Renewable Energy

What could the future of public transportation look like?
Answered by Diana Bocco and Discovery Channel
  • Diana Bocco

    Diana Bocco

  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. It's likely (at least we hope it is!) that any future public transportation will be environmentally friendly. For a public transportation system to be green, it first needs to be effective. People won’t abandon their cars if the city’s transport only gets them so far or if it’s inconvenient to use. Based on that concept, the world’s most effective mass transit system is the Hong Kong MTR (Mass Transit Railway). On a daily basis, more than 90 percent of the city's commutes run through the metro system [source: Freeman]. In fact, the transportation system is so good that only 43 out of every 1,000 people in Hong Kong own a car [source: Murdoch University].

    Public transportation that runs on anything other than gasoline is also greener. Many cities already have trams, trolley buses and electric trains, but in the future, their energy savings might travel a bit further. In 2010, a California-based company called Sunpods Inc. developed the first solar bus. Sunpods Inc. worked with Bauer Intelligent Transportation (a company that offers private luxury transportation) to create the bus. The bus is now part of Bauer IT’s fleet and the company plans to build more of them over the next couple of years [source: Electric Vehicles Research].

    Other countries are also working hard on greening up their transportation systems for the future. In 2008, Japan started testing a bus-train hybrid created by Toyota. The vehicle has both rubber tires for the road and steel wheels for the rails. It carries 25 passengers and runs on both gasoline and electricity. By running on tracks at least part of the time, this hybrid would be reducing CO2 emissions considerably. Three years later, though, testing is still underway, so results won’t be immediate. Other countries have also been trying alternative transportation systems, including the world’s first diesel-electric hybrid train in England and a hydrogen-powered bus in Winnipeg, Canada.

    One of the problems that may hold back use of alternative energy in public transportation is cost. The hydrogen-powered bus is basically free to run, but it cost the company nearly a million dollars to manufacture a single bus. Until companies find a way to minimize costs, it’s just not cost-effective to produce the vehicles. If those who run public transportation systems hope to make them greener in the future, they'll have to come with solutions that are both energy efficient and cost-effective. 

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  2. Along with the familiar trains and buses, we may see driverless pods used in public transportation. It's called a personal rapid transport system, or PRT. The pods strike a balance between the solitude of private vehicles and the efficiency of public transportation. For example, the ULTra PRT system at London's Heathrow airport can carry up to four passengers at a time along a custom curbed roadway.

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