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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Downtown People Movers and Energy


The "People Mover" is a relatively novel concept in transportation: a short, high capacity rail line, serving only the high density portions of a city. The Department of Transportation has recently decided to fund four such systems to test the effectiveness of the concept. They are expected to accomplish a number of desirable goals: reduction of pollution, congestion, and energy consumption; and revitalization of the downtown area. This paper concentrates on their energy goals. 

I examine the energy impact of six of these systems, and find that five of these will use more operating energy than the combination of modes which they replace (the sixth breaks even, approximately). That is, even without taking account of the energy capital required to construct the systems, they have a net negative impact on energy consumption. My calculations are based on the patronage and mode split estimates of the transportation planners in these cities. 

This negative energy impact does not, of course, imply that the sys tems should not be built. If they can make a significant impact on smog, congestion, or downtown revitalization at a reasonable cost, then they would be well justified despite their energy losses.

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