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pod car Pod car. (Image: Advanced Transport Systems Ltd.-www.atsltd.co.uk)

No Gas Required

Pod-car systems are on the way

By Jennifer Dignan | null null , null

It's a sunny Saturday morning. You and your family walk three blocks to the closest Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) station. You press a button and a small pod-shape car with large tinted windows comes to a stop in front of you. The doors open, your mom types in a code, and the car whisks you away along its elevated track. Twenty minutes later, the doors slide open and you are at the beach.

This may sound like science fiction, but cities around the world are looking into PRT, or pod-car systems, right now.

Pod cars are designed to be used by individuals or small groups traveling together. They do not require human drivers. Riders simply type their destination into the pod car's computer and the pod car takes them directly there.

Because pod cars do not make unnecessary stops, they are energy-efficient. And because they run on electricity, they have zero emissions.

Like other forms of public transportation, pod cars can help cut down on traffic congestion and reduce the need for parking spaces. But pod cars provide their riders with faster service and more privacy than a subway or bus.

In Sweden, more than a dozen cities are already planning pod-car systems. Here in the United States, a volunteer group is trying to make Ithaca, New York, the first American pod-car city. A pod-car system has been proposed in Santa Cruz, California, as well.

Do pod cars mean a future of empty roads and empty garages? Probably not, according to Peter Muller, president of PRT Consulting in Franktown, Colorado.

"I don't think any of us are going to say that cars are going away altogether," Muller said. "But it could turn America into a 'one-car' country."

Hans Lindqvist, of the Swedish pod-car organization Kompass, agrees. "We aren't talking about replacing the automobile entirely," he said. "We are adding something else into the transportation strategy."

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