Improving Transit Efficiency through Evolution to a Shared Electric-Powered Transportation Network

Focus Area



Air Quality






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

Transit system capital efficiency is often criticized due to low ridership and high capital costs, combining to limit competitive economic application of this transportation mode.  The relatively low volume of transit vehicles and infrastructure compared to highway solutions limits competition and economies of scale resulting in high capital costs. The necessity of a mode change to reach larger client volumes in low to medium population density areas increases travel times and reduces the attractiveness of the alternative.  Additionally the lack of multi-mode use of the given infrastructure investment raises public transport fares and/or subsidy burden. A potential solution exists in the form of networked electric transportation where light weight vehicles can enter and exit a guideway infrastructure to achieve first and last mile travel segments in the same vehicle used for guideway travel.  The same guideway is used for small public transit and freight vehicles that are captive to the guideway and use off-line loading and unloading facilities.  While on the guideway, electric power is fed to the vehicles in real time as they move, thus eliminating the on-board energy storage challenge that has limited electric vehicle range and application.  This solution leverages the trend toward the electrification of the vehicle platform, and it opens the transportation energy market to any fuel that can generate electricity thus creating competition and improving energy security while reducing noise and air emissions.  Automation of guideway travel increases throughput capacity and improves safety while still offering the vehicle occupants stress-free reliable travel times where attention to the driving task is not required. The objective is to develop a high-level technology roadmap and analyze the impact of a shared electric-powered transportation network architecture evaluating at a minimum the emissions, energy, congestion, safety, emergency response, and economic development aspects. Research tasks should include a literature review, development of a high-level technology roadmap, a robust cost/benefits analysis of the shared electric-powered transportation network alternative, and completion of a final report. The research and funding period are: $500,000 for 24 months.

Urgency and Payoff

The urgency and potential payoff follow. A perfect storm is building with the collision of energy security, climate change, infrastructure aging, homeland security, and economic growth concerns.  Policy directions and decisions will be made over the next two years that will affect the nation’s health, and this option needs to be among the alternatives considered.  The current transportation architecture is estimated to be wasting over $1.5 billion per day compared to the proposed alternative.  Thoroughly vetting this alternative, so that it can be compared with other solutions is of great value to the nation and could be key to making transit solutions more economic.

Suggested By

AP020, New Public Transportation Systems and Technology, as specified in the TRB Research Needs Database, 2009.