Mass transit is quite possibly the most sustainable method for humans in the coming age. There are some really good ideas out there, from hydrogen buses to solar electric-generating roadways. We at CalFinder compiled some extraordinary cool developments for your curiosity here.
Medellín, Colombia came up with a clever way to give poor residents on the outskirts access to the city’s interior: gondola lifts. Yes, those same things that ski resorts made famous have begun to make their mark on the public transportation sector. The city currently has two functioning lines and some of the power needed for the motors even comes from solar power. The best part? The gondola system was relatively inexpensive to build compared to other types of transit. If the solar power gets a boost, they wouldn’t need traditional power at all. It even looks like there’s some advertising on the side of the gondolas. Very clever, Columbia.
The downside? You won’t get to stop wherever you want because you’re up in the air. (source)
There’s also a tourist attraction located in Singapore. It functions just like the system in Medellin, except this one is decked out with state-of-the-art accommodations, including Australian crystal and Bose sound systems. If it’s powered by solar electricity, the cars could even come with veal and still save the world. Note: even if it did save the world, I disagree with the heedless slaughter of baby anythings.
The Solar Roadway USA (Prototype)
We’ll need five billion solar panels to do it, but the U.S. Department Of Transportation has given $100,000 to the company Solar Roadways. This innovative plan would replace traditional asphalt roadways and even its old paint with LED lighting capable of generating real-time messages, such as “Slow Down,” if, say, a deer were crossing the road ahead (yes, it could sense that too). Of course, five billion solar panels won’t come cheap and the whole project is in the very early stages, but what blossoms from it is anyone’s guess.
Oh yeah, and the road would heat itself too, eliminating icy accidents!
In a Grist article, David Roberts speculates what the non-dollar values of this idea could be, including the cost of lives saved from accidents, provided the system works. Can anyone imagine changing LED light bulbs on an LA freeway? Yikes. But Roberts points out that if the panels functioned at about 15% efficiency and we had nearly every road in America replaced, there would be almost three times more available power than we have ever used as a nation – nearly enough for the entire world.
It’s too early to say yay or nay, but this little morsel certainly wet my lips.
High Speed Half Diesel, Half Electric Train - Europe, Japan
This innovative train built by Hitachi functions like a hybrid car. The batteries get the train rolling up to 19 mph (30 km/h) and then the diesel engine kicks in. Europe will be the trial for this type of train, but Hitachi, which has been testing these things since 2003, expects the technology to grow. According to Hitachi, their hybrid system can apparently cut toxic emissions in half and fuel bills by a fifth. Like everyone else, railways are feeling the increase in fuel costs. UK trials will last six months and began in April. Also, Hitachi has begun production for a Japanese customer.
Hydrogen Powered Buses – Winnipeg, Canada and Berlin
They have the only hydrogen-powered bus in the world, but unfortunately, it’s still a little too expensive to use. Worth between $1 and $2 million, the bus won’t be used in transit in the foreseeable future. It’s scheduled to tour Winnipeg a while before moving on to Mississauga, Manitoba. Still, the creator claims that this bus is better than the last one, which relied on combustion, because this bus only emits water. Amazing isn’t it? The bus also uses “regenerative braking,” which charges the batteries as it comes to a stop, much like the Toyota Prius. Check out this CalFinder post on the potential Hydrogen Economy, which will highlight why this bus may be even more exciting than Winnipeg’s inability to use it… yet.
Berlin is set to purchase some 250 of these buses in 2009, which would make up 20% of the city’s public transportation fleet. This is by far the largest installation of this type of vehicle I ran across. As a note, Berlin’s buses run on combustion of hydrogen, whereas the Winnipeg bus above uses a different process that doesn’t produce heat. The buses are being subsidized because they cost around $600,000 each, and I’m sure hydrogen isn’t easy to come by either.
Hybrid-Electric School Buses - New York
New York has over 50,000 buses across the state carrying children to school each day. The “consortium” extends across state lines and could help bring alternative energy transportation to a wider audience. Of course, they aren’t worth much if it’s just burning coal to charge the batteries, but still…
Sky Tram – U.S. (Prototype)
It’s only a prototype, but it calls for reusing passenger aircraft fuselages by turning them into high-speed railway cars (the kind that hang from a beam Tokyo- or Disney World-style). They’re looking for all the help they can get. We poor public transit-deprived American people badly need this! Why did we tear up all the railways again? Semi-trucks, I believe. Either way, the plan calls for solar power panels and reusing the parts of planes (hopefully decommissioned because of the massive public buy-in and therefore a reduced need for domestic use) so it’s a good conversation piece if nothing else.
There are many more types of transit that are quite sustainable, from propane-fueled government vehicles (and ice hockey’s Zamboni) to San Francisco’s trams and BART system. Japan has been famous for high-speed trains for a very long time now and doubtless some of those have gone solar. Europe has always had trains, so it’s likely nothing more than a matter of retrofitting. Any sunny or desert region will benefit from the Solar Roadway prototype. Hey, I think it’s just plain neat to see the world coming together to make it an easier community to live in.
For those interested in the renewable Mass Transit, check out the Alternative-Energy.org Public Transit site.