It's called personal rapid transit. The cars -- designed to seat four to six people -- would move along a guideway, with their positions aided by embedded magnets or lasers. Other PRT systems have wheels running along sidewalls that help steer each pod car.
See images of PRTs
They would merge into traffic and often closely follow the car in front of them. But there would be no traffic lights -- and no drivers.
"It's like an automated taxi that runs on its own roadway and doesn't have to stop," said Peter Muller, president of PRT Consulting, a Colorado-based company that works with cities and agencies to study personal rapid transit feasibility. "It does tend to make sense in more congested areas (like big metropolitan areas), but we have also developed concepts for car-free cities."
There is no PRT system operating in the United States. There is a new one at Heathrow Airport in London and one in the Masdar City district of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
Several cities in the United States are looking into PRT as a possible way to complement their current transportation system. Connect Ithaca's study, given to the state of New York in September, proposed a 9-mile track connecting the city core and two universities with 350 cars and 26 stations. The estimated cost was between $150 million and $168 million, not including design fees.
"When you throw a number like that out there the average person says, 'We can't afford that,' " Roberts said. "But look at a city like San Francisco that is spending hundreds of millions a mile on (its train system). So this is fraction of the cost of light- or heavy-rail and it provides a solution that those kinds of systems don't deliver."
Unlike most transit systems, operating costs can be recouped at the fare box, Muller added. Vukan R. Vuchic, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, disputed that, saying not enough people use transit because it is still cheaper for most to drive a car.
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Will you commute via 'personal rapid transit?' - CNN.com