Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Personal Rapid Transit, or PRT, proposes to duplicate city street networks with new redundant elevated street networks for shared cars. It gets a lot of press, but after about 60 years of trying, has not yet been successfully implemented.

The United States tried it once, in Morgantown, WV, in the 1970s. I’ve always been curious about the system, so when I passed through Morgantown last weekend I stopped to check out the PRT.

What I found was cool, but couldn’t be called “PRT” by any reasonable definition. The system consists of a single route (PDF) with no deviations, and when I rode on Saturday, trams came according to a schedule and stopped at every station along the route.

There were bypass tracks around each station, so I assume the technical ability exists for trams to skip intermediate stops and go directly between any two destinations along the line, but what I experienced was absolutely no different from any elevated transit line in the world, except that the vehicles were smaller.

In the grand debate over PRT, I suppose you might call me a moderate. I don’t think the sort of elevated systems traditionally envisioned are worth the expense of literally duplicating our street network, but I do think low-tech ideas that make use of our existing street infrastructure could have value. What is Capital Bikeshare, after all, except a low-tech, on-street version of PRT?

Enjoy these pictures from Morgantown.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado and lives in Trinidad, DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post. Dan blogs to express personal views, and does not take part in GGWash's political endorsement decisions.