Richard Garriott hoping to build elevated personal transit in Austin

Richard Garriott or "Lord British" as he's lovingly called in the tech community started creating video games in Austin decades ago.

His "Ultimata" series has become a classic. 

Following in his astronaut dad's footsteps, Garriott spent some time in outer space himself in 2008...helping pioneer the commercial space flight industry.  When he got back to Earth he often found himself sitting in Austin traffic.

"If I could really take some time off to get involved in civic projects right now, transportation would be a good one to solve," he said.

So what he's proposing is called Personal Rapid Transit.

"Imagine a golf cart that is enclosed.  It has air conditioning, it runs on batteries and it's computer-controlled," Garriott said.

Built on elevated guideways throughout the city, the way it works is pretty simple.

"All you do is tell [it] the destination.  You say 'I'm going to 5th and Congress.'  The doors open, you sit down, it's got room for up to 6 people and a wheelchair and a bicycle.  The only button on the inside basically says 'go,'" Garriott said.

Then, after paying a fare similar to a public bus, the pod takes off.

"There's no intersections, there's no stop lights.  It waits for a gap, it accelerates into that gap and from that moment on you're going full speed to and only to the destination for your family," Garriott said.

It sounds a little sci-fi, a little Jetsons...but the concept is actually a reality right now at Heathrow Terminal 5 in London.

He says it didn't interfere with the airport's infrastructure.

"No power, no water, no other roads, nothing was moved out of the way to make room for PRT.  It just wove through the existing structure," Garriott said.

But how much?  Garriott says PRT is a tenth of the cost of light rail.

"When you drop the cost by 10 times, you go from needing a subsidy to being able to make a profit.  And that makes you have to ask the taxpayers for nothing," he said.

Permission to build it is the main thing according to Garriott because it will have to go through state and city property. Neighborhoods too.

Garriott paid for a study to determine how PRT would work at the University of Texas. But Garriott says the consortium he's been talking with is wanting to think bigger.

"Let's also consider the downtown corridor, let's seriously consider all the way out to the airport and including serving the neighborhoods between downtown and the airport and maybe even go north a ways," Garriott said.

The feedback in the community, according to Garriott, has been positive.  He says he doesn't need money -- just support.

"I often say 'All I really need people to do is not say 'no' and fundamentally that is really what we need.  We're going to go do this as long as no one stops us," he said.

Garriott will be speaking at the Stateside Theatre Tuesday night at 6:00.  It's free and open to the public.

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