More than 35 years after heralding the future of personalized, automated mobility, West Virginia University’s Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system is entering the 21st Century.


A $3.6-million upgrade program currently underway is replacing the 70s-era analog-based communications and control system on the PRT’s 71 electric-powered cars with digital onboard computers.


In other words, after transporting more than three decades of passengers across WVU’s three Morgantown campuses along a concrete guideway using the kind of technology developed while Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen were still in high school, each minibus-sized PRT vehicle will soon be running on its own smart phone.

 The university says the upgrade is essential to ensure that the 8.6-mile, five-station PRT can continue providing dependable service­­—which, with a reported 98% reliability rate for more than 2 million riders a year, is already pretty darn impressive. The PRT will also retain its unique ability to carry passengers directly to their selected destinations without having to stop at intermediate stations.

WVU also considers the PRT to be equally valuable as a research tool, and a model upon which similar transportation systems can be developed. Though the concept of personalized automated transport has not been fully emulated since the PRT began operations in 1975, the system is well-suited to the “have it your way” service philosophy that consumers seem to expect nowadays.


After all, who hasn’t felt at least a little irritated when their subway or light rail train has made seemingly countless stops at otherwise deserted stations? Sure, you can drive, and self-driving cars aren’t that far away. But only emergency responders in certain cities have the power to change traffic lights to their liking.


(And as long as we’re talking about personal transportation, where the heck are those jetpacks that we were supposed to define life in the 21st Century?)


WVU says the next step in upgrading the PRT system will to develop a new, more efficient and sustainable propulsion system to better interface with the controllers, and eliminate another major cause of downtime.

Both PRT projects are being funded by a portion of WVU’s annual ridership- and performance-based grant from the FTA, and rider fee revenue.