Types of Rail Transit: Automated Guideways

The Seattle monorail, Detroit, Jacksonville, and Miami people movers, and Morgantown, WV personal-rapid transit line are all examples of automated guideways, meaning no drivers are used to operate the vehicles. While this may sound efficient, the driver’s pay is only a tiny portion of the cost of operating and maintaining a rail line, so eliminating drivers won’t make rail transit much less wasteful than it already is.

While these lines are so different that it is difficult to make generalizations, the lines built with federal funding (meaning all but the Seattle monorail) suffered major cost overruns and most attracted far fewer riders than projected. The Miami people mover, for example, cost more than twice as much and carries less than half as many riders as originally projected, while the Jacksonville people mover cost 60 percent more than projected and carries less than 10 percent as many people as projected.

One reason ridership is low is that these forms of transit tend to be slow. According to the National Transit Database, automated guideway vehicles traveled 4.9 million revenue miles in just under 550,000 revenue hours for an average speed of 8.9 miles per hour.