Break-Even Fare Analysis for PRT Systems

by Richard F. Daly, P.E. and Richard J. Komerska

June, 1996


It is likely that Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) systems will be in revenue operation in the United States by the year 2000. PRT, with its small vehicles, off-line stations and non-stop service will be an attractive addition to the existing spectrum of transit technologies. System planners have been at a disadvantage, however, when faced with questions concerning PRT system capacity, related operating and maintenance costs, and the likelihood of a need for tax subsidies to cover annual costs. Little has been written on these subjects and no actual operational data is yet available.

In order to assess the likelihood that PRT system revenue will equal or exceed system operation and maintenance (O&M) costs, details of the system in question must be provided or derived. This paper provides an overview of a process which permits the planner to configure a PRT system with the capacity to meet the expected peak hour ridership demand, to estimate its O&M costs, and to calculate a Break-Even fare (in dollars per occupied vehicle mile) that will fully fund the estimated O&M cost. Based on recently developed estimates of PRT O&M costs, it appears probable that, in many applications, PRT system could operate without tax subsidy.

The planning of PRT systems is a complex process. In each instance, performance, cost and revenue will vary depending on the layout and size of the system, line speed and headway, ridership, the ration of occupied vehicle miles to unocupied vehicle miles, thenumber of vehicles, the number of hours per day each vehicle is in revenue opoeration, fare structure and the cost of system O&M. Accurate predictions of a proposed PT system's performance and cost will require a major planning effort, ridership surveys, site surveys, detailed O&M cost estimates and computer simulations. Thoughtful first estimates are possible, however, and are esstential to justify a more detailed and expensive study. This paper outlines a method for making a thoughtful first estimate.

To illustrate the elements of a first estimate planning process, a hypothetical PRT system is used that has ten miles of guideway in three loops that interconnect an airport, airport parking, car rental, the Metro, and office complex, a shopping center, a hotel and remote parking. A peak hour requirement of 2,240 riders with an average group size of 1.6 or a total of 1,400 occupied vehicle trips in the peak hour is used to illustrate the conduct of the break-even fare analysis.

The paper concludes with a chart that shows how the break-even fare drops sharply as fleet utilization levels are increased. The break-even fare on this chart is 90 cents for a fleet utilization level of 0.2 and just over 40 cents for a utilization level of 0.8.

This 10-page paper is a bit too complicated to put up on the Web easily. Persons wishing to obtain a copy can find it in the Proceedings of the Automated Peoplemover Conference, V, held in Paris, France in June of 1996. It has been published by the American Society of Civil Engineers in New York and is available from them. Alternatively, the first author can be contacted at: Transit Systems Planning, Inc., P.O. Box 383, Marblehead, MA 01945; Phone: 617-639-2967. The second author can be reached via e-mail at: ; Phone/fax: 617-639-8254.

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Last modified: September 19, 1998