We all know the statistics: the average traffic speed in London is the same now as it was when everyone rode about on horses.
Martin Lowson, Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Bristol University, has a solution, which he claims will take passengers where they want, when they want, without damaging the environment or causing congestion.
Lowson and his colleagues at the University’s Advanced Transport Group have just been handed a £75,000 award from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to develop Ultra (short for Urban Light Transport), a driverless automatic taxi system which runs on its own guideway network.
According to Lowson passengers will be able to request vehicles from stations located around the city, select a destination which will be recorded on a smart card, and board their own Ultracab which will take them where they want to go at speeds of up to 50mph.
One-way tracks will simplify the design of interchanges and stations as well as reducing the size of guideways, many of which will be elevated.
The vehicles will run on a U-shaped track, picking up electric power via an insulated rail fixed in the guideway. Current designs of the vehicle use a proprietary power pick-up, although the team is keeping its eyes on developments in inductive pick-ups.
Horizontal rubber wheels bearing against the side of the `U’ will be used to guide the cabs while reducing noise.
Preliminary design analysis by engineering consultant Ove Arup indicates that building the infrastructure will cost just a sixth as much as building new roads, and that the system may even be viable at fares lower than current buses.
Further in the future, Lowson envisages an integrated dual-transport system where vehicles could be driven on the road as well as controlled on the track.
This is not the first time such a system has been considered. Over the past 30 years, projects in London, Paris and Hamburg have all reached advanced stages of design and failed at the final hurdle.
A possible reason for this, says Lowson, was a simple fear of upsetting the status quo. He hopes things will be different this time round, and believes that the time is right for a project which `gives city planners the opportunity to reclaim cities for people’.
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