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Can ‘Uber-Like’ Elevated Cable Cars Solve Dallas’ Traffic?

Five North Texas cities — Dallas, Arlington, Plano, Frisco and DeSoto — have started vying to become the first in the U.S. to pilot the novel transportation system known as Whoosh.

(TNS) — Transportation planners have a new idea about how to take on congestion as Dallas-Fort Worth’s population grows: elevated autonomous cable cars that riders can hail on demand.

Five North Texas cities — Dallas, Arlington, Plano, Frisco and DeSoto — are vying to become the first in the U.S. to pilot the novel transportation system known as Whoosh. The system consists of electric vehicles that resemble conventional aerial gondolas but use autonomous technology to move along an elevated network of fixed cables and rails. The concept comes from Swyft Cities, a project that was born at Google but was spun out as an independent business aimed at innovating transit.

The company has been working with the North Central Texas Council of Governments to identify potential sites. Swyft Cities will choose which would be the best fit for the project’s first run.

North Texas is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, adding more than 1 million residents every 7 years. NCTCOG expects that more corridors will become significantly congested by 2045. Planners say that means they have to think beyond highway expansions.

“We’re currently at 8 million people going to 12, [so] we’re going to need other transportation choices because our roadways will continually get more and more congested,” said Brendon Wheeler, program manager at NCTCOG.

Like buses, Whoosh vehicles would have predetermined stops on the ground, with the system initially covering about a three-mile radius — more stops could be added later. But unlike buses or trains, the on-demand nature means it would bypass all the existing stops to take riders directly to their designated one. Since it’s elevated, it also bypasses, rather than competing with, road traffic.

While each potential site has unique needs, Whoosh is a good fit for mid-density areas like the edges of a downtown — places that lack good last-mile transit solutions.

“The core of downtown is probably pretty well served by other modes, but there’s a whole lot places outside of downtown Dallas and Fort Worth that doesn’t have good solutions,” said Jeral Poskey, Swyft Cities CEO.

Swyft Cities chose North Texas because of an NCTCOG program that looks to attract new transit technology to the region and connect them with local governments. Staff at the transportation planning agency vet the companies first, making sure they offer potential solutions to some of DFW’s transportation challenges.

While cost depends on the specifications of each system, the buildout of a Whoosh system should take around $30–$50 million. Cities are in the process of applying for funding grants. Those should come to fruition around this time next year, along with system plans.

Having those in hand will allow Swyft Cities to decide on where to test-run the first system.

“The fundamental criterion will be where is the place we can have the biggest impact the soonest in Dallas Fort Worth?” Poskey said.

© 2024 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.