Making Government Work

What Exactly Are JPods and How Can They Improve Commuting?

September 2, 2014
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What Exactly Are JPods and How Can They Improve Commuting?
Solar-collectors mounted over JPods rails will gather 25,000 vehicle-miles of power per mile of rail per day. JPods/Facebook
New Jersey pilots a futuristic mass transit system. Will it become a model for other communities?

A New Jersey town is looking to the future to help solve a congestion problem, and they’ve found a solution of which George Jetson would approve.

Seacaucus, N.J., located just outside New York City, is home to one of the busiest train stations in the Garden State. A portion of the New Jersey Turnpike also runs right through town — making it the perfect locale to test out a new hybrid of mass transit called JPods. Billed as a combination of light rail and self-driving cars, JPods hover above roads, akin to a ski lift zipping overhead.

Founded by former West Point Academy graduate and U.S. Army officer Bill James, the private transit system was designed to move small groups of people rather than large masses that descend on public trasportation— such as buses or subways — each day.

“Combining solar and relatively small mass transit modules to get from point A to point B fits in especially well with some of the needs we have here,” Secaucus town administrator David Drumeler tells Fast Company. “With our commercial district relatively close but far enough that you couldn’t walk there, an almost on-demand type of mass transit system is an ideal fit for us.”

Each JPod operates as a personal train and is controlled by an interior touch screen. They travel to more stations and switch points than a commuter train or subway system, personalizing mass transit and helping residents get much closer to their destination.

The idea was not to create futuristic transit akin to the Los Angeles landscape depicted in Spike Jonze’s “Her”, but rather, to create sustainable transportation. The entire system is powered by solar panels positioned above the rails. The goal, according to James, is to make sure the entire system is sustainable regardless of how much it may expand in size. James, who served as a logistics officer in the U.S. Army, wanted to design a system that was self-sustainable and less dependent on foreign oil.

“We’re a bunch of West Point grads that looked at this situation and realized we’ve been fighting oil wars since 1990,” says James. “So we decided to do something about it. Our point of view on this thing as veterans is that we need to be looking ahead at what causes the path to war and act in advance of it.”

James enlisted other West Point alumni to work on JPods, with experts ranging in subject such as energy distribution, power plant design and law.

Each JPod can communicate with one another through an intelligent transport system, meaning that the network doesn’t waste energy with empty pods (like subway cars do) and instead uses an on-demand strategy.

Secaucus will test the “Rescue-Rail” version of JPods before building a more permanent model, according to James. The temporary system will be quick and deployable for large-scale events that generate traffic and congestion such as sporting events or conferences.

But will the concept will crop up elsewhere? As a private transit system, that question remains unanswered. While James hopes to bring the JPod to other urban areas, competition with government-funded public transit may prove to be a bureaucratic challenge.

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MORE: New York City Looks to Stockholm for a Traffic Blueprint

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