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Boston company says pod transportation could be in NH's not-so-distant future

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 19. 2017 6:48PM
Boston-based Transit X envisions a near future in which people ride in automated pod cars that zip along tracks at least 19 feet above the ground. (COURTESY)

Transit X CEO Mike Stanley's preliminary proposal, not yet sent to Manchester officials, envisions a 45-mile network with pods running at 45 mph among more than 135 stops. (COURTESY)

Imagine riding in a futuristic-looking, glass-enclosed pod attached to an elevated track to reach work or the mall. That concept could be tested in Berlin this fall, with the pods themselves possibly made in the Queen City.

"If Manchester was one of the first municipalities to sign an agreement for air rights on public rights-of-way - without any financial or technical risk, then the likelihood is 100% (OK, 99%)" of building pods in Manchester, Mike Stanley, CEO of Transit X, said in an email.

Stanley said he is "very loyal to those who show their commitment."

The Boston-based company wants to get you out of your carbon-emitting car and into automated pod cars that zip along tracks at least 19 feet above the ground. While the concept right now might seem as far-fetched as those flying cars in the "The Jetsons," Stanley has been pitching the idea to local governments and says several have expressed interest.

The pods make more sense than flying cars, he says.

"We plan to be able to replace cars, buses, trains and trucks," Stanley said in an interview. "It's profitable ... It's less costly for us to create new infrastructure than it is to repair and maintain the existing roads."

Stanley envisions 460 miles of track installed across the state with nearly 6,000 pods dropping off people at any of 1,000 stops - and providing as much as $40 million a year to municipalities for providing air rights and rights-of-way. Stanley said he isn't looking for any public funding.

Asked about the timetable for reaching that $40 million figure, Stanley said he thinks it could take "at least three to four years after start of operation, but could be longer."

"Depends upon many factors," he said. "I would add that the fee is actually a rather small part of the value that the municipality would receive."

Passengers would pay about 50 cents a mile to ride.

"We have verbals (statements) from seven communities that are saying they are moving forward with it and are getting letters of intent," Stanley said. He said those include the Massachusetts communities of Bridgewater, Fitchburg, Leominster and Ayer.

He said municipalities would receive 5 percent of gross revenues for air rights and use of rights-of-way. He expects the first system in the United States to start operating in 2018.

Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas remembers someone dropped into his office several months ago with a pod proposal, asking for places where the pods could be manufactured.

"I told him we had a lot of space that could accommodate that and looked forward to hearing back from him," Gatsas said.

Transit X's preliminary proposal envisions a 45-mile network with pods running at 45 mph among more than 135 stops, providing Manchester with up to $11.2 million a year in revenue.

In this still from a video rendering produced by Boston-based Transit X, glass-enclosed pods carry commuters at high speeds on an elevated rail track. (COURTESY)

Berlin test

Stanley is working to get approval to set up a test track on private property in Berlin, which he gives a 90 percent chance of happening in the next six months.

Berlin City Manager Jim Wheeler said a Berlin property owner contacted City Hall a few months back about possibly hosting a test run.

"We would certainly consider any proposal from a company that wants to do something innovative," Wheeler said.

The pod cars could travel up to 135 mph in some stretches.

Passengers would pay on a per-mile basis (by cellphone or kiosk) and could store any baggage in storage lockers.

Future transportation

Gatsas pointed to the fact that many millennials believe they don't need a car. The new Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) that inventor Dean Kamen is heading up in the Millyard is talking about making advances in regenerative medicine, including producing organs.

"If you were at that (recent) groundbreaking with ARMI, you would have thought they were going to do one next week," Gatsas said.

Stanley said company officials are in discussions about financing with multiple investment banks he couldn't name, as well as with investors who would receive equity for providing cash.

A fit for Nashua?

David Doucette, a city councilor in Marlborough, Mass., who has heard the company's presentation, said there is "a big movement to try to divest out of fossil fuels. That means there's a lot of money sitting on the sidelines trying to be invested in green technology. Mike Stanley's proposal is a bull's-eye for that money."

Bill Boynton, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, said it is too early to discuss possibilities.

"Without having been presented with any proposal, i.e. use of existing right-of-way, funding etc., which we have not seen, we cannot get specific on what kind of permitting would be necessary," Boynton said in an email.

Doucette said he doesn't see the idea as pie in the sky.

"I see it as very realistic, and I think the biggest issue again is him getting funding and getting the initial prototype up," Doucette said.

Doucette said the city council narrowly approved taking further steps to pursue the technology, but the mayor vetoed it.

Doucette, a 30-year veteran of the high-tech industry, said he is familiar with Nashua and could see the pod system work there.

"I think if they could connect the industrial parks to the Pheasant Lane Mall to downtown and the logistics involved in that, if it started there, it would radically redefine commuting in the city," said Doucette, a former Digital Equipment Corp. employee.

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