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MIND X

Public Rapid Transport (PRT) London Heathrow

Last night, I attended an inspirational talk given by Professor Martin Lowson (Developer at NASA) and Malcolm Buchanan informing us on why this relatively new transportation system will be successful for connecting the users of the business class car park to Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. The system known as  ‘ULTra’ (Urban Light Transport) is an innovative form of Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) which emerged from a fundamental reappraisal of the transport needs of a city, the priority needs being less emissions/cleaner, security, reliability and experience.  An informative and enthusiastic speech delivered with clarity and insight, this was an exciting presentation for those of us who often imagine what the future will look like. What I find interesting about these projects is the time from concept to completion, they can take years to fully realise, what they’re developing now can take up to thirty years before they’re being planned for construction. Theory on transport infrastructure was discussed concentrating on cities, namely the pros and cons of current systems Shanghai has to offer and and the success of reduced car traffic congestion in Durham.  The PRT system being implemented at Heathrow is essentially a driver-less taxi service.  

The ULTra system consists of small, lightweight, computer-driven electric vehicles running on slender, special-purpose guideways which looks like something from the Total Recall film set.  Given it’s location and set up cost leads me to thinking this is as a higher-end/niche service or novelty tailored for the jet set bourgeoisie (ok maybe that’s a bit too far) but the crux is, that it’s a service that would be most effective at places like airports, larger hospital complexes and Olympic/FIFA World Cup events or similar.  While some baffling questions were poised at the Q&A from some audience attendees who had clearly missed the point, I was deciphering the information and differentiating it from other modes of transport and why is it better for it’s location.  For me the clear advantages are that it is fast (lowers stress levels) punctual and fun (not that I’ve actually experienced it…yet) you get the idea.  Lastly, something that wasn’t unearthed was the cost, as a private company, I would imagine BAA would have their own payment scheme but I wonder if it could be integrated with TFL’s Oyster card, but then it’s more likely to be included in the business ticket.

Colin JohnstonComment