Carlos Rymer

Sustainability, Life, and More…

Are You Connected?

prtOriginally published in the Cornell Daily Sun.

Got wireless? Got iPod? Got JPods? You may be wondering, “What’s a JPod?” Well, in the age of information and the high-techs, most people feel like they’re fully connected to the world. Cellphones and the Internet have virtually “connected” you to the rest of the world, but what about your physical connection? There’s a new mode of transportation coming to America and it’s called PRT, or personal rapid transit. It promises to make transit amazingly reliable, convenient and sexy. Are you interested yet?

PRT is an overhead rail that is completely automated, taking passengers from one location to a destination without even having to deal with stop lights or congestion! You go to a station, hop into a capsule (no medicine here) that will be waiting for you and select where you want to go. This system has been extensively researched and developed since the 1980’s, especially in Europe, and it is now ready to make mobility green, cheap and easy. Hop into our capsule, we’ll explain.

Today, there are many companies ready to deploy this technology, from solar-powered JPods to jet-like SkyTrans. The capsules in these systems are created with extremely lightweight materials, making them cheaper to build and power. New Jersey has conducted a comprehensive study detailing the benefits of PRT. Not only did it conclude that it is the most efficient way to move people, but it also pointed out that it was very cost-effective (only about $40 million per mile).

In comparison, heavy rail, light rail, metro, buses and airports cost anywhere between $60 million and $200 million per mile (excluding high operating costs). Finally, PRT is the fastest of all options, consumes the least energy and is totally automated (resulting in low operating costs). The best part is that it isn’t susceptible to weather, traffic or peak hours!

Currently, the main form of transportation in America is the personal car. It’s also becoming the norm in most developing countries. Unfortunately, the car is the worst mode of transportation we have today. Not only are cars contributing to the astronomical oil price of $89 per barrel, they are killing our cities with pollution and congestion. Studies have estimated that the U.S. loses more than $200 billion per year due to congestion alone, and the health costs due to pollution are also sky-high.

In addition, cars create sprawl. Sprawl, while having many supporters, has huge socioeconomic and environmental consequences. Studies have concluded that sprawl increases transportation costs for people and the government, contributes to increasing depression due to isolation and destroys land that could have been used for other purposes. Hold on, we’re almost there.

How is this coming to Ithaca? Well, there is a local group made up of residents, city planners and students called Connect Ithaca. The group is working to connect downtown Ithaca with Cornell and other surrounding locations through this integrated PRT network. Last month, a representative of the group participated in an international PRT conference in Sweden, where the City of Ithaca was spotlighted.

As a result, PRT companies are coming to Ithaca to begin a dialogue with the city government, Cornell and Ithaca College. The best part is that they’re not just coming with words; they’re also coming with the green to back it up. They are so interested in getting this started that they are willing to pay all the upfront costs for the network in Ithaca as a pilot program that will show the rest of the country the economic, environmental and social benefits of this system. Want to go to the next stop?

As you may have heard, Cornell signed on to the Presidents Climate Commitment, committing the campus to eliminating its contribution to global warming. While hybrids and biofuels may sound “green,” they won’t do the job. They also won’t address the fact that we’re using too much land for cars when we can be using it instead for people. Last month, Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson met with Connect Ithaca and expressed interest in working with Cornell and Ithaca College to explore the opportunity of bringing a PRT network to Ithaca in the coming years.

With our commitment to climate neutrality, improving transportation for the Cornell community and giving back to the City of Ithaca, we must now agree to look into this possibility. We have the chance to make the campus more pedestrian-friendly, reduce transportation costs and improve our environment. Moreover, we can become a model to the nation. It was nice having you along for the ride in our PRT capsule. Are you ready to get connected?

Carlos Rymer ’08 is a member of Connect Ithaca. He can be contacted atcmr55@cornell.edu. Gregory Falco ’10 is a member of Connect Ithaca. He can be contacted at gjf24@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically.

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