Bicycles as PRT

For decades, the holy grail of public transportation has been Personal Rapid Transit (PRT).  Essentially, a PRT system has all the convenience and privacy of a personal vehicle, without the unpleasant side effects of private automobiles, like excess pollution and traffic.

Using bike sharing as PRT solves most of the issues, with a few caveats:  Only the dedicated will use the system in adverse weather, traffic will get worse without sidewalks or bike lanes, and without cargo capacity, it’s only good for point-A-to-point-B.

Compared to other transit options, bike lanes are extremely cheap.  And people hate running errands in the rain anyway, so really the killer app is being able to do a grocery run on a bike.  The only folks I’ve seen able to do this are those with third-wheels, or plastic tubs strapped to their rear-wheels. If cargo space was already built in — or at least available on a considerable number of fleet bikes — there’d be few barriers to public acceptance of a bike sharing system.

Bikes as PRT do have one key weakness: diurnal capacity.  Without enough bikes in the system, it will become impossible to find a residential bike during rush hour, and without enough bike docks, it’ll become impossible to stop at the user’s proper destination.  Active PRT systems like ULTra can automatically move units to balance things out; bikes have to be moved by people.

But this is also a solvable problem:  Just introduce route planning into the Bike Sharing system — when people sign in, have them choose their destination, and incentivize nearby sites that need more bikes.  Or conversely, you can highlight nearby sites that would be better to take a bike from.  It could be done in the form of membership “points” and/or ride discounts.  Ideally, there should be a way to chain up two or three bikes together to maximize the movement potential when a counter-cyclical user enters the system.

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