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Startup Wants to Replace Cars and Subways with Elevated Pods (fastcompany.com)
51 points by mpweiher 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 44 comments

"Solar Powered" - why? Why not decouple this from power generation, put the solar cells in the most efficient place, and just make this system electric powered? Tracks will presumably be situated deep in urban canyons and in shade for a lot of the time. Gotta crowbar in those green buzzwords.

In their handbook (http://transitx.com/transitxhandbook.pdf), they admit that was purely for marketing. "If there is insufficient solar energy available, Transit X will use other sources of sustainable energy."

Wait a sec - it's solar powered and the posts hold the batteries, but the pods have to charge? Also, the 100lb pods seat 5, but theay're barely big enough to seat 2 people who are apparently carry little to nothing?

There's no way a 100lb pod contains batteries and a drive mechanism capable of moving 5 people and their stuff up and down hills, so is the drive mechanism in the tracks? If so, why would the pods need to be recharged?

Seems like a neat idea, but it's clearly vaporware if even the marketing stuff is contradictory and/or impossible with today's tech.

They do claim specific numbers in their handbook (http://transitx.com/transitxhandbook.pdf): 20 lbs battery, 2 electric motors driving 4 15cm wheels, with a max load of 800 lbs. (4 adults or 8 children). Whether that's reasonable or not is up for debate... My guess is that these pods need an extremely level track.

20lbs of batteries leaves 80lbs for the rest of the structure and the motors - a structure that is supposed to enclose and support 800 lbs? That seems very, very optimistic. As does the 150MPH speed! 20lbs of current-tech batteries would only provide enough power to run for a few minutes at those speeds..

Nobody wants to navigate 90° intersections at 40mph, let alone 150mph...

As to reasonableness: I spent a couple summers in college working for helicopter sightseeing companies in Alaska. Part of my job was doing flight manifests, assigning passengers to aircraft with an eye towards weight maximums, and we had passengers from all over the world. Not to reinforce stereotypes, but from that experience, these numbers are probably reasonable for their target launch market (Manila), and would probably also be fine for other Asian markets. For US markets, this would be tight, but not that tight if they didn't have much stuff. Your average group of four Americans probably has somebody in it that weighs more than 200lbs, but others who weigh less; still, groups of four Americans traveling together that all weigh more than that were not uncommon, so at these limits passengers would need to be cognizant of their weight and the overall weight max before boarding. If it were me I'd probably market them as 3 passengers max in the US just to be on the safe side.

This seems a lot like the "Ultra PRT" pods which are currently installed at London Heathrow.


They're probably facing the same problems that face all infrastructure heavy public transport projects - huge capex and very little money available for this type of unproven project.

Tom Scott gives a good overview of these and the ones at a University in West Virginia:


Serious question: Why can't we, at least on freeways, build (either virtual/software based or physical/metal) rails into the road, and "self drive" them autopia-style? It would allow us to retrofit all vehicles, regardless of year made, would allow fully autonomous driving on freeways, and would also solve the last mile problem of public transportation by allow cars to simply drive that last mile as normal.

Is the infrastructure investment too high? Does this not scale?

That doesn’t solve the traffic problem, which is what the company is addressing.

It might help traffic because cars could move in tandem and follow closer behind. I think exiting the highway and going from "rail mode" to "driving mode" would be the trickiest part. I'd imagine you'd need some manual signal from the driver to the rail system to confirm that the driver is sort and ready to take back over.

Why not just use trains?

If someone else on my train is going somewhere different than I am, I'll have to wait. Because trains don't go up my driveway.

I can imagine a system where I drive to a highway, let autopilot engage or I drive on to a "track" of some sort and then at my exit, I disengage from the track and continue on my way.

We all know trains don't go up driveways. I fail to see the relevance in bringing it up. You might have missed reading what I was replying to, so here it is again:

>Why can't we, at least on freeways, build (either virtual/software based or physical/metal) rails into the road,

RE: why not use trains.

I probably wasn't clear in my original comment. The last mile problem refers specifically to one of the main cited inconveniences of public transit systems. You can't pull a train or a bus up to your driveway because it is fundamentally a shared system.

In this scenario, allowing cars to drive off of the freeway (the last mile) would get around this issue.

I think the big problem would be how do you change lanes?

Actually, that is not the problem and they are testing this in Stockholm, Sweden[1].

[1] https://www.dezeen.com/2018/04/23/electric-car-charging-road...

Could you elaborate? I read the linked article, and it didn't explain anything to me. How does it work when you change lanes at 60-70mph?

Another company wasting its time reinventing the wheel.

We solved these issues in the 19th century.

Our transportation problems are political, not technological problems. The problem is the lack of political will to fund and build public transportation and active transportation systems instead of continuously expanding the road network.

It's becoming increasingly common to use "it's a political problem" as a conversation-ender, as if political problems can't be worked on and solved.

We already have several examples of how political problems can be hacked on and overcome. Uber's early days where they were busy opening up cities to the idea of a competing taxi service.

There's also the traditional way, activism. Activism seems to work best drumming up political support for social problems. Problems like this one tend to respond well to large sums of money collected to fund a trial run. Find just one city to try this out on.

Public transit's big problem is that it's been tried, and while it works, it requires huge amounts of political capital to be created and spent on each expansion of the transit network. A profit motive would allow this process to expand at the rate of demand.

