The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation published its Rail Feasibility Study in December 2015. Here we describe some of the benefits of a Personal Rapid Transit system connecting Watsonville to Santa Cruz, compared to the rail systems described in the study.
Using a conservative estimate of one podcar every three seconds and 3 people per pod, a PRT system could easily transport 3600 people per hour in each direction. The 3-second gap (headway) was specified in order to comply with the brick-wall criterion. If this restriction is lifted (which appears likely to occur), the PRT system capacity is likely to increase dramatically.
It appears unlikely that a light rail system here would handle more than 200 passengers per train, or 400 people per hour in each direction.
Conclusion: A Personal Rapid Transit system can transport more people than a light rail system on our corridor.
Station locations: Personal Rapid Transit can offer many more stations on or off the rail corridor, compared to light rail which would be restricted to the rail corridor only. A single PRT loop could provide service for a large portion of Watsonville, while a light rail system would only reach the southern corner of the city.
Waiting time: The trains are very limited in their ability to provide 2-way service due to their need for passing lanes, so in the best case they would provide service every half-hour. In contrast, PRT provides on-demand service with little or no waiting.
Speed: A PRT system operating at 30 mph would travel between Santa Cruz Metro station and Watsonville Transit Center within 40 minutes, roughly comparable to most scenarios in the rail feasibility study. (Scenario D is somewhat faster as an express train with only 4-6 stops.)
Conclusion: PRT would provide much more convenient service than a light rail system on our rail corridor.
A solar-powered PRT system has essentially no greenhouse gas emissions!
But, even without considering solar power, here are some reasons why a PRT system uses less energy (per person) than a rail system:
- The podcar weighs much less , per passenger, than a train.
- The podcar can travel the entire journey at a roughly constant speed, compared to a train which accelerates and decelerates at every stop.
- During low-traffic hours, the PRT system would run fewer podcars, compared to a train which would make the journey with a lot of empty seats.
- We anticipate the PRT system would attract more riders than the train, and therefore it would get more cars off the road, simply because PRT is more convenient to ride.
Conclusion: PRT will reduce greenhouse gas emissions more effectively than conventional rail.
[Need content. Measure D. TIRCP grants. Private funding. Low operation cost.]
Conclusion: The PRT system can likely be funded and built more quickly, and at lower cost, than a highway lane can be added.
We disagree with the following brief assessment of PRT from the RTC’s feasibility study:
Much of the funding that a local rail transit project could hope to secure requires the use of technologies that have been proven successful in the U.S. and such is not the case with both a Road-Rail bus concept and railbus.
The same funding concern holds for Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). In addition, the California Public Utilities Commission has stated that its rail regulations apply to PRT, including identical headway requirements. This regulation would render PRT unable to provide adequate ridership levels.
Funding opportunities have improved since the feasibility study, since TIRCP favors projects that use innovative technology to reduce carbon emissions and serve disadvantaged communities. Furthermore, based on 3-second headways, we believe the statement “unable to provide adequate ridership levels” is erroneous.
[Link to feasibility page, if we create one.]