Transit Innovation: Public Transit in the City of Tomorrow - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Transit Innovation: Public Transit in the City of Tomorrow

Every two weeks, MPC uncovers best practices from around the world and delivers them right to your inbox in Talking Transit. This week, MPC examines Masdar, a city being built from the ground up in the United Arab Emirates, as the world’s first car-free, emissions-free city.

Photo courtesy of Arend Kuester

Flying cars may still be science fiction, but new innovative technologies are emerging to help revolutionize the way we commute.  Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) is a form of public transportation that emits zero-emissions, requires no fuel, can travel three to five times faster than buses during a typical rush hour and carries twice the passenger capacity of a freeway lane.  PRT uses several small podcar vehicles – about half the weight of a small automobile – and travels along a dedicated guideway.   The podcars are powered by a magnetic field that accelerates and decelerates the vehicles, using four times less energy than automobiles.   

Because there are a limited number of cars on any given system, traffic is non-existent on the PRT. The computerized operating system can calculate the distance between the podcars, and implements a coordinated timing mechanism to ensure free flowing conditions of the vehicles. Passengers enjoy on-demand, point-to-point transportation, using only a fraction of a percent of the land that cars use. 

In a country that boasts indoor ski slopes, underwater hotels, and man-made islands in the shape of the world, it’s no surprise the United Arab Emirates would be on the cutting edge of developing the next generation of public transit.  Masdar City aims to be the world’s first carbon-neutral city, when completed in 2016.  Because the city is designed for pedestrians, and streets won’t be wide enough to accommodate automobile traffic, cars will be banned from entering the city limits. Residents will instead have access to an extensive, $22 billion underground PRT system for their transportation needs. Powered by solar energy with batteries, the PRT system will operate at approximately 1,500 stations, with a fleet of 2,000 to 3,000 vehicles.  

Outside of the United Arab Emirates, most cities aren’t starting from scratch. However, as the technology continues to advance, there may be opportunities to learn from Masdar’s experiment to help improve the reliability, direct connectivity, and efficiency of our future public transportation systems.

This article was featured in Talking Transit, MPC's bi-weekly e-newsletter. To receive the newsletter, visit


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