Swedish Government Report: Pioneer Tracks for PodCars - Analysis of Recent Conditions, August 2009

Note: This is a summary of a Report from an Inquiry conducted in 2009 in Sweden that was focused on an assessement of the feasibility and desirability of applying PodCar transport systems in several Swedish cities. The General Director was Kjell Dahlström and the consultant was Ernst and Young. It is currently in Swedish but this English summary was also included and is reproduced here. An English version of the full report is likely to be available in the near future. Some links to cited documents and websites have been added for the convenience of the reader. Click here to see the full report, in Swedish.

1 Summary

This report covers a new transport technology that is attracting increasing attention – ie Podcar systems. The mission to the Inquiry from the Minister of Infrastructure has been to compile existing knowledge about the systems and their characteristics as yet untested technology and to evaluate the possibilities for Podcar systems in Sweden. Many municipalities have shown a great interest in investigating how Podcars could be a solution to many transport problems. The Inquiry has mapped the interest from municipalities and which investigations that have already been done by them. In order to proceed with the building of so called pioneer systems, further detailed prestudies must be carried out, including financial and technical plans. The study presents which Swedish municipalities that have accomplished the most far reaching pre-studies as well as suitable overall conditions for pioneer tracks. We have also considered financial partnership solutions and procurement arrangements that may be needed in order to realize one or several pioneer tracks. We have also sounded out potential suppliers of Podcar systems. Finally the results of the Inquiry are presented together with some proposed next steps to be taken.

Background, purpose and role of the investigation

Podcars have been presented as a possible solution to certain transport problems that are difficult to manage with existing traffic solutions, and also as an alternative to the pervasive car transport. However, Podcars are an untested technology with many unanswered questions. Systems are only tried in small scale and there are no commercial systems in operation on the market. Studies do show, however, that this type of transport system can be profitable both from a societal and a firm perspective.

A suitable way to investigate Podcars and how well they function would be to test systems with one or several pioneer systems in suitable locations. Full scale pioneer tracks would give decision makers, planners and suppliers suitable experience in order to further develop Podcar technology. Banverket (the Swedish Rail Administration) has built a demonstration model of a Podcar station, which is now being shown around Sweden in order to give people a possibility to form an opinion about the technology. The model gives opportunities for dialogue about how the technology can be further developed and provide solutions to problems in the transport sector.

The network organisation Kompass was formed a couple of years ago as a not–for–profit organisation with municipalities as the primary members and with the objective to develop and spread interest in Podcar development. Kompass intends to tour the country together with Banverket´s station model after the end of Sweden’s period as chaircountry in the EU.

The main purpose of this investigation has been to compile current knowledge and the current status for Podcars. Part of the mandate has been to propose suitable municipalities in Sweden for further prestudies in preparation for a possible construction of pioneer systems. Financial solutions and procurement methods are analysed. Finally we have sounded out presumptive suppliers of Podcar systems about their interest and ability to supply systems (or parts thereof). The role of the investigation is thus to prepare for continued action from the government.

What are Podcars?

The Inquiry presents the current situation with regards to Podcars, the design and implementation of systems, approvals and certification, the meeting of political goals for the transport sector, efficiency in public finances, the importance for industrial and other development issues. Podcars are defined as follows by ATRA (Advanced Transit Association):

Permit direct travel from start to goal without changes and stops at in-between stations

Small vehicles, available for individual travel or travel with own-selected company

Service on demand as opposed to traffic by time table

Fully automatic cars, available around the clock

Tracks are exclusive for Podcars

Narrow, lightweight and normally elevated tracks

The cars can use the whole network and all stations 

Podcars can be used both for collective transport as for individual journeys. It appears reasonable to define Podcars as something in between individual car journeys and traditional public transports. Taxi, ride–sharing and certain car pools are often defined as paratransit. Even if Podcars normally travel on a designated track and therefore can not be seen as paratransit, I consider that today’s Podcar concepts can be seen as paratransit systems.

The British consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan has presented an analysis of the international development of Podcars and predicts that about 50 systems will be built within ten years. The main applications are judged to be around airports and as complements to existing public transport during the next coming years, whereas they could become a real alternative to transport system in urban settings within ten years.

