Saturday, October 25, 2008

PodCars for Improved Transit at Walt Disney World?

One of Walt Disney World's largest going concerns for the last half-dozen years or so has been how to keep guests who reserve rooms at the WDW Resort to stay on property for the length of their vacation. A key component of this has been the Disney's Magical Express bus system that provides guests free transportation from the airport directly to the on-site resort. Combined with the internal transportation options, that removes the need for a car. But also key has been the huge expansion in available hotel rooms (exclusively through the Disney Vacation Club program) that means more predictable bookings for the parks.

The question the mouse is dealing with now is once they're on property, what to do with all those guests. Downtown Disney is being retooled to handle some of the nightlife refocusing it on dining, shopping, and entertainment instead of nightclubs. Also efforts are being made to spread similar activities around to various resorts as appropriate. Of course the easy answer is just to extend park hours a bit too. And that's being looked at.

The other part of that equation is how to move guests who arrive on property without cars around the resort the most efficient, but also cost effective, way. The monorail solution that was once thought to be the answer has a mostly point to point efficiency. The more stops you add the less efficient it is at moving guests around.

The other solution in use is bus transport. This system is most 'efficient' (to the point of being used above real capacity) at the beginning and end of the day when large numbers of guests are leaving from one resort to one destination (a park or entertainment zone). But is terribly inefficient in terms of energy, maintenance, and labor hour resources for large sections of the day and for moving guests from resort hotel to resort hotel.Which becomes more crucial as Disney spreads amenities out to the hotels, not just at Downtown Disney or in the parks.

Disney has at times looked at a lightrail solution. But although Light Rail is cheaper than monorails to build, it would create congestion as it shares the road grade level, and has the same problems as it is mostly a point to point system that requires parks and resorts to be in a straight line, which they definitely are not at Walt Disney World.

As it turns out there is a system designed specifically to handle moving riders efficiently around in a multiple destination system that even allows each family of riders to choose their particular destination and routes them there the most direct way possible with no other stops. It's called Personal Rapid Transport (PRT). A version of it known as the PodCar system is now being implemented at the Heathrow Airport and similar systems are being installed or considered in cities around the world.

I've recently discovered that Walt Disney World's transportation committee is currently studying the PodCar system to see how it could be implemented at the Resort. To understand why this is the perfect solution for Walt Disney World you have to understand how PRT works. (I apologize in advance if I'm not the best photoshop user in the world)

The main line runs to every destination. The track typically runs just one direction, so loop backs are used to keep travel time to a minimum. The stations are all off the main line and cars are dispatched so that no station is without a waiting car for more than a few minutes. If too many cars are in the station, there is a mid-point reentry. If it's a high volume station you can have multiple load and re-entry ramps.

Each enclosed car is driverless and programmed to use the shortest route to reach the destination selected by the passengers. Cars typically run on an elevated track (or suspended below the track in a few variations of PRT). This means property rights are easier to acquire and stations can be located above the main road or along side it as best fits the traffic patterns.

One quandary the WDW Transportation Committee has been tackling is how to handle the rush hour situations when parks tend to empty out in rapid fashion after the last fireworks or parade.. The answer is actually fairly simple. Multiple loading and unloading stations would be installed at the major destinations and departure points (mostly theme parks) and staging areas for empty Podcars would be located nearby each park to quickly fill in with a new car as one departs. These would keep the lines moving.

The other issues are cleanliness and what to do if a car gets stuck on the track. Cleanliness would be monitored by station attendants or any family finding their car in bad shape can refuse it before getting in and send that car to an off track station to be cleaned. Cars broken down on track can be solved by careful design of the loops and a few regions where two-way travel is possible. Which brings up the issue of cost. The costs of PRT are generally considered to be two to three times less than light rail, both in installation and maintenance.

I would love to see Walt Disney World take the leap and set up a Podcar system. Even if it is limited in scope initially. It would relieve some of the issues with transportation between destinations that aren't theme parks. Perhaps they could use it to link the DVC hotels together with the monorail and boat system. The USA needs a proof of concept to encourage cities and local governments to develop their own PodCar systems. If Disney worked out the kinks they could then sell their brand of the system, like the original plan was with the Peoplemover and Monorail technologies back in the 70s.

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Jayhawk said...

For more on Personal Rapid Transit:

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Interesting ideas. I would love to see more information about how this system would lay out and how long it would take to go from a resort to a theme park.

Truecoat said...

Having paid attention to PRT for many years, it would make great sense for Disney to explore this. Trips within the resort would be quick and exciting. This could almost be a ride in itself like the monorail but on a more personal note.
With the options of adding on at much less expense, you could go to Downtown Disney and finally add Disney Studios and Animal Kingdom to a new transport option.
As far as how long it would take, it would beat every option out there including driving.

Gator Chris said...

Wow. I sure hope this turns out to be a practical option for WDW.

What a great opportunity for the Walt Disney Company to showcase innovations in urban planning (EPCOT the city, anyone?).

Thanks for the info!

scott said...

That would be really cool, I can't believe it would cost less than light rail considered the number of cars they would need in the system.

Maz said...

This sounds like a great idea! I would like to think it is possible in the next 20 years. I guess they would have a number of different loops connected by long stretches to connect the areas. An Epcot loop, a MK Loop, a Downtown Disney loop, etc. I see too many things that can go wrong though. I am not a pessimist at heart, but they've had the monorail for years and they seem to have a lot of issues with that system and they have pilots. I can't imagine stopping for no reason somewhere on the new track between one of the parks and my resort. They better have a screen drop down and a movie start pretty fast to calm down the trapped riders. I'm sure I'm wrong but I can't wait to find out.

yaguara2003 said...

I think a light rail would be best. Honestly - the trains would be staffed, so if there were any issues there would be people there to help and provide information. Light rail could be built on elevated tracks like in Los Angeles. (some of the LA Light rail lines run above ground) so it could be done. There could be a couple of main stations for crossing routes - (say Downtown Disney) , the TTC, International Drive, and one at each of the major parks. - and a couple stations around the hotels along the way. The TTC and Downtown Disney could be the main stations for all the routes, and there could be maybe 3-4 routes that make loops, maybe 2 that make loops, and 1 that goes N-S, 1 that goes E-W...there should be a stop by Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Blizzard Beach/Typhoon Lagoon, Route 192 (Connection with Lynx Busses), International Drive, TTC, Magic Kingdom entrance, Epcot entrance, and some of the hotels in between. Maybe Ft Wilderness too. There should be a parking area off 192 and International Drive for Non Disney Guests to use to get on light rail to the parks. the Disney Busses could be converted to clean energy busses and continue to serve Disney resort guests along with the monorails and light rail. But non guests could park at International Drive Station , TTC, and a lot /station on 192. this would enable non Disney guets to take light rail and stay off the busses. There should be a stop at the new Sun Rail station too.
(for the future Sunrail)

Maybe the light rail could be part of Sunrail or something. Like Sunrail Disney Express light rail system or something?
Maybe light rail could be FREE for Disney resort guests, but Non Disney reosrt guests could pay like a round trip of $5.00 - $2.50 one way or something? And there could be week long passes and month long passes as well as resident passes people could purchase. Of courde for those who didn't want to deal with Public transit they could still drive in and pay the parking - but the light rail would be a second option