Princeton Students Present Results of a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) Study for the Entire State of New Jersey
by Christian Burset
If the mass-transit vision of some Princeton University engineering students becomes a reality, "what station?" might replace "what exit?" as New Jersey's mocking tagline.
Students taking ORF 467 Transportation unveiled their proposal on Tuesday for a constructing a personal rapid transit (PRT) system across New Jersey.
Like a monorail with small, personal cars instead of large trains, PRT is designed to blend the flexibility of car travel with the economic and environmental benefits of mass transit.
Before commuters could trade in their cars, however, thousands of miles of overhead guideways would have to be built throughout the state -- an "ambitious but realistic" task, according to Mathe Mosny '06, one of the project's leaders.
Small student teams were assigned to map out a network of guideways in each of New Jersey's 21 counties. Their objective to capture 95 percent of the state's population within walking distance (a quarter-mile) of the nearest station.
The design they formulated, including 10,597 PRT stations and 18,022 miles of guideway, meets that goal at an estimated cost of $15-20 billion.
The price tag is hefty, but the students argued that the potential benefits, including reduced pollution and shortened commutes, outweigh the cost.
Professor Alain Kornhauser, who taught the course, said that the idea might be "a bit futuristic." "Maybe what we're doing is putting ourselves in 1905 and talking about highways and automobiles," said Kornhauser, who chairs the University program in transportation. "Innovations take a while."
Nkonye Okoh '06, another project leader, said the New Jersey Legislature has already authorized $75,000 to study PRTs.
Though the project was intended as an academic exercise rather than a policy proposal, the students' design will reach at least some transportation planners beyond Princeton.
Immediately after the presentation in Robertson Hall on Tuesday, Kornhauser and Rachel Blair '06 departed for the annual Transportation Research Board conference in Washington, D.C.
Price and Kornhauser will present the class's findings at the conference, which attracts 9,000 transportation professionals from the United States and abroad.
Kornhauser is co-director of the Center for New Jersey Transportation Information and Decision Engineering.
The class invited several state legislators to the presentation on Tuesday, but none could attend because it was during the governor's State of the State address.
The class did draw one observer, Rick Wright '64, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Jim Florio (D-NJ) and as finance chairman for Bill Bradley '65's presidential campaign.
Kornhauser emphasized the flexibility of the PRT system for individual travelers. Unlike other forms of mass transit, such as trains and buses, PRT travelers do not have to worry about making connections between different routes because they ride in their own vehicles under the system.
"You can go nonstop from origin to destination," he said. When asked when the state might see a PRT system, Kornhauser replied only that he had been working on the concept since 1971.
For additional details about the Personal Rapid Transit concept and several illustrated examples, see: http://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itrans/prtquick.htm
Last modified: January 19, 2005