for as long as i can remember, the future of public transit has been one of three things: monorails, maglev trains, and personal rapid transit, or PRT. i hope to ride the Shanghai Maglev this fall but have long been looking forward to today when i was able to try out the Heathrow Pods Personal Rapid Transit system.
while there has been talk of PRTs for a while now, it seems like the only large-scale deployment is in Morgantown, West Virginia and dates from the ’70s. as the first new PRT in a long time and the one that’s most accessible to me (i wouldn’t call WV a transit hub…), i couldn’t wait to take it for a spin (or two).
think of personal rapid transit as your own private on-demand taxi — except it’s public transportation. you call up a private pod, punch in your destination, and voila, it takes you there! do you remember Minority Report and how the cars sort of merged onto a common guideway? same concept with PRT systems except you don’t own your own car; you call it up from a pool of waiting vehicles.
the idea (and technology) has been around for decades. in addition to the Morgantown system, the German Cabinentaxi proof of concept dates back to the ’70s:
the Heathrow Pod system
the Pod system takes you from Terminal 5 to the “Business Parking” lot, in which there are two stops (one on each end), A and B. it’s free to use and easy to access, so i could not say no to kicking the proverbial tires a couple times during my long-but-not-long-enough-to-go-to-the-city layover.
once you’re at T5 (use the connecting trains to get there from the other terminals), exit at the far north end (by Zone A if you’re on the arrivals level) and take the elevators outside to Level 2 for Business Parking.
once there, you’re greeted by the parking bays full of pods waiting for you. go up to the screen and follow the nice lady’s instructions (she’s a bit playful and sassy, i like it!). she is chatty during the ride, which i enjoy.
the inside of the pod is spacious enough for four and their luggage and the ride is fairly comfortable, feeling like any airport people mover. the coolest part though, is how it deals with traffic, waiting for pods to pass or bays to clear up, and merging in. as Spock would say, “fascinating!” yes, i had a transitgeeknerdgasm, multiple times.
i took two round trips, first going T5 to Parking Stop A and back to T5 (switching pods at A), then (after a much-needed coffee) went back for T5 to A, A to B, and B back to T5 (switching pods each time). the system wasn’t busy and i didn’t have to wait at any time for a free pod.
One last spin around the block. //t.co/u65kERfsAL
— Jonathan Khoo (@jonk) May 10, 2014
if you find yourself with a couple hours to spare at LHR (and either are originating your travel there or don’t mind slogging through the Border Force [lol] customs line to enter the country), definitely try the Heathrow Pods out. as a showcase of technology for the company that installed it, i’m sure they wouldn’t mind the traffic (and they probably get a fair number of transit geeks like me who just ride them back and forth). and if it’s your bag, you also get some nice runway views during the ride as you’re zooming along at 25 MPH.