But so far, transit is akin to utilities in that there's a real public interest in keeping prices down. Plus the transit agenda can get weirdly partisan. Here in Atlanta, the majority-white northern suburbs did not want MARTA train stations going too deeply northward. The pejorative expansion of the acronym was "Moving Africans rapidly through Atlanta."

So we need more Ubers in the world, companies that are not afraid to challenge political institutions in order to drive the public interest forward. The profit motive is needed in order to drive expansion, and the legal regime needs to be flexible enough to get around NIMBY naysayers.

But the political problem is that you need far more money to build transit than can be achieved with VC money. Unless a startup has managed to somehow reduce the cost of right-of-way acquisition it's not a solution that keeps the cost of developing transit down.

There was a model that worked; transit has historically been used to allow property development. This was used in the development of London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, and the multitudes of inner-ring streetcar suburbs in American metropolitan areas. The problem is that whereas Hong Kong and Tokyo held onto the properties, Western companies that used this model tended to just sell off the property, requiring Ponzi-scheme levels of land acquisition. That collapsed when they ran out of money and the federal government started building free interstates to goose the suburb-building instead. And now in 2018 there's very little cheap farmland within sane rail commuting distance of metro areas, and the model doesn't work in places like New York where a block of property acquisition is equivalent to building an entire train line. Even Tokyo has stopped building new railways using this model because it just does not scale.

My understanding is that the problem with transit isn't just a resource problem, you literally need the power of the state to invoke eminent domain in order to build the infrastructure, making it a purely political problem that can only be solved by using political channels.

And the model you list is still in use today, if you take into account that roads are also 'transit'. It's just not the kind of transit that you and I want to see implemented.

Well roads are not built privately. And we're starting to see what happened with the earlier streetcar model, where the one-off revenue from property development is not enough to pay for the infrastructure in perpetuity.

The eminent domain thing is a power of the state, but it's also true that even if you were to privatize railroads today, they could not afford to purchase all the required property for new lines at fair market value. Hence the dependence on the government to front that cost instead.

You’re going to see more regulation going forward and less “asking for forgiveness”. GDPR is the beginning. Cities are sick of companies shipping products carelessly for profit and being first to market. No different than the scooter fiasco happening right now in San Francisco.

It is a political problem... BUT

Subways are expensive to build, and expensive to maintain. If a technological solution makes implementing public transportation cheaper, I think that's a good thing

Edit: Also, Subways work well in dense city areas, but are less efficient is places like LA (outside of downtown) that are very spread out

Germany's Cabinentaxi was the first on-demand rapid personal transit system. They may not have solved the personal transport problem, but they built an impressive test track and made a great promo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERdF0FK-2io

Isn't a company called SkyTran trying to do the same thing?

Basically, yes, except that SkyTran has been around for many years (since the 90s I think), and their system uses elevated maglev rails, not wheels (wheels are used at low speeds). Unfortunately, SkyTran hasn't gotten too far either; they're supposedly building a test track in Tel Aviv that will be finished in 2015...

This company looks like total vaporware stealing the SkyTran concept.

There was one of these companies in Minnesota for three decades, but it looks like it dissolved earlier this year:


(They never actually built a real system, though).

Some years ago a similar company called Shweeb was doing the same thing with human powered pods. They got $1M from Google as a grant and then disappeared. I was disappointed because I really see myself using this kind of transportation, here's hoping they make it.

compare with the cool vintage Morgantown PRT: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morgantown_Personal_Rapid_Tr...

Anybody else read this part:

"The support poles will hold large batteries; the pods will park where energy is available and charge while parked."

And think, "Wow, this is going to be a huge recycling issue."

> “People don’t like to wait,” says Mike Stanley, CEO of Transit X.

It's true, which is why this system would likely fail in New York. How long are you going to wait for a five-person pod to take you uptown, when you're waiting in line with all these people: https://i.redd.it/dmrfzu0dl3y01.jpg

One of my coworkers is in that photo. Is that yesterday?

Small world! Yup, as a result of the storm.

I would love to see this be pitched to an american city.

Response: 25% of americans won’t be able to fit in this...

There's a group of wealthy people in Austin proposing a Heathrow Pod-like system. I'm skeptical that it can handle the large surge of passengers from a large music venue or Circuit of the Americas.

Typically "4 people" would equate "2 Americans". Granted, big cities tend to have lighter people than rural areas, so it is less of an issue. Or we an always American size it.

If i was still living in the City, i know I would want this.

A modern monorail? Literally, looking at the mockup imagery.

This is personal transit, not mass transit and I don't see it solving problems in major metropolitan areas.

I don't think anyone wants to solve the hard problems of mass transit, I think people are looking for cheap workarounds. Everyone wants to start the next Uber, and this is a major unsolved problem. However, the history of failed private transportation ideas is really interesting, and really detrimental to the stuff that actually works: walkable areas, biking, trains, buses, etc.

Hell, there's a suburb outside of Miami that just vetoed a rail project because "self driving cars are right around the corner!" which sure sounds like the flying car predictions of the 50s-70s.

Trains and buses don't really work unless your density is extremely high. Not everyone wants to go between the same small set of points along a linear route. This is one reason why cars are much more efficient for many routes.

Personal Rapid Transit offers the decentralized nature of cars, but eliminated many of its problems: having to stop at stoplights, the limitations of human drivers, etc. It can't handle huge masses of people the way a train can, but for suburban use it would really be a lot better than cars, and it would also be a much better option for higher-paying passengers than traditional cabs or Uber/Lyft.

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