(TNS) — You've got to get downtown in a hurry, and don't feel like battling the elements or trying to find a parking spot. Would you rather hop on a bus, call a taxi, or make use of a ridesharing app like Uber or Lyft? Or, would you prefer to sit down in a private pod that then ascends to a track 14 feet above the street and zips you along at 45 miles per hour, nonstop, to your destination, where it descends again to deposit you onto the sidewalk?
Engineer and entrepreneur Mike Stanley, chief executive officer of Transit X, would like to make that last option available to Melrosians, and, eventually people all over the world. At a recent meeting of the city's Energy Commission, Stanley argued that his futuristic vision of mass transportation is more realistic than it might at first appear.
"It's a fleet of autonomous electric vehicles, it's just not on the road," Stanley said, making the case that all the elements involved are proven, and simply haven't been combined in this particular way. "Everything has four wheels, polyurethane wheels on a steel rail. There's an electric motor and a battery. It's pretty simple. There's not a suspension system or steering system."
Pods would be independently powered, running on solar-generated electricity. Initial estimates conceive of Melrose's system using 404 pods on 11 miles of track. Some 60 stops would be spread throughout the city, with about 95 percent of the population living within a three-minute walk of at least one.
Traveling long distances would be quicker and more convenient than ever before, Stanley said, assuming the existence of systems stretching between major destinations. Pods within communities would travel at 45 miles per hour (a speed they'd reach in two seconds, producing one g of acceleration, or the same amount of force felt when lying down, thanks to Earth's gravity). Over longer distances, pods would speed along at 150 miles per hour.
"It's not just for local, we'll be building out into larger networks," Stanley said. "Going from Pittsfield to Boston might be an hour, across Massachusetts."
Boston to New York would come in at under two hours, he added.
Construction and operation will be privately funded, Stanley said, with nothing asked from municipalities besides permission and rights of way. Under the standard agreement, the host city is entitled to five percent of the system's gross revenue.
"We don't take any public funding, so we're not asking the town for any money, in fact we give you money," Stanley said.
The pod concept is more efficient for individuals and societies alike, Stanley argued. The automated system will juggle riders' needs and the locations of pods at any given moment, reducing wait times to seconds. The resulting system will be so cheap and convenient, for passengers as well as freight, that private vehicles will gradually disappear, he predicted.
"You're removing personal cars, you're solving congestion, pollution, greenhouse gas emission, parking," Stanley said. "One pod is replacing about 30 or 40 vehicles, and one pod has a 15-pound battery. If you think of electric vehicles, each one has an 800-pound battery pack...It's much more efficient and much less costly. You're talking about a $5,000 vehicle replacing a $40,000 vehicle times 30."
Stanley insisted his vision will be much, much safer than traveling by car.
"We think we're going to be 100,000 times safer than cars," he said. "That's about what an airline is. So if you're looking for safety, the most unsafe thing you can do is keep the existing status quo."
Many people have trouble picturing a world without cars, or even a block, but that's owing more to precedent than the lack of viable alternatives, Stanley argued.
"We're so used to cars, and we're so used to pavement," he said. "We're kind of like fish in water, we just don't know, we're kind of numb to it. Just like we're kind of numb to the accidents."
Though Stanley believes his system will eliminate cars (along with buses, trucks, trains, and other forms of transport), nothing about the pods concept demands it be the only one in use. The amount of space it takes up on the ground is equivalent to utility polls, with the bulk of the system residing high in the air, in otherwise unused real estate.
"We take up negative space, so we're not limiting your options for other things," Stanley said.
To convince cities and towns to give Transit X the go-ahead to construct its systems, Stanley has been pushing his vision far and wide. He said he made 27 proposals like the one in Melrose in just the previous week.
All that legwork has resulted in expressions of interest from two Massachusetts communities, he said, and two more in the Philippines, where one project is moving along quickly. Work is set to begin on a Transit X system in San Mateo, just outside Manila, in the not-too-distant future.
"We should be able to have it shovel-ready by the middle of the year, but it will take another half a year to get all the details," Stanley said. "We hope to have a system deployed by the end of this year, maybe the beginning of next year."
Commission member Lori Timmermann said the city would be watching developments with Stanley's company closely.
"The Transit X solution is a thought-provoking and potentially game-changing visionary concept," she said. "The Energy Commission will track Transit X's progress and we look forward to seeing a prototype when it's ready."
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