Cardiff to introduce ‘green’ driverless taxies

Cardiff has begun testing its Urban Light Transport (ULTra) light rail system, amid claims that this new way to travel will cut congestion and pollution, and help speed the city’s other public transport systems on their way.


ULTra began life as a research project within Bristol University’s Advanced Transport Group. The ULTra team subsequently set up a company, Advanced Transport Systems (ATS), to develop the concept, said to be the first of its type in the world.

The system consists of electrically powered vehicles, running on 2kW of power, on dedicated low-visibility ground level and elevated tracks, just 1.5m wide and 457mm deep. Each space-age cab will carry up to four passengers and operate as an on-demand taxi service within the city centre. The quiet, pollution-free cabs, which weigh 800kg, have a top speed of 40km/h. The average speed for a bus or car travelling in the city centre is just 13km/h.

Passengers will board the cabs at lay-bys and choose their destination using a smart card. The average predicted waiting time is less than one minute, even at peak use. ULTra is claimed to be fundamentally safe because it operates in one direction only within its own segregated guideway. The owners also plan a detection system that will automatically stop the vehicle if there is an obstacle on the guideway.

The project team estimates that ULTra will use 75% less energy per passenger kilometre than a car and 80% less than a tram or light rail system network. They also say it will be around a third cheaper to build than an equivalent light rail system.

In terms of fares, the owners expect that the operator will charge a tariff that will be roughly the same as bus fares, but on a per-vehicle basis, so couples or families would see significant cost benefits.

Contractor Amec and engineering consultant Arup are partners in the venture. Funding has been provided through the UK’s National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Transport and Local Government Regions.

ATS business development director Richard Teychenné said the Cardiff trials will run for at least a year and will have an initial £3 million tranche of funding, in the form of a transport grant from Cardiff County Council.

If successful, the venture would seek an additional £45 million in funding from Europe and the Welsh National Assembly to build an ULTra network that would link Cardiff city centre with other areas of the city. The system is due to become operational by 2004.

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