24 Feb 2016

Did William Alden Invent the Car of the Future in the 1960s?

The past and present of personal rapid transit


William Alden (MBA 1952) was sorting mail when he had the thought: The concept behind the automated conveyer system he was perfecting for routing letters could be used to move people. It was the 1950s, a time of great investment in automobiles and interstates and great neglect of public transit. Alden envisioned a hybrid system he called the StaRRcar—a “car-like train” with small pods that a passenger could call like a taxi and would ride on rails directly to the desired destination.

It was an idea ahead of its time, Adi Robertson writes for The Verge:

“Once considered a key to solving urban blight, the StaRRcar was part of a public transit revolution that never was — but one that would help launch one of the weirdest and most politicized public infrastructure experiments of the 20th century. It’s an old idea that today, in an age of self-driving cars, seems by turns impractically retro and remarkably prescient.”

Now 89, Alden is again in the PRT—personal rapid transit—business:

”After decades away from PRT, he reunited with a group of other transportation experts to build a new system called Airport Personal Transport, a tiny self-driving car network that would run in Boston’s Logan Airport. The system would be comprised of two-passenger carts that travelers could call up and ride the same way they would a PRT. But vitally, it wouldn’t require any new tracks or guideways — something Alden says would have been a dealbreaker for Logan. The company launched a Kickstarter for the project in early 2015, but it proved ill-suited to crowdfunding. Alden is now looking at more traditional investment, banking on still-active interest from Logan.”


Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Bill Alden
Class of MBA 1952, Section A

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