Several recent studies show the value-adding to society and also profitability at a firm- or operator level for the introduction of Podcar systems, for instance from the UK, Holland and Sweden. In a fresh report from the consulting firm WSP a comparison has been made of bus routes versus Podcars contribution margin in 59 Swedish cities and towns. The analysis shows that Podcars can be more beneficial in towns with 40,000 inhabitants or more. Population density appears to be the most important factor to reach societal profitability.

The investigation has studied the effect of Podcars on the overall political goals for the transport sector. Societal efficiency, as has been mentioned before, is one of these goals and long term sustainability is another, from both an ecological and a social perspective. Our review shows that Podcars have substantial advantages in both cases provided that the system is carefully designed in details. This applies both to aspects like a higher energy efficiency and reduced emissions to improved equality for all, irrespective of age, gender or the ownership of a driving license. At the same time, concerns do exist about sharing Podcars with unknown persons, absence of personnel, the visual impact in towns and that investments in Podcar systems may push out other required public investments.

From an industry political perspective the impact of a Swedish commitment to Podcar systems is considered to be important. Sweden has both the industrial base and a history of innovation that creates good pre-requisites for being a pioneer for this technology. In addition, there is a culture of organising theme societies which has already given us the Podcar network Kompass and the Institute for Sustainable Transport (IST) which place Sweden in a leading position globally both with regards to the broad local interest for pioneer systems and the organisation of three international Podcar conferences in Sweden and the US.

In comparison to the industrial and social ability, research and development (R&D) are still poorly developed in Sweden. There is good reason to increase activities in these fields, as the relevant issues for R&D are many and wide in scope.

Interest in pioneer systems

All Sweden’s 290 local municipalities have been approached in respect to their interest in pioneer systems. About one tenth of them have shown a larger or smaller interest in the subject, which has been presented in the Inquiry’s report. Twelve projects have been analysed in more detail. The defining criteria for the further analysis have been:

At least one pre-study has been carried out

The project has strong political support at the municipality level

The proposed system has a structure which gives real traffic flows

The twelve projects are, in order of counties:   http://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itrans/big/ATRA09.pdf

Akademiska Hus AB, Via Academica, KTH – Albano – Frescati, Stockholm

Södertälje, Tom Tits– town centre – Slussen – Östertälje.

Värmdö, Munkmora – Gustavsberg – Charlottendal – bus stop by motorway – Hålludden

Sigtuna, Märsta C – Arlandastad – Arlanda

Uppsala, travel centre – Boländerna

Eskilstuna, Tuna Park – Parken Zoo – travel centre/town centre – Mälarsjukhuset

Linköping, (no study of pioneer system)

Uddevalla, Torp trade estate

Trolhättan, travel centre/town centre – Överby trade estate.

Hofors, test-/pilottrack for technical development.

Åre, Centrumslingan och Rödkullens – Tegefjälls ski lift stations

Umeå, airport – Ålidhem – Carlshem – university – hospital – Strömpilen

Linköping has studied large scale solutions that can not be characterised as a pioneer system. Hofors has a design that can be seen as a test or pilot system for technical evaluation rather than a pioneer system. These projects have nevertheless been included as they are derived from interesting studies and are interesting as references.

The biggest interest for Podcar development exists in our mid-sized towns and some smaller municipalities. Out of the twelve main locations, half have 100,000 or more inhabitants or day-time residents. A typical analysis is that tram lines are seen as too expensive for the base of travellers in these towns and that Podcar systems can give a higher level of service and accessibility around the clock.

The three largest cities have generally been less committed. This is probably due to the requirements of planning of modern public transportation systems based on time tables and set tracks as well as motorways. The investigation primarily covers local pioneer systems, but regional development has also been raised on occasion. The suppliers that can offer local Podcar systems today do not have developed systems for regional applications.

Funding and procurement solutions

The reason to build pioneer tracks is to evaluate a wide range of aspects on Podcar systems. Future evaluation will result in a basis for describing functional requirements and to estimate costs, demand and risks when building Podcar systems. Development of pioneer systems for Podcars has just started. There are no systems in commercial operation and there is a shortage of experience regarding both technical design and traveller's attitudes and willingness to pay. In short, there is no base for developing detailed analysis of the costs related to future systems nor future traveller's attitude to Podcars as a form of transport. There is also a lack of knowledge about the formulation of detailed functional requirements when procuring and selecting suppliers for the design, building and operation of systems.

