Driverless podcars bypassing traffic in Dubai?

Podcars in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi [SUPPLIED]

It can be compared to the personalised nature of a taxi trip but elevated from regular traffic. Like metro and tram, it functions on exclusive guideways, but with stops at dedicated destinations only. The Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system, or the podcar, may soon become reality in Dubai.

In Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, the little driverless cabins already do rounds as one of the first operating system in the world. Futuristic as they may seem, the system could well be feasible in Dubai, too, as a rising population with high mobility rates pushes towards a diversification of the transport infrastructure.

“The Road and Transport Authority (RTA) is always keen on implementing state-of-the art public transport technologies in Dubai urban area. In this regard, the RTA is currently studying the feasibility of implementing personal rapid transit, or any similar small public transit technology in different areas of Dubai to meet the future traffic demand of Dubai urban area,” said Abdullah Youssef Al Ali, CEO of Rail Operations, RTA.

The fundamental elements of the PRT technology are small automated vehicles, small exclusive guideways and off-line stations, he explains. “The PRT system is used to provide an on-demand, origin-to-demand service with no stops in between. The system vehicles are fully driverless, designed to be exclusively used by an individual or a small group of people of normally two to six passengers.”

As the technology is designed to serve specific purposes, this purpose could differ from area to area. The urban characteristics of the area will define the demand and the targeted audience for the trips, he elaborates.

Zabeel area is one of the localities that is under review for the possible implementation of the system, but certainly not the only locality. “Generally, the system is designed to serve communities that have specific urban characteristics or social and economic significance.”

As such, it is no surprise that the system appeared in Masdar City, which is at the centre of state-of-the-art technologies and sustainable transport solutions. Implemented as a pilot project in 2010, it lifted 819,000 passengers in its first three years and reported a peak occupancy of 1,736 per day in the same period.

However, as the popularity of the podcar may have to be credited to the uniqueness of its kind in Abu Dhabi, a more practical approach may be taken in Dubai, where a surging demand for traffic solutions is knocking on the door.

Currently, the RTA is evaluating the viability of the project to deal with the traffic demand and requirements in various areas in comparison to other available transit technologies. A dedicated guideway that is fully segregated from other traffic is needed if such project would go ahead, but the size of the network and the length of the routes would depend on the purpose of the service and the area, concluded Al Ali.

“Once we finalise our studies, and decided on the technology and the route, the implementation stage can take three to four years, depending on the technology type and the size of the project.”


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