than 100 times more of the population would have been within a 5 minute walk of a stop.
Guided Bus is seen as a cheap option compared to trams, with similar costs to BeemCar, but with much lower capacity, restricted services and a lack of flexibility. As it still has to share the final part of its route with other road users, it could be considered to be just an expensive way of jumping to the front of the traffic queue. Operating costs of BeemCar are less than a quarter of those for Guided Bus.
Indications are that a well run BeemCar system will make a profit, which is possible as operating costs are much less than those of bus and train operators. Moreover, a flat fee per pod will encourage greater sharing, leading to better fleet utilisation, especially as BeemCar pods only run empty for relocation, unlike trains and buses that have to be driven to fixed timetables by paid drivers, irrespective of passenger demand.
More importantly, providing an improved integrated passenger service would release subsidies that, together with profits from BeemCar, could then be used to improve services in rural areas, which suffer from a blight of good transport. In turn, this will reduce the dependence of the rural population on automobiles, thus reducing urban congestion.
BeemCar would provide feeders in and out of stations, terminals and park and ride facilities, and act as an urban circulator, linking into business parks, retail centres and residential areas, based on passenger demand, without compromising the environment or other public transport systems. This would help to provide a better all round service that would significantly relieve congestion, as people should no longer need to bring their automobiles into the city centres. A win-win situation for all concerned.
There have been a number of pertinent studies looking at the impact of podcars. In 2008, Frost and Sullivan published a very telling report ‘Executive Analysis of the Global Emergence of Personal Rapid Transit Systems Market’, which concluded that there would be significant PRT sales of smaller airport type systems in the next 5 years, and in the next 10 years, sales would expand into new eco towns and urban city developments. Also in 2008, SIKA (Swedish Institute for Transport and Communications Analysis) produced a report ‘Evaluation of Podcars Systems’, concluding:
“Podcars systems could contribute greatly to the fulfilment of the transport policy objectives, including reduced emissions of carbon dioxide. Our assessment shows that both local systems and large interregional systems may prove economically viable and profitable. The benefits of the system increase with the size of the network, as a large network increases the opportunity for travel. A large network also reduces the need to switch between different modes of transport.”
“The podcar system also seems to be able to offer great accessibility to the elderly, children and people without a driving license. The environmental benefits allow the system to be situated close to residential areas or commercial centres, which would allow more densely populated urban areas (reducing urban sprawl).”
“The largest interest in podcar development exists in our middle-sized towns and some smaller municipalities. In general tram lines are seen as being too expensive for the traveller base in these towns and podcar systems are regarded as offering a higher level of service and accessibility around the clock.”
In 2011, Professor Alain Kornhauser Ph. D & ORF 467 of the Department of Operations, Research and Financial Engineering, Princeton University published a 318 page study that had been carried out by his department looking at future transport in New Jersey. The study was titled ‘Personal Rapid Transit – A Transportation Plan for New Jersey‘. The following statement from the report summarises the outcome, based on using the ULTra PRT system:
“1.4 What might a PRT Network in New Jersey Look Like?
In the report below, we detail a county-by-county breakdown of what a PRT network that could serve New Jersey might look like. This network has a total of 10,076 miles of guideway and 9,281 unique stations, and it could be built over a 20-year period for a cost of $110.7 billion.”
This works out at approximately $11m/mile.
There are 3 certificated low capacity PRT systems of which ULTra is one, but they all operate in fairly benign environments, shuttling between 2 stations, with a headway of 3 seconds that severely reduces their potential capacity. BeemCar is completely different in that it is being developed in an urban environment and will be certificated with a 0.5 second headway, which means high capacity, and as such, it will be attractive to planners in urban conurbations.
BeemCar is unique and offers much better value for money to town planners when compared with trams and buses, and given the potential world-wide need for improved transport systems, there is scope for sales worth billions. Moreover, if systems are provided on a turnkey basis (a service contract with the operator owning the infrastructure and rolling stock), there is scope to increase sales by operating and upgrading systems. Also, given the Masdar experience for a car-free, zero-carbon city, BeemCar should be the first choice for any country building completely new eco towns and cities. Overall, the world-wide market is huge and will remain so for many decades.
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