THE CURRENT PROBLEM
Virtually every city in the world today has a major problem with congestion caused by the ever increasing volume of cars on the road. Congestion results in delay, cost, unpredictability, frustration, road rage, crashes and the need to build more roads. Cars, mostly carrying one person, weigh tons more than, and take up many times the space required by, their cargo.
In addition, massive volumes of fuel are consumed by cars which results in the further problems of air pollution, noise, environmental degradation, carbon gases contributing to global warming, consumption of dwindling oil resources and balance of payment costs.
For years and years the only alternative to private cars that has been hopefully proposed is public transport, but even the most avid supporters of this option realise that it is not a complete solution, has many of the same problems as the above, has numerous limitations and will never entirely replace the car. For decades public transport has been prioritised, but the shift to private cars has continued unabated. Individual transport is demanded, public transport is supplied – this cannot ever solve the problem.
The solution, however, is not to try to ban cars, but to eliminate the need for them. This can only be done if a viable alternative is available. That alternative is the pod.
A pod is an individual person mover – a covered chair on wheels that can be driven. The proposed pod will be small, light, quiet, slow, safe, fuel efficient and fun to drive.
For pods, along with pedestrians, cyclists and other slow-moving traffic to operate safely, precincts protected from all vehicles capable of exceeding 25 km/h would need to be created. These precincts are the residential, shopping and office suburbs that exist today. Within the precincts cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles would be banned and walkers, children and the elderly, cyclists and pods would freely roam the streets.
WHAT IS A POD?
A pod is transport on a human scale; small enough to fit through a doorway, drive into a lift or do a U-turn in a parking bay; light enough to travel all day on a car battery; slow enough to not endanger pedestrians and cyclists; safe enough that a child and the infirm can drive one; and cheap enough that anyone who can afford a monthly bus fare can buy one.
Pods can have all the comforts and convenience of a modern car – comfortable seats, protection from the elements, heating, air-conditioning, radio, music, GPS, sun roofs, glove-boxes, cold-drink holders and storage space for suitcases or groceries.
Pods will be able to be linked in trains, one behind the other, or in groups of any number, with the lead vehicle taking control when they are joined. They can be modified with flat beds to carry freight. They can be driven conventionally or by remote control from outside the vehicle.
Pods will also have communication, via built-in cell phones or by dedicated links to other pods in the train, so people can carry on a conversation while travelling, or parents can hear what children are getting up to.
Pods can be made of light materials such as fibre-glass or plastics, as the protection of a steel cocoon is not required. Pods will also be able to negotiate steep slopes (like golf carts). They could even be designed to climb stairs and ride on escalators.
The most likely form of propulsion will be electric motors. Pods will be extremely efficient on power, being light and slow. There will be no need for gears; golf cart technology (electric or liquid fuel) will enable quick acceleration and automatic braking. They could even be pedalled. Dependence on fossil fuels for personal transport will all but disappear, making pods amazingly environmentally friendly.
Electric pods can be recharged at night when electricity is available and cheap. Pods docked at charging points can negotiate special rates during night hours with power companies pleased to have consumers for their excess off-peak supply. This is an environmentally ideal solution, as power is generated 24 hours daily, and burnt off as heat when power demand is low. Power taken during peak periods can be charged at a premium, but there will be little need for pods to use peak power, as these electric vehicles will be able to be used almost continuously for up to eight hours without recharging, and will have an estimated range of around 50 km per charge.
HOW WILL IT WORK?
Pod precincts or protected zones would need to be identified. These will be existing residential, shopping, office and/or mixed suburbs defined by an outer perimeter of existing rail lines, freeways or major arterial roads. These precincts will typically be 1.5 to 4.0 km long and wide, which is the spacing of major arterial routes in most cities. Initially, gated communities or retirement villages would make ideal pod precincts.
Within the precinct, any vehicle capable of doing more than 25 km/h will eventually be banned. During the transition, cars, motor cycles, buses or heavy vehicles entering the precinct will have to be escorted by a pod, a bicycle or a pedestrian to ensure that they do not endanger pod and NMT (non-motorised transport) street users. This restriction could be accompanied by an increasing penalty charge for vehicle use to encourage precinct residents to convert. While the zones can be declared immediately, it is envisaged that a transition period to 100% pods and NMT of around ten years will be needed, which is the approximate life of a private car.
At the limited number of access points to each precinct, pod stations will need to be constructed. At the pod station, people and pods can cross to adjacent precincts or will load onto public transport, i.e. pod carriers which will carry them the longer distances between precincts. Pod carriers can be road or rail-based. Effectively, a pod carrier is a modified bus or train where you bring your own seat or use the seats provided.
At each pod station, there will be pod hire points for those users without their own pod transport.
Pod stations will have level loading platforms, as for bus rapid and rail transport, where the pods can be driven on and off the carrier with minimal delay. The pod carriers will also offer seating for pedestrians, cyclists and for pod users who do not wish to remain in their vehicle.
Pod carriers will have dedicated routes and can run at high speeds between stations. As cars disappear, there will be more than adequate road space for this. The stations will be at one to four kilometre intervals, depending on precinct access points.
For intercity travel, pod carriers can also be provided, but initially cars will continue to be allowed. Cars can be stored in parking lots at city boundaries, or escorted to and from precincts as described earlier. Intercity travel will, however, primarily be provided by pod carriers, or by buses, trains or aeroplanes, with pods hired at destinations.
There is indeed a solution to urban congestion and environmental pollution, which is practical, simple and cheap. Protected precincts for NMT and pods will revolutionise cities, making them clean, safe and desirable. The dependence on fossil fuels for individual transport and the major environmental problems caused by private cars will be eliminated. Private pods, safe cycling and walking, combined with public carriers for longer distances, will meet the growing demand of users for personal door to door transportation. Finally, the amount of land and tarmac required for transport will dramatically reduce.
Join the car-free revolution today!