Self-driving pods could be the future of urban transport in Greenville


Imagine for a moment that you push a button and a personal cab arrives to take you to your destination. Instead of traveling on a congested interstate or highway that’s plagued with damaging potholes, your cab quickly zooms off across a system of elevated tracks. That’s the vision of Greenville County Councilman Fred Payne.

Payne is one of several local officials leading a new feasibility study of automated transit networks in Greenville, Mauldin, and Clemson. The study is being funded by the Greenville-Pickens Area Transportation Study with a $25,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration and matching funds from Greenville County and the cities of Greenville, Mauldin, and Clemson. It is being conducted by Colorado-based PRT Consulting.

An automated transit network (ATN) uses small automated vehicles that operate along elevated guideways in interconnected one-way loops. Passengers can call for one of the vehicles, or pods, at a station and then select a destination. The pods automatically pull offline at drop-off and pickup locations along the route, thus providing nonstop service. Most of today’s systems can accommodate between 2,000 and 7,000 passengers per hour per direction.

The modern concept of automated transit networks surfaced in the 1960s after it was introduced and endorsed in a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In the mid 1970s, West Virginia University at Morgantown built an automated transit network with five stations for $126 million. The system’s 71 automated, rubber-wheeled vehicles carry about 15,000 students per day. Other ATN systems can be found in South Korea, London, Abu Dhabi, and the Netherlands.

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