While EVs are the most environmentally friendly transportation solution of today, there is one start-up which thinks further ahead. What might sound like a futuristic idea, borrowed from a Sci-fi movie, will soon be reality in some cities – I am talking about Personal Rapid Transit, which fits right between the mass transport metros and busses provide and more private transportation like taxis. BM Design is a Finnish start-up which has the solution to our transportation needs of tomorrow.
Personal Rapid Transit – PRT for short – explained in the words of Asko Kauppi, Founder of BM Design, is “packaged routing of people”. Asko has a ICT background, and is one of the several hundreds of people who invented PRT. The idea itself is nothing new and has its roots in the 1960s & 70s but yet a company needs to present a viable commercial solution for PRT.
A first attempt at this is undertaken by ULTra PRT at Heathrow airport in London, their line should go live this spring; though according to Kauppi ULTra PRT is not progressive enough. He is not bashing his competitor, though: “They are great people over at ULTra PRT and I can not see them as direct competitors – the industry is so young that if they succeed, we only can benefit from it.” The real competition of personal rapid transit are the existing mass transportation means we use today: Bus, metro, tram and taxi.
The advantages of PRT are that instead of you waiting for a bus or metro to arrive, the PRT vehicle – a lightweight, battery operated vehicle seating two to three – is waiting for you. Check in at the passenger-friendly ground level station, let the computer know your destination and it takes you there – without stops. Traveling times will always be the same, and with a vehicle waiting for you there’s no more running to catch the bus or metro. Scientific research also sees PRT as the absolutely best solution for mass transport, but yet the early adaptors are timid.
Their timidness comes from the associated risks of being the first mover, and costs. Thus BM Design plans to make it easy for communities to make a purchasing decision, as they will offer their patent pending PRT solution on leasing terms. Also, instead of doing everything – from building and maintaining the tracks, vehicles and planning the track network – BM Design concentrates on what they do best and outsource the rest. They have their partners lined up, and the response to the company was “Very positive” as Kauppi presented it at the Transtec Conference in Delhi last week. India and China are very interested in PRT because it is cheaper and faster to build than metros and it can handle their growing urbanization and associated transportation needs. No more digging immensely expensive metro tunnels or laying tracks for trams, the installation of the PRT rails is quick and they have a low-key visual impact on the city scape.
Kauppi plans to have a test track installed by the end of 2012, which would go live to the public in 2013. It is not a laboratory track in a closed environment, but a real track with real commuters using it. “This way we can collect data in an authentic environment and tweak the interface accordingly” Asko told me. The plan is to be sales ready in 2014, after gathering a year of feedback.
To get the test track ready, Asko is looking for funding. EUR 2m are needed for the beginning, but besides the money the investors should share the vision and bring connections and knowledge into the company. “I have a talented team of eight people ready to start working as soon as funding is secured” Kauppi told me. To contact him, check out BM Design on the ArcticIndex as their website will go online at the end of May.
I am very excited about BM Design and PRT. While public transportation in Finland is ranked the fifth best in the world, I personally think it still has a lot to improve – bus operators drive like they’d be sitting in a rally car, trains are usually late, metros are packed. And while patience is a virtue, waiting for a bus to arrive is such a waste of time, that a waiting vehicle which brings me straight to my destination is a salvation. I strongly believe that personal rapid transit will be the future of transportation, and BM Design will be one of the leaders in PRT’s proliferation.