During the 1970s, Boeing designed personal rapid transit (PRT) system rubber-tired, electrically powered vehicles that were silent and emission free. The cars traveled on computerized concrete guideways. During busy times, they had a scheduled route, but otherwise they arrived according to passenger request. Essentially, the system allowed vehicles to wait for people rather than forcing people to wait for vehicles.
A Boeing PRT is still in service at West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.Va.; by November 2014, the cars were transporting about 15,000 riders per day during the school year.
The concept started in 1962, when President John F. Kennedy asked the U.S. Congress to provide federal capital assistance for mass transportation “to conserve and enhance values in existing urban areas.” Two years later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964 into law and created the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA), later the Federal Transit Administration.
In 1970, UMTA decided to implement the idea at West Virginia University in Morgantown; Boeing won the contract and proceeded to develop and test the cars at the Kent Space Center, Wash.
By the end of 1975, 45 vehicles, a central control and maintenance facility, guideways and passenger stations were serving the university’s campus community. The same year, the International Oceanic Exposition opened in Kobe, Japan, with a similar Boeing-designed personal rapid transit system. It would carry 3 million people by the year’s end but was no longer running by the end of the 1970s.
In 1979, Boeing began work on a fleet of 12-passenger vehicles, called the Advanced Group Rapid Transit (AGRT) project, and set aside 45 acres at its Kent, Wash., facility for a one-mile guideway and control center for the AGRT test program center. Although this effort did not lead to further contracts, it did lead to improvements to the still-rolling Morgantown system.
Morgantown cars serve five stations on an 8.65-mile (13.92-kilometer) track. Powered by electric motors, the computer-driven cars arrive at a station within five minutes of a passenger swiping a West Virginia University student, faculty or staff ID card. Others can ride for 50 cents.
Boeing provided a software upgrade in 2002, but because of its age, the Morgantown system has become increasingly difficult to maintain. A shrinking market for replacement parts has significantly increased replacement costs. In 2012, a system modernization master plan was established to make PRT system upgrades by refurbishing some systems and replacing others.
Interest is growing in sustainable PRT systems, now sometimes know as personal automated transit (PAT). In 2011, London’s Heathrow International Airport began an on-demand system of small, driverless individual vehicles.