SyncTrans: A Vision for the Future of Mass Transit

By William V. McRae


The Georgia Public Policy Foundation has focused much effort in recent years on sorting out the facts and identifying realistic solutions to Metro Atlanta’s transportation and air quality challenges. We have been quite skeptical of solutions based on light and heavy rail because very reliable data indicates that these modes of transportation will have little impact on traffic congestion and air quality because they do not attract a significant number of people out of their cars. For mass transit to entice drivers out of their cars, it must satisfy consumer demands. In other words, mass transit needs a better product.

Despite these facts, the Metro Atlanta area seems intent upon building more rail-based transit. If so, we would encourage Atlanta’s leaders to consider more effective options. This study presents a fundamentally different process that appears to have the ability to be much more successful than current rail choices in competing with private vehicles. We would be remiss in not studying this idea before investing billions of dollars on ineffective solutions. We believe that complex problems can best be solved with creative ideas, critical analysis and rational, fact-based discussion. By bringing these ideas into the public debate, we hope to improve our chances of finding a realistic solution.

T. Rogers Wade, President
Kelly McCutchen, Executive Vice President

Executive Summary

Major metropolitan areas in the United States have expanded dramatically for the past half-century, resulting in traffic congestion and air pollution concerns that are now presenting barriers to further economic growth. In an effort to alleviate these problems, the focus has shifted to mass transit as an alternative method of transportation. However, transit has not been successful in enticing a significant number of individuals from the mobility and convenience provided by their own automobiles.

Mass transit has not lived up to expectations because it fails to provide the benefits that consumers demand. First, since we live in such a “hurry up” society, average trip times must be competitive with the average trip time provided by automobiles. Second, convenience, accessibility and safety must be improved. In order to attract a significant number of people out of their cars, it will be necessary to mold the product (mass transit) to fit consumer demands rather than our failed effort to mold consumer demands to fit the existing product.

Fortunately, a new process, called SyncTrans, has the potential to revolutionize the urban mass transit market by overcoming the above drawbacks. Its projected performance is superior to current mass transit alternatives. In fact, using just a quarter of its capacity, the system can transport an equivalent number of passengers per hour as 16 freeway lanes – and this is just counting passengers that are comfortably seated rather than standing. Even better, average trip times are less than half that of traditional urban trains because SyncTrans can transport passengers non-stop from their origins directly to their destinations at an average trip speed approaching 60 miles per hour.

The SyncTrans system is comprised of small family-sized cars that travel non-stop on an elevated guideway between stations. The quiet, electric-powered system and its cars require no drivers and can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The elevated guideways are cost effective and can be erected quickly. Since the system is fully automated, labor costs are minimal.

Customer service and passenger appeal are exceptional. Non-stop travel eliminates the frustration and delays caused by transfers, trip times never vary, a continuous boarding process eliminates crowded platforms, and the average wait between cars for any desired destination is less than two minutes. Because of the way the system works, stations can be conveniently located anywhere throughout the city.

Personal safety is also greatly enhanced. If an emergency occurs while traveling, a panic button in the car gives passengers access to a voice-activated connection to the central station. If such an indication of an emergency is received, the vehicle will be switched off at the first station with medical, fire and/or police facilities. Criminals, therefore, would have a very high probability of being caught – an effective deterrent. Additionally, since the boarding area of a SyncTrans station is comparatively small and vehicle operations are non-stop from origin to destination, station surveillance cameras would be able to record all activity for future reference.

The SyncTrans system has the capability of dramatically improving the benefits offered by mass transit, therefore attracting more riders, reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality. It also provides the opportunity for the United States to become the leader in the international market for urban mass transportation systems. Given these opportunities, a rigorous feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis is warranted to assess the capabilities of this new process.

The full study is available here.