Pod Travel – The Future of Transportation?

About five years ago, I was out on the jobsite watching the contractor and talking with the crew. We had removed the old pavement of a road and were building up a new base of stone so we could replace the asphalt. One of the laborers on the job said, "it's too bad people can't find some other way to get to their homes. Think of all the space we would have if we could remove all the roads." He went on to envision community gardens, trails, parks, and other uses for this newly reclaimed public space. It sounded great, but at the time, I just couldn't see how something like this could be accomplished. Then a couple years ago, I was visiting the virtual site of the United Nations Climate Change Conference and saw a 3D re-creation of the MISTER PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) system. At the time, I wrote a blog post about it, and since then, I have not been able to stop thinking about this pod-based mode of travel.


Last year when a local consultant had contacted our city about a study for building pedestrian/bike access along and across a very busy roadway, I mentioned, at the risk of having him question my sanity, the possibility of PRTs as an alternative. To his credit, he didn't laugh and spent some time checking into it. But he came back with the conclusion that it would not work.

Even so, I have continued to think about the implementation of pod-based travel. Taking this beyond just a public transit system, could we replace cars with PRTs? Could each of us have pods in our garages instead of cars, and when we want to go somewhere, we just hook to the rail? Could it all be computerized so we just put our children in our family pod, tell it which school to drop them off at, then program it to return home? Could this rail system be elevated so that we can fill in roads and reclaim the space as my friend, the laborer, had envisioned?

With increasing costs for roadway maintenance, gas and fuel issues, traffic fatalities, and all of our other transportation-related problems, the idea that we drive vehicles powered by fossil fuels when we have safer and cleaner technologies available seems archaic.

For those of you who are interested in learning more about PRTs, you can check out the following links:

MISTER Website

Open PRT Specification Project 


The Personal Rapid Transit Revolution

Virtual MISTER Podcar
Virtual MISTER Podcar

As the world searches for an answer to reducing the use of fossil fuels, cities are starting to look to the personal rapid transit (PRT) system as a potential solution. Lately, MISTER, a Polish-based company, has gained increasing notice for their innovative PRT system. MISTER is an acronym for Metropolitan Individual System of Transportation on an Elevated Rail. The design consists of a group of small, light-weight vehicles or cabins that travel on an overhead truss rail and have externally powered electric motors integrated into the vehicle carriage assembly.

The MISTER system is reported to have an advantage over competitors because of the use of the light overhead truss system while other PRTs rely on guide rails and track systems. The overhead guide allows cars to climb at 45-degree angles while keeping the floor of the vehicle level. The steep inclines also reduce the area required on the ground for stops

The system is designed to carry up to 5 passengers who enter a PRT vehicle at designated stops and select their destination using an onboard computer. This programmed stop can also be changed during the trip by the passengers. Opole, a city in Poland, has allocated land for a test track for the MISTER system and is in the process of planning routes throughout the city.

MISTER is only one of many PRT systems in development. More information about PRT systems and other alternative transportation technologies can be found at the Innovative Transportation Technologies site hosted by the University of Washington.

For those interested in viewing and trying out a virtual, 3D representation of the MISTER system, you can visit the Second Life site of the UN Climate Change Conference by clicking here. (You will need a free Second Life account and avatar available at the Second Life Website.)