AUSTIN (KXAN) — An entrepreneur and private astronaut based in Austin is pitching an idea that might seem out of this world-a new way to move around the traffic-burdened city.
At a South by Southwest event Monday, Richard Garriott suggested a system called personal rapid transit (PRT). Imagine this: A system of automated, electric cars taking just you and friends or family where you want to go. The cars ride along elevated guide-ways and are already reality at West Virginia University and at Heathrow Airport in London.
“When you go to a stop all you do is tell it where you want to go. Doors open, sit down, press the one button called ‘go.’ It waits for a gap in the full-speed guideway, accelerates onto it immediately and then you are point-to-piont at full speed until it opens up at your destination and it is at your destination only,” explained Garriott.
Garriott has been meeting with possible stakeholders to make the idea a reality in Austin. Building elevated guide-ways would require cooperation from local governments and other players, like the University of Texas and Capital Metro.
One of the selling points Garriott highlights is that the plan he is proposing could become real without taxpayer backing. He says Austin PRT already has much of the funding lined up. He is looking to begin with a roughly 7-mile web centered on the University of Texas-Austin with a cost of about $100 million. However, Garriott compared that to the cost of light rail, which for a longer track like the one proposed in Austin in 2014, could cost more than $1 billion.
Austin City Council Member Ann Kitchen sat in on the SXSW presentation about PRT. Kitchen said it is exciting to see entrepreneurs applying their creativity to tackle transportation issues, but she needs to learn more about PRT. However, Kitchen said it seems like Garriott is taking a reasonable approach by focusing on the University of Texas first.
The City of Austin tried to implement urban rail a few years ago but voters decided against the 9.5-mile rain.