ULRT uses electric buses on rails, with a few tweaks, that give it the potential to disrupt the way transit is built.
The greatest advancements in technology happen when great inventions collide. The wheel gets paired with an axle. The computer with a cell phone. And now, in the case of public transit, quick charge electric buses, with on-off-rail technology. It's called Ultra Light Rail Transit (ULRT) and it's being presented as a lower risk, lower cost alternative to light-rail transit (LRTs). Simply put, ULRT uses electric buses on rails, with a few tweaks, that give it the potential to disrupt the way transit is built.
But how can this be? New technology can be wrought with risk,, expensive, packed with more computers, more autonomy, more software and more cost. So, it seems unreasonable that new technology can be lower risk.
But ULRT claims are extraordinary: fast construction, low cost, BRT reliability, LRT performance and the smallest carbon footprint. The upside of these claims could change how people move in the 21st Century, so it is time to revisit how public transit assesses risk.
The simplest definition of risk is 'the possibility of loss' and by that definition, one can make a compelling case for ULRT to be lower risk than LRT. ULRT proponents reason the degree of risk, reduced by lower cost and shorter construction time, exceeds the degree of risk assumed by it being a new approach to transit design and construction.
ULRT's method of drastic cost reduction is described below. Once informed of the approach, it's reasonable to accept the cost reducing features and benefits of ULRT as self-evident. Less cost is less risk. Less complexity is less risk. Less construction time is less risk. In the final accounting, the financial risk avoidance is undeniable and demands attention. At a typical construction cost of $15 million/mile, inclusive of design, engineering, construction, vehicles and equipment, it’s estimated that $1 billion can construct 66 miles of system. That's the game changer. Why construct a line when you can construct a system.
Regarding cost, established experts in transit and major infrastructure construction may consider $15 million/mile an unrealistic claim. However, ULRT's approach is so simple it doesn't qualify as major infrastructure. The less-is-more philosophy of the design is an understatement that fails to convey the impact of the new approach. ULRT uses much less, yet delivers much more, challenging the complexity of LRT systems that require a decade or more to construct, rarely meeting multi-billion-dollar budget goals by the time they are in operation. Proponents of ULRT contend LRTs, by virtue of their high cost and long construction time, carry unnecessary intrinsic risk.
The less-is-more design philosophy crushes cost, starting with the many benefits of lighter quick charging electric buses that use hybrid capacitor/batteries for energy storage. These vehicles fit existing bus routes without the need to add catenary wires or concrete rail foundations, eliminating most of the engineering and construction time needed for LRTs. By avoiding this complexity and speeding construction, ULRT doesn't reduce risk as much as avoid it altogether.