Heathrow pods offer passengers a glimpse of the future as new transport system reduces time and emissions
Wed 12 Oct 2011 – Nearly six months after the service started, London’s Heathrow Airport has officially unveiled its unique pod system at Terminal 5 that transports passengers and their luggage from the Business Car Park to the main terminal. The system has been developed at a cost of £30 million ($47m) over six years by UK company ULTra and the airport’s operator BAA. It consists of 21 low-energy, battery-powered, driverless, zero-emission vehicles capable of carrying four passengers along a dedicated 3.8km guideway at a speed of up to 25mph (40kph). The five-minute journey is on demand and non-stop from start to destination at the touch of a computer screen. Over 100,000 passengers have used the service, which is capable of handling 500,000 annually, since the bedding-in started on April 18.
The temperature-controlled pods allow passengers to select their own direct destination. There are no timetables – the service operates 22 hours daily during the week, shorter at weekends – as a central computer ensures the pods are distributed at each station according to passenger demand. When waiting for a passenger, the pods recharge themselves at battery points so are always ready to go. The pods use 70% less energy than it takes to power a car and 50% less than a bus.
BAA expects the service to eliminate 50,000 bus journeys around the airport each year and help reduce congestion.
“We are very excited about the benefits the pod can offer Heathrow’s passengers,” commented Fraser Brown, Managing Director of Ultra PRT. “Its service is predictable, reduces waiting time and offers reduced journey times; it’s also an environmentally sustainable form of transport that ensures reduced emissions.”
Heathrow’s Commercial Director, John Holland-Kaye, said passenger feedback had been very positive.
“We love watching people’s reactions when they see the pods for the first time and then again when they step off just five minutes later at their destination,” he said. “The Heathrow pods offer a personal, comfortable and reliable ride that is free of emissions.”
He added there had been interest in the system from India, Mexico and the United States, as well as from the United Kingdom and Europe.
The new system is in addition to Heathrow’s existing £4.8 billion ($7.5bn) investment into improving the passenger experience, while reducing the overall environmental impact of the airport’s operations.