The Inquiry has let the consulting firm Ernst & Young AB analyse suitable funding and procurement structures. Due to the limited experience of Podcar operations and the construction of tracks and systems it is probably necessary that the government takes an active role in the procurement and financing of pioneer systems. At the same time, the drivers of a PPP solution gives that the role of the state should be limited in order not to jeopardize the built-in incentives for a cost-efficient conduction of the contract and a low life-cycle cost.

It is my view that the funding structures that involve the Swedish government through some form of state financial guarantees are the most suitable solution (alternatives are structures with State loans, State ownership or the State as an investor in a consortium). Experiences show that the state or public financial stake ought not to be too extensive in order not to jeopardise the incentives for an efficient conduction of the contract.

The allocation of financial and operational risks should be such that the project company – in the PPP-solution only is responsible primarily for accessibility risk. This can be handled in practice by designing the compensation model so that compensation is given for the system being accessible and that compensation is given for the traffic, in a more traditional way. The reason why the traffic risk should not be fully transferred to the project company is that public transport in general is highly regulated in respect of tariffs and other conditions.

Procurement of pioneer systems can be classified as an innovation procurement and there is good reason to utilize the relatively new guidelines and possibilities in public procurement. Competitive dialogue is a procurement form that is introduced in the new European procurement directive, which is voluntary for member states to adopt. The form can be used for complex procurements, where it is not suitable to use normal open or selective procedures. The complexity can be technical, legal or financial. The procuring authority is allowed to enter into a far-reaching dialogue with selected suppliers in order to identify how the goal(s) of the procurement can best be fulfilled.

Suppliers of Podcar systems

We have carried out a survey of possible suppliers of Podcar systems (or parts thereof). Seven companies have responded to the questionnaire.

Advanced Transport Systems Ltd (ATS) in the UK began development of the Podcar system Ultra in 1995 and will shortly inaugurate its first commercial track at Heathrow, where it will be used as a shuttle between large car parks and the new international terminal 5. The cars can take four to six passengers, have rotating, battery driven electric motors and run with rubbertyres on a tarmac track with steering via magnetic circuits and a side–beams along the track..

PRT International LLC in Minneapolis, USA is led by J. Edward Anderson, a leading person in the history of PRTs. He developed the ITNS concept (Intelligent TransportationNetwork System) which has won a lot of attention over the years. Anderson has contributed to the definition of the PRT concept with small vehicles that use halts on side tracks. The company has carried out tests earlier, in different legal entities, but does not appear to have a system ready to take part in the construction of pioneer systems in Sweden.

SkyCab AB is a Swedish company founded in 1990. The company has been engaged in the planning and development of PRT systems, for instance pre-studies for the Arlanda airport area, the university campus areas in Stockholm and the city of Linköping. It has also developed a PRT concept using rubber tyres on mainly elevated tracks and with rotating electrical motors in each car. A mock up model of the concept was presented in Hofors in 2006.

2getthere is a small Dutch company with experience of several minor PRT and GRT (Group Rapid Transport) systems. Tracks are typically at street level and the cars run on rubber tyres with batteries and rotating electric motors, guided by magnetic circuits in the tarmac. The company is contracted to build a system in the new eco-town called Masdar in the UAE, which will be opened soon. The cars take four to six passengers.

Unimodal Systems Inc (aka SkyTran) in California are developing the Podcar system SkyTran with funding from the Department of Transport and in cooperation with NASA. Skytran is a Podcar system with suspended cars under a beam. The cars are very compact and light, carry one to three passengers and are designed aerodynamically for high speeds (up to 240 km/h). They are driven by linear synchronous motors, so called maglev, that are considered to be very energy efficient as energy is fed back to the system when cars are braked. The system is currently being developed and tested at NASA’s Ames research centre in the Silicon Valley.

Vectus Ltd is a subsidiary to the Korean steel producer Posco and is registered in the UK. Vectus has since four years planned and run full scale test track for its system in Uppsala. The company has informed us that it can supply a complete system, consisting of control systems, cars, tracks, power trains, stations and maintenance depots including installation, staffing and startup on a turn-key basis. Vestus’ Podcar system is approved and certified by Transportstyrelsen (the Swedish Transport Authority) for public use. The cars run on a steel track which is normally elevated and are driven by linear electric motors placed in the track. The cars run on passive wheels and switching is done by the wheels being guided in fixed tracks. The cars carry four passengers. In common for all the responding suppliers is that operation is fully automated.

