Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) - Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) beats Automated People Mover (APM)

PRT is a Better Solution:




# stations






Trip time

Long wait, quick trip to 1 station

Faster than a car to 24 stations

Oakland economic development



Jobs created

many short-term, BART cuts long-term

many short & long term

BART Director Radulovich: "blingfrastructure for the rich"


serves local activities / workers via 24 stations

Redevelop huge Pardee Drive PCA parking lot


makes possible

BART ridership

slight increase vs AirBART

large increase

Airport parking lots and rent-a-car


Modern transit solution

Airport market position


Attracts more business travelers

Enhances these AC Transit Routes


45, 46, 50, 56, 98, 356, 805




Construction inconvenience



Extendible / future growth?




PRT (personal rapid transit) is an electric, elevated transit system with many 4-person vehicles. First revenue service of the ULTra PRT system began at London Heathrow Airport (the world's third largest airport) in 2011, to serve Terminal 5. Working as circulator transit for airports, office parks, universities, and other major activity centers, PRT is faster than a car. In these applications, PRT makes BART and AC Transit more effective, by solving the "last mile problem." PRT system proposals are advancing for San Jose Airport, Alameda Point, Santa Cruz, and Virginia.


David Holdcroft, Heathrow Terminal 5 ULTra PRT Project Manager: "This innovative system forms part of BAA's [formerly British Airports Authority] plan to transform Heathrow, improve the passenger experience and reduce the environmental impact of our operation through the development of cutting edge, green transport solutions. It offers a completely new form of public transport - one that will deliver a fast, efficient service to passengers and bring considerable environmental benefits, saving more than half of the fuel used by existing forms of public or private transport."


One of the advantages of a PRT network "is that it offers a lot of flexibility. It's much less expensive than traditional transit. It doesn't serve the same needs as high-speed rail or BART. It's a complement to those systems," Laura Stuchinksy, Sustainability Officer, City of San Jose Department of Transportation.


"We've concocted a system where local trips take an auto. That's our biggest tragedy. Streetcars, such as those used in Portland's Pearl District, and elevated people movers, like those in downtown Miami, are moving people from rail stations to their final destinations. But a new concept, PRT, may help revolutionize urban transportation, providing a cost-effective way to get people from train stations to where they need to go." - Peter Calthorpe, Berkeley-based Calthorpe Associates (Alameda Point, etc).


Oakland power-developer Phil Tagami is also a fan of PRT for Oakland Airport, as reported in the SF Business Times in September, 2008.


PRT is faster than a car:

  • PRT trip time to/from Airport Terminal 1 to Coliseum BART: 0:20 sec wait + 6:20 PRT trip time (3.0 mile journey @ 30 mph).

  • Estimated "light traffic" driving time from Coliseum BART to Oakland Airport Terminal 1 is 12 minutes, plus additional time spent parking and walking.  

APMs are Eyesores

APMs are massive, ugly elevated structures that block out the sun. Measuring cross section, they block out 30' of sun. PRT is more suited to blending in with Oakland surroundings, with a grid guideway that lets sunlight through, blocking out less than two cross sectional feet of sun:



APM cross section                                      PRT low-sunlight-occlusion grid guideway


System map is rotated, North is to the left

Oakland Airport Connector PRT system details:

PRT and APM Project Risks

APM "mega-projects" such as the OAC are quite risky. The OAC itself is an example of a budget-busting APM project, with costs up 300% since Year 2000, and we don't yet know how far those costs will ultimately rise.  There were five other APMs completed this decade that have had an even HIGHER cost per mile than OAC: 


Yr Open


Capital Cost


Las Vegas Monorail 





JFK AirTrain





Atlanta Airport ConRAC





DFW SkyLink





Dulles AeroTrain

Late 2009




Calculations and references: http://www.cities21.org/HeavyAPMmonorailCosts.xls 

Although APMs represent "proven technology," these projects come with their own hair-raising risks. The Las Vegas Monorail has had numerous instances of unscheduled system shutdown. One shutdown was seven days long. The Las Vegas Public Private Partnership credit rating was downgraded. Ridership is less than 50% of forecast. The Las Vegas Phase II expansion was rejected by the Federal Transit Administration. In addition, San Francisco Airport's APM had a $5.5M crash. By exposing Oakland to much lower capital cost risk, PRT lessens the risk of one of these surprisingly frequent APM mega-project annual budget shortfalls. 

Like APM, PRT also presents risks for public sector procurements. Will PRT be safe, reliable, and operate as promised? If a new transit technology is completely unproven, then the private sector should fund 100% of capital costs, with the public sector paying out annual "performance payments" for reliable delivered service. This serves to eliminate public sector "capital cost risk." As PRT systems begin to operate, such as at London Heathrow, then public sector risk begins to diminish. When a technology becomes "fully mature," then 100% public sector capital cost funding may be appropriate. For OAC PRT, a sliding scale formula could be developed, based on months of reliable commercial PRT system operation and also based on commercial PRT system size relative to Oakland PRT size.

Further, an OAC PRT system may be built in phases. In the alignment image above, blue, orange, magenta, and red phases are shown as examples of phasing. Such phasing may further reduce public sector risk and may allow for reduced financing costs in ensuing phases.