Are these sci-fi pods the future of transportation in Israeli cities?

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Netanya, 2020: It’s the morning rush hour and the city teems with life and motion. All around the city, children make their way to school, young professionals fight through café lines for their morning jolt of caffeine, and workers start their day. Above all the chaos, a series of sleek silver pods blow past the street vendors and cars below. Suspended on an intricate network of rails, the pods reach dizzying speeds, in excess of 300 km/h, shuttling people across the entire downtown core in mere seconds.

Sounds like some sci-fi mumbo jumbo doesn’t it? The kind of image you’d see depicted in water colours on the cover of some prog-rock album or in the pages of some retro-future comic. But it’s not. This is the future Netanya’s Local Planning and Building committee and their partners at SkyTran are working to make a reality.

skyTran Overview from skyTran on Vimeo.

SkyTran, a US based company from California, is no stranger to comparisons to sci-fi fantasy. Their ambitious vision for revolutionizing public transport has been dismissed before as wild-eyed dreaming, but they insist the tech behind their pods is solid. Building on research conducted by NASA, SkyTran marries proven mag-lev technology (the kind that powers Japan’s famous bullet trains) to a condensed form factor that can work inside a city. The idea is to solve a common public transportation problem – where do you put it?
Subways are massive, horrendously disruptive projects that are notoriously prone to setbacks and delays. Elevated trains are much the same, but with the added flaws of being noisy and rattling nearby windows all day. Busses can only carry so many and introduce yet more traffic to the roads.

SkyTran uses the one piece of unoccupied real estate in the modern city – the sky. By building rails overhead and using smooth, quiet, non-disruptive mag-lev vehicles, the goal is to introduce a public transportation system that is fast, safe, and non-disruptive to the community. 

Where SkyTran differs from other forms of public transit is that it favors speed over capacity. Most public conveyances are based on maximizing seats and the total carrying capacity per unit on a route. SkyTran instead only offers two people a ride at a time in a single pod. However, the pods are continuously arriving and departing, ensuring no long lines for a ride.

It’s an ambitious plan, and one that has its fair share of detractors, but the city council of Netanya believes in it. They are planning for a network of these pod rails that will operate between the Sapir railway station to the coastal highway Route 2, covering more than 600 meters of the most densely populated and trafficked area of the city.

The goal is to relieve traffic congestion that has plagued the city for years and cut down on emissions. This is something of a test bed for the SkyTran model. If it works and the pod based network relieves pressure on the roads and helps to combat the rising levels of pollution in the city, it can be expected that other cities in the area will also adopt the program. Tel Aviv and Herzliya have already been in talks with SkyTran. While all of this may seem a little far-fetched today, it may be totally normal in just a few years. 

This is a trend with Israeli cities. Combine this ambitious approach to public transport to other modern initiatives such as the nation’s massive investments in solar energy, cyber infrastructure, and world leading water desalination technology, and it becomes clear that the cities of Israel are not content to merely house treasures of the past, they also want to define the future.  

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