ATS/ULTra and 2getthere are ready to launch their systems and Vectus is prepared to offer its tested system. Bombardier claims to be able to develop a Podcar system based on its APM technology. Beamways, PRT International, SkyCab and Unimodel/SkyTran appear likely to need a few years of tests to be completed before a market introduction. A bid for pioneer systems in Sweden announced today would probably result in three or four possible bidders with different technical solutions. Within a couple of years there may be a few more suppliers available.

Conclusions and proposals

The Podcar technology appears to have reached the right level of maturity to enter a market that is seeking sustainable, safe and accessible alternatives to existing transport systems. Analysis of traffic flows as well as analysis of financial flows show good functionality and profitability which can match established forms of transport and Podcars can contribute considerably to the political goals set for the transport sector.

There are a handful of projects that are suitable to develop to pioneer systems with further analysis. Some of these are of particular interest:

Akademiska Hus AB, the company that owns a large part of the so called science city in Stockholm and that amongst other includes KTH, Stockholms University and which together with Stockholms Lokaltrafik (SL, the regional purchaser of collective transport) has prepared a pre-study for a 9 km long track with 17 stations. The system is expected to have 27,000 travellers per day. Calculations show a benefit/cost ratio of 3,4 and a cost per trip of SEK 8,10.

Uppsala’s new large travel centre can be linked to the trade and industrial estate Boländerna through a 9 km long pioneer Podcar system with 18 stations, that would reach as far as the new Ikea store. The system is calculated to have over 15 000 travellers per day and has a benefit/cost ratio of 1,2. The cost per trip is SEK 15,90.

Södertälje has carried out both pre-studies and projects regarding several different stages of a Podcar system in the town. The Podcar track will connect the commuter train station Östertälje with central Södertälje in a more efficient way than the existing arrangement with reverse heading of trains at Södertälje Hamn. The first two stages comprise 10 km of track and 17 stations and stretches from Östertälje via Slussen, through the centre to Tom Tit’s experimental workshop (a major attraction). The system is expected to have 13,600 daily travellers and a benefit/cost ratio of 1,0. The cost per trip is calculated to SEK 18,80.

Umeå is the largest city in the north of Sweden. The new Botnia train track will soon be opened with two travel centres in the city. A Podcar system connects the airport, across the river to the new Umeå Östra travel centre, the hospital and university as well as housing and trade estates. The system comprises 12 km and 16 stations. Around 12,000 travellers are expected to use the system daily. The benefit/cost ratio is 0,4 and the cost per trip is SEK 22,50.

In the near future we can count on there being three or four suppliers of Podcar systems that may be interested in taking part in an innovational bidding procedure:

Vectus, which has a system approved by Transportstyrelsen

ATS with its system ULTra which is approved for public use at London Heathrow and with an approval from HM Rail Inspectorate.

2getthere with its system for Masdar which soon will be approved and is expected to be in service in a few months.

Bombardier, who claims its existing APM technology can be adapted to the functional requirements of a Podcar system.

In conclusion we have a quartet of possible buyers and the same number of possible suppliers. If a project is to materialise there is a requirement for effective financial and procurement solutions suitable for the current stage of development of Podcars.

It is the opinion of the Inquiry that initially a financial solution with public funding (Swedish state, EU, publicly owned companies) and private entities (suppliers, real estate owners, venture capital companies) is required, probably with state loan guarantees as a base. Further it should be tested if competitive dialogue is permissible in the initial phases of a bidding process.

This requires that the procedure is implemented in Swedish law as is the case in many member states. The Swedish Rail Administration should be given full authority as project leader. The State reference group for Podcar issues should act supportive to the Rail Administration. In order not to lose pace the project leading group should as soon as possible develop the analysis and proposals for procurement forms and funding alternatives and in parallel have a dialogue with the main potential buyers and suppliers in order to get a clear picture of the room to manoeuvre for the different stakeholders.

Early in the process, a program for the evaluation of pioneer projects in a relevant scientific setting should be established. Both technical, social, environmental and industrial policy issues in a Podcar project need to be covered in an evaluation. This evaluation may then form the basis for further actions.

Readers who wish to learn more about Personal Rapid Transit (aka PodCars) are invited to visit the PRT webpage at the Innovative Transportation Technologies website.

Last modified: September 28, 2009