The future of public transportation is here. But are we ready?
By Brian Tetrud
With nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. spewing out of the transportation sector alone, it has become apparent that it is in dire need of fundamental change. Sure, the Prius was a hit, sparking the whole hybridification movement; Tesla motors has been making major headway in the mass production of electric cars, but their price tags are nearly double the national price for automobiles. What is needed is a safer mode of transportation available at a low cost with a significantly smaller impact on the environment.
The answer? SkyTran. 200 miles per gallon. Top speed of over 200 mph.
Smoother than a train ride. No traffic. No collisions. In comparison to Europe, the U.S. have twice the number of vehicles per capita. It doesn’t seem like Americans would consider losing their freedom to go where they want, when they want.
The beauty of SkyTran is that this freedom rests intact. It is a system of transit that rests on a grid of magnetic guideways 30 feet above ground. Instead of large, slow, and unidirectional trains or metro cars, SkyTran provides personal two-passenger occupancy vehicles that are completely automated and go any destination of your choosing. To use the system, one would board the vehicle at one of the loading stations each a mile apart and type in a destination. The fully automated system would then accelerate the vehicle to 100 mph, join the main grid and continue at 100 mph until it reaches the desired unloading point.
With each vehicle weighing in at 200 pounds, this system allows for maximum efficiency and speed, designed for commuters. But what about the cost?
The Michigan Department of Transportation estimates the cost to build one mile of highway to be between $8 million and $39 million.
Along with the average cost of $28,400 per car, maintenance costs, insurance, and fuel, the real cost of a mile of highway, per capita including all such variable expenditures could cost upwards of $50 million per mile.
SkyTran would cost less than one-fifth the cost per mile of highway. Each 200-pound vehicle costs less than $2,000, and the light guideway consists primarily of magnets.
Christopher Perkins, the CEO of the organization Unimodal, who is developing SkyTran, said in a 2009 interview with the Mountain View Voice, “It would cost $15 million per mile to construct SkyTran, but costs would go down ‘substantially”’ once mass produced.” Some estimate this figure to reach as little as $1 million per mile in reaching an economy of scale. With a fraction of the maintenance costs required by our current system and the unprecedented fuel efficiency, this system would be the most cost-effective mass transportation system in the world.
Using San Francisco as a model, technical writer Billy Tetrud (my brother), explained that by charging 10 cents per mile, “A full grid system would take 17 years to pay off through fares alone.” The low cost is only a fraction of the benefits.
The public and private benefits this system creates would be worth billions of dollars for a city like San Francisco. Based on average commuter times from San Francisco, Tetrud said, “People’s time would be saved significantly, about 150 hours per year on average. That is the equivalent of 2.5 working weeks per year!”
The positive effects of this system continue. Tetrud said that there are tons of monetary savings, “including lower road maintenance, less traffic… and enforcement needs and reduced usage of mass transit systems like BART, which loses millions of dollars every year. Roads would be clearer and thus safer, thereby saving lives and money. Land used for parking lots and paved roads could be used for buildings or greenery.”
Douglas Malewicki, aerospace engineer, inventor, and founder of SkyTran, filed for the patent for SkyTran in 1990. Today, he continues to push this idea forward, but the slow movement of his project through government has nearly halted SkyTran in its tracks. For some, it may be too much change too fast.
“The problem SkyTran is facing is that it is a huge expenditure,” Tetrud said. “People in government do not have the information to make good decisions about technology. SkyTran is radically different from any system available now, so many people do not understand it and therefore do not trust it.” Currently, SkyTran rests as an idea. It lacks the necessary investment and political support to get it moving.
Brian Tetrud is a junior economics major with a dream to own a space pod of his very own. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.