New Delhi: At least six states are in talks with companies that build personal rapid transport systems (PRTs) to operate pod taxis, futuristic driverless vehicles that ply along a pre-determined course, a central government official said.
Rajasthan is planning a 4.7-km pod taxi link between Ajmer railway station and the Ajmer Dargah, while Maharashtra has identified a stretch between Bandra and Mumbai business district of Bandra Kurla Complex, the central government official said. Other pod taxi sites are in Jaipur, Dehradun, Thiruvananthapuram and Gurugram.
“Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Bihar have already initiated talks with the firms selling this technology and are either in the process of inviting expression of interests or have invited them," the official said, requesting anonymity.
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The Union road transport and highways ministry will also shortly form a panel to set standards and specifications for PRT systems, making India the first country to do so, the government official said.
Pod taxi is a public transit system for cities in which pods are suspended from an overhead rail. Each pod can carry up to five passengers. The ropeway-like system runs on electricity and driverless pods zip along five to 10 metres above ground. The pods descend and ascend at designated stations to pick up and drop passengers. According to transport minister Nitin Gadkari, a pod taxi project will cost Rs50 crore per km, while for a metro service, it is Rs250 crore per km.
A NITI Aayog official who also didn’t want to be identified confirmed the development.
Many people, put off by the experience of convenience mass transit systems, switch to private cars, and state governments are trying to transform this experience with modern modes of transport.
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“The public transportation system has now become a transit system for the economically weaker sections and state governments want to reform this by bringing in a new experience," said the central government official cited above.
“For some projects, even Chinese companies have come forward. Some of the proposals are being vetted through the ministry of urban development to get financial assistance in case public-private partnerships don’t work out," the central government official said.
A recent meeting of road ministry officials led by Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari with officials of NITI Aayog and National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) decided to form a task force to set up standards and specifications for the first PRT system.
“The ministry of road transport and highways would notify the committee under expert Dharam Adhikari, comprising an NHAI official, a retired railways safety commissioner and a retired railway board member by March end. The committee will be laying down all the standards and specifications for the PRT systems in the country after which the projects will be implemented," the NITI Aayog official cited earlier said.
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“The four-member committee would have a big challenge. Since the world has just one pod taxi or PRT project, that, too, only in Heathrow airport, India would become the first nation to lay down the standards and procedures for operations of PRTs," the official added.
India’s first pod taxi project is coming up at Gurugram in Haryana.
The average speed of the pods is 60km per hour and can be used by individuals or small groups. The fare is likely to be similar to that of the Delhi Metro.
In the past six months, India has emerged as a hot destination for companies looking to sell rapid transit systems.
Ankur Bhatnagar, vice-president-Asia, SkyTran, said, “We are in talks with some of the state governments, but I won’t be able to share any details till the things have materialized."
Bhatnagar said his company hopes to hear from the government or NHAI soon on the proposal to build a pilot stretch.
“We made a presentation of our technology to NITI Aayog and many other officials concerned with transportation in October last year. It showed that the government is not just open to innovations, it is actually keen to take them up to solve our transportation problems and provide services that far exceed global best," he said.
SkyTran, a NASA technology partner, is among three companies chosen to build pod cars at their own costs.
The others are Ultra Global PRT and Metrino PRT.