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Morgantown’s PRT: Solution to Peak Oil, Climate Change, Debt

We have known the solution known the solution to urban traffic problems, rising oil prices, and Climate Change for half a century. Yet Federal regulations block such innovations.

President Nixon sent his daughter, Tricia, to open the world’s first electrically powered, grade-separated network of self-driving cars in Oct, 1972. Walter Cronkite opened the news coverage with, “One of the big problems in this country is something many of us run into every day, traffic jams.” Tricia Nixon said it was “more fun than Disneyland.”

It was part of his plan for the environment and energy. He would later state the objective, “At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need. We will hold our future in our hands alone.”

This network is still operating today with outstanding success as noted by the Mayor of Morgantown in this 2013 letter:

JPods US Patent improves on the Morgantown PRT in two important ways (6,810,817):

  • Robots replace the central computer control system: “A method of controlling a transportation System for moving people, freight, and any combination whereof using a distributed network of intelligent devices without requiring the aid of a human driver”
  • Networks are solar-powered: “The method… providing… Solar and wind power generators integrated into the physical Structure of Said transportation System….”

Congressional Study: Barriers to Innovation, government “institutional failures”

The barrier expanding these networks beyond Morgantown is government regulations as documented in Congressional Study PB-244854, “Automated Guideway Transit”, 1975. These same government “institutional failures” caused of 46% of 470 ton-mpg freight railroads to be replaced by roads with the 25 mpg efficiency of the Model-T.

Source: Congressional Study PB-244854, “Automated Guideway Transit”, 1975. Government “institutional failures” blocked urban transportation innovation for “four to six decades (aside from some relatively minor cosmetic changes)… Compared with many other areas of entrepreneurial endeavor, the environment for innovation in transportation should be favorable. Urban transportation needs are extensive… In retrospect, the new systems efforts have served not to stimulate interest in new technology but to discourage already reluctant local transit operators from considering it.”

“Proponents of PRT view this concept as a reasonable supplement to the private automobile in high density urban areas and claim that PRT can provide a very much higher level of service than other modes of public transportation. Thus, it is argued that PRT systems would attract a significant percentage of the rides now being made in private automobiles and offer obvious benefits:

  • less traffic congestion in urban areas.
  • less land and fewer facilities used for automobile storage. . reduced travel time under more comfortable Circumstance. . less noise and air pollution.
  • reduction in consumption of petroleum-derived fuels.
  • reduction in requirements for new arterial roads and urban freeways.

It is contended that PRT would provide greater mobility for the transportation disadvantaged, i.e., the young, the elderly, the poor, and the handicapped.”

Similarity: There was a similar blocking of innovation with rotary telephones under Federal monopoly between 1918 and 1982.

5X5 Standard to Correct  “institutional failures”

Morgantown’s PRT is self-regulated so it does not provide a viable model to be replicated. The 5X5 Standard of the Solar Mobility Agreement was created to provide a fundable regulatory framework. It as been successfully negotiated with cities and signed in the US and China (link). It is a relatively simple standard that grade-separated transport networks 5 times more efficient than roads pay 5% of gross transportation revenues to use the airspace over roads to build networks.


Morgantown PRT opened in 1975 and has delivered 110 million injury-free passenger miles. By all accounts, the Morgantown PRT has been an absolute success. Link to a 1977 video of that success two years after the PRT opened. Below is a letter from the Mayor or Morgantown explaining the benefits PRT has provided to his city.

In response to the 1973 Oil Embargo, the US Senate asked DOT for mobility solutions to prevent hardships in future embargoes. The Office of Technology Assessment provided an answer to the Senate Committee on Appropriations in Automated Guide Ways and Personal Rapid Transit (PB-244854). An independent audit in 2010 indicates the network pays for itself every 5 years. The Office of Technology Assessment study resulted in the conclusion that “PRT has the highest potential service level and may have the highest patronage level of all AGT [Automated Guideway Transit] systems.” The also study accurately predicted what would be its own failings:

  • Federally sponsored R & D has not included a coordinated program for conversion of successful products into operational systems.
  • UMTA’s R&D programs [US DOT Urban Mass Transit Administration]… have neglected near-term … simpler approaches to correct transit problems.
  • Finally, institutional failures may have hindered implementation.

Link to 1977 Morgantown PRT video.

Link to 21 Presidential veto message that document Federal taxing to fund “internal improvements” is unconstitutional.

Denver’s Federal grant for PRT in 1970.

Germany built a similar system with Cabinetaxi (updated system at Dortmund, Germany). More recently, other companies have been developing their own PRT systems which will solve various transportation challenges. ULTraPRT at Heathrow Airport and Masdar City are two of the more developed Systems. JPods networks can be built for a fraction of the cost of Morgantown’s PRT, going beyond PRT to a whole new level of on-demand personal mobility networks. To support the deployment of such networks, JPods has created a set of software programs that allow anyone to model solar-powered mobility networks for their community. Click to get the software.
Visit from China Arranged by JPods – 2011

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