An "Automated Transit Network," also known as a "pod car" system or personal rapid transit, is being developed as an option for cities needing to manage their traffic more efficiently, said Ron Swenson, co-founder and executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Transportation, in a presentation to the council. The system puts computer-operated vehicles on dedicated guide-ways in an effort to maximize efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
"We haven't been able to reach our mobility goals with bicycles, cars, buses and trains," Swenson said.
Swenson's group is working with academics and government officials in the Silicon Valley and Sweden to create the groundwork for such a system, which for several years has been talked about as a possibility for connecting downtown Mountain View to Google headquarters. There's interest in other cities as well, with San Jose just completing a $2 million study of a system to connect Caltrain to the Mineta International Airport.
The group also has support from San Jose State University professors, who have put more than 100 students from various disciplines to work on the idea, with some working on a solar-powered design and others in urban planning studying the impacts of such a system on the Mathilda Avenue corridor in Sunnyvale.
Swenson said the goal is to "build a base whereby Silicon Valley could be a real leader, not only in using this technology but also in producing it. We are training up to the technologists, the planners, to hopefully plug into what could be a new industry."
Swenson said his group wants to see a test track in the area, something that Unimodal Inc. once proposed for a site at NASA Ames.
"We'd like for you to join us," Swenson said. "We would like you to reach out to this group of students," who he called "a different kind of resource."
Council member Mike Kasperzak, who called himself the "pod car mayor" in 2012, said Google has hired someone from the pod car industry to work on developing its own transportation system plans. Google founder Larry Page has also spoken publicly about his interest in automated transit networks, but more recently Google has made a push for driver-less cars and shuttles.
"I don't think they are for or against" pod cars," Kasperzak said of Google. "They are in favor of trying to identify other ways of getting people around. If PRT fits the bill, that may be fine. I personally wish Google was more publicly supportive of it."
Government officials don't know how they would approve such a system, Swenson said.
"The California Public Utilities Commission is still looking at how they might approve a system like this," Swenson said. Elected officials don't really have what you need to go out a specify some of these new things."
The Mountain View City Council passed a resolution in support of what was then called "personal rapid transit" in 2010, and a route was even proposed for a system called "Skytran" that would connect downtown, Google's North Bayshore offices and NASA Ames.
In 2010, city staff estimated that an 8.5-mile-long system with 24 stations would cost between $60 million and $130 million.
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