The National Highways Authority of India has been entrusted with developing India's first Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) network or pod taxis, to be named Metrino.
At an estimated cost of Rs 850 crore, the pilot project will span a 13km stretch from the Gurugram-Delhi border to Badshapur Mod on Sohna Road, with plans to extend it to Dhaula Kuan and Manesar on either side.
While the construction of this pilot project is yet to begin, the neighbouring city of Gurugram has also announced its intention to develop an 18km pod taxi link within the city.
Pod taxis are small, automated, driverless vehicles that travel independently, suspended under an overhead network of light guideways, 5-10m above the street, with docking stations for passengers to get on and off.
Morgantown PRT in West Virginia, the oldest and most extensive pod taxi network, connects the three Morgantown campuses of West Virginia University (WVU), as well as the downtown area.
It has been functional since 1975 carrying around 16,000 visitors and students a day. Other examples include the ULTra PRT at Heathrow Airport, UK, functional since 2011.
The Skycube PRT in Suncheon, South Korea connecting the site of the 2013 Suncheon Garden Expo Korea to a station in the wetlands "Buffer Area" next to the Suncheon Literature Museum.
Cyber-Cab is the PRT system in Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, UAE, which was initially constructed as an alternative to cars in the whole city.
However, the plan to extend the network over the whole city was shelved and the system is limited to a stretch of 800m.
|Delhi Metro. (Photo credit: YouTube)|
Other examples of pod taxis include the Park-Shutle in the Netherlands, which is used by passengers from airports, inside business parks, and during exhibitions.
Pod taxis are not the first "new technology" being tried in India. In fact, there have been a number of experiments with new technologies, but the results have not been a game changer for urban mobility.
Here are the three examples from the recent past: The Goa Sky Bus was an indigenously developed technology comprising suspended lightweight coaches that were supposed to run well above the regular road traffic.
It was claimed that this system would transport six million passengers daily, and would cost about Rs 100 crore per km. The 10.5km pilot Skybus Metro project was to connect Mapusa to Panaji, and accordingly, trial runs were conducted at a 1.6km long test-track at Madagaon, Goa.
However, a mishap occurred during the trial, in which two people were injured and one person was killed.
It raised serious concerns about passenger safety, forcing the committee to re-evaluate the system.
The Konkan Railway Corporation (KRC) in 2013 decided to scrap the project and dismantle the 1.6km test track at Margao in order to prevent "recurrent expenditure" on it.
The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority in 2007 decided to build a 20km Monorail corridor connecting Chembur-Wadala-Sant Gadge Maharaj Chowk as a feeder network.
The first phase of the project, an 8.8km line from Chembur to Wadala, was opened for public use in February 2014.
Built at a cost of Rs 1,000 crore, the phase I link of the monorail operates 130 trips per day carrying a paltry 16,000 passengers every day.
The already delayed phase II is expected to boost the ridership, but it is yet to be seen how much of it will translate into actual numbers.
As of now it has widely been reported in the media that regular commuters are giving the monorail a miss and most of its users are, in fact, joy-riders.
On February 23, 2011 Delhi launched a first-of-its-kind Metro rail service connecting New Delhi Railway Station (Central Delhi) to Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport.
This controversial exclusive airport feeder metro was implemented using a Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode.
The 22.7km link was built an at an approximate cost of Rs 5,700 crore but in July 2012, the link was shut down for repair due to safety concerns and a year later the PPP operator pulled out of the project due to various reasons, including ridership concerns.
Since then, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has taken over the operations of the link and changed it from an airport feeder to the "Orange Line" by improving the operations and reducing the fare.
The result is that the ridership has crossed over 50,000 per day in August 2016 which was around 10,000 when DMRC took over the project in 2013.
While pod taxis are being touted as a radical idea in India, the technology has been around for more than four decades and is yet to be mainstreamed, like metro systems or bus priority systems, which are in hundreds of cities globally.
Pod taxis are generally confined to controlled environments like amusement parks, airports, university campuses, and the like, that have very low demand.
This is mostly because of the huge cost involved in its implementation, making it an unsustainable public transportation option.
In Delhi, the Metro caters to 2.5 million daily trips, and buses are responsible for five million trips.
If the objective is to solve urban mobility issues, then the city needs to prioritise the integration and expansion of buses with the metro system.
While the Delhi Metro is already under expansion, the big struggle has been the augmentation of buses.
The government should focus on getting good quality buses, rather than experimenting with high cost, low-capacity systems like the new Metrino pod taxis.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)