Transportation of the future

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SkyTran is an elevated Personal Rapid Transit system intended to revolutionize both urban and commuter public transportation, using computer controls to direct the two-person vehicles through the elevated network using passive Magnetic Levitation technology. SkyTran is a NASA Space Act company.
SkyTran is an elevated Personal Rapid Transit system intended to revolutionize both urban and commuter public transportation, using computer controls to direct the two-person vehicles through the elevated network using passive Magnetic Levitation technology. SkyTran is a NASA Space Act company.

As November and the fate of Proposition 1, the $1 billion transportation bond measure, approach, the cacophony of the Austin transportation debate grows more and more unbearable. While groups argue continuously on the metrics and merits of the chosen route of an urban rail line, the feasibility of funding and if the proposal’s consequences would even affect congestion, one is tempted to escape the politics and entertain the idea of radical alternatives. Amid the frustration, SkyTran is one such attractive alternative.

Reminiscent of "The Jetsons," SkyTran’s computer-controlled two-person pods zip around the city at up to 62 miles per hour on an elevated system. It boasts of high-capacity abilities from its easily expandable nature, speedy delivery directly to your destination with no intermediary stops, on-demand services allowing commuters to conveniently reserve a pod for pick-up and low impact on the existing infrastructure because the elevated track would not take up traffic lanes. The system also purports to be remarkably green with its ‘maglev’ propulsion technology.

About $600 million of Proposition 1’s budget would go toward creating a 9.5-mile urban rail line, coming out to around $63 million per mile.  According to Jerry Sanders, chairman and CEO of SkyTran Inc. and a UT Law alum, SkyTran’s system costs approximately $9 million per kilometer, or around $14.5 million per mile. The system achieves these low costs since the parts are pre-assembled at factories, meaning a quick construction time of around one to two years, compared to the proposed urban rail’s 10-15 year timeline. Though the cost is subject to certain variables like terrain and local labor, it is less than a quarter of the price of Austin’s light rail proposal.

The biggest obstacle: it’s never been built before.  A 500-meter test loop around the Israel Aerospace Industries campus in Tel Aviv is scheduled to be up and running by the end of 2015, and advanced planning for routes in France, India and San Francisco are in the works. SkyTran is an enticing transportation solution fitting Austin’s ambitions of being a green, innovative tech-hub. It may not be the answer today, but come November, Austin voters will have to decide if they want to bind the city to decades-old, costly technology or take a breath and explore contemporary alternatives that can usher the city into the future of transportation.

Haight is an associate editor.