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Future vision: Traverse Fayetteville in your own pod

‘This is not mass transit. This is personal transit.’

Picture personal transportation pods running along a small monorail system that would link various portions of Fayetteville.

No, it’s not a scene from the futuristic TV animated comedy series, “The Jetsons.” Instead, it’s from Atlanta-based JPods Corp. president Bill James in a presentation to the Fayetteville City Council on Feb. 7.

The demonstration project proposal was met with mixed reviews from council members, though it is expected to lead to the appointment of a committee to look further into the proposal that would be funded only with private funds.

The presentation by James amounted to an overview of the idea that a new form of personal transportation, one devoid of the complete reliance on fossil fuels, is something that holds promise and is within reach. It would be a project funded completely with private investor funds and with no funding from the city, he said.

The idea would be to have a type of monorail system, one that uses solar power to operate, to move small cars, or pods, across portions of the city. The pods would carry a maximum of six people, or cargo to various destinations outfitted with the system.

In terms of scales of economy, James said the current cost of operating a motorized vehicle is approximately 56-cents per miles compared to the 6-cents per mile cost of the pod system.

The proposal for Fayetteville is essentially a demonstration project, James said, noting that what would be the high cost of such a project running conceivably in the neighborhood of $100 million or more would be funded entirely by private funds. Those funds would come from British-based Equilty Capital, James said Monday.

A successful demonstration project would pave the way for larger projects in much larger cities across the country and abroad, James told council members, adding that it would also pave the way for much larger funding from both private and other sources.

Noting the novel concepts contained in such a project, James said accomplishing it would require changes in ordinances and right-of-way acquisition. That acquisition would benefit the right-of-way owner since a portion of the fee for riding the system would be paid to that owner. The fee structure is but one of the aspects of the project that would have to be determined if the city were to perform a feasibility study.

Though far from anything beyond an exploratory conversation, James’ presentation was met with significant opposition from councilmen Larry Dell and Walt White.

“It looks like you’ve been turned down a lot,” White said of James’ proposals made in other areas.

“People, politicians, don’t want to be first in America,” James said in response.

White noted that Fayette citizens in recent times had said “no” to mass transit.

“This is not mass transit. This is personal transit,” James said, noting that occupants of the individual pods determine its destination along the route.

James during White’s questions and comments said the councilman had been hostile since the two first met.

“All we’re looking for is a friendly environment to build this,” said James. “We will risk $100 million that we are right.”

Dell in his comments referenced a document James had released that said Fayetteville had a resolution pending on the project. James in his response apologized, saying the document was a draft that should not have been released.

James said JPods’ ideas on personal transportation had been a point of discussion with numerous mayors. One of those was with Mayor Greg Clifton.

Among those in the audience was former Mayor Ken Steele, who commended James, an ex-military member, for his obvious expertise and trying to be innovative. But Steele said he thought such a project might not be a good fit for a city of 16,000, one with an aging population that might not be inclined to use such a mode of transportation.

Also attending the meeting were Fayette County commissioners Allen McCarty, Charles Oddo and Randy Ognio. While the commissioners largely watched the proceedings, McCarty at one point noted that he would be in favor of exploring the use of modes of transportation that could move a number of people provided any such system is maintained only within the county.

Clifton in a brief comment at the end of the discussion said he personally liked the idea but noted that any approval would involve a decision by the council. He said the city would work on putting together a committee to study the proposal and work with the county in sponsoring a public hearing on the issue.

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