Easily distributed Personal Rapid Transit (ESPRIT)
Over the past years, car sharing schemes have started to appear in a number of European cities. People are able to pick up a car and drop it off at locations across the city but often the vehicles are not left in a suitable place. The ESPRIT project looked at developing prototypes that would allow easier redistribution across the operating network to increase usage: these were the Easily Distributed Personal Rapid Transit (ESPRIT) vehicles.
'One-way’ systems work extremely well for the hirer. However, there is often an inherent imbalance in how vehicles are dispersed around the operating network such that the operator is required to intervene to rebalance locational supply and demand, vehicle by vehicle, location by location and day by day. This intervention can be considerable and hence expensive to the extent that some schemes can be rendered economically unviable and in many instances these disproportionate costs are preventing further growth of what is otherwise a potentially very sustainable part of an integrated public service network.
There is little that can be done to create a ‘normal’ distribution of vehicles, but what ESPRIT proposed was a far more efficient process of rebalancing locational supply and demand.
The ESPRIT solution envisioned an all new, purpose designed and built, electric vehicle that had the capability to be stacked (a bit like a supermarket trolley) into a road train of up to eight vehicles. The vehicles could then be driven by one driver to the location(s) where they are most needed, thereby substantially reducing rebalancing costs. All transit locations would be equipped with charging facilities that would charge up to eight stacked vehicles from a single charging point, with the charge being transferred between stacked vehicles in a priority sequence controlled by the software. They could be driven with 2 or 4 seat options. The vehicle provided greater energy efficiency through a custom built light weight body, fast charging batteries with brake energy recovery.
The electric vehicles proposed had a range of 10 kilometres and were designed to act as feeder vehicles to other public service transport routes, providing a solution to making public transport more economically viable for low density environments such as suburban areas.
Vectos led on the user needs assessment for the ESPRIT vehicles to inform the key principles of vehicle design, such as the number of seats, storage and top speed. This work involved focus groups with potential users and interviews with stakeholders. Vectos built on this through its key role in demonstration activities where the vehicle prototypes will be tested by users and invited stakeholders.
ESPRIT presented a forward thinking solution for the urban mobility systems of the future, providing local mobility services, accessible in location and price for all local people. It offers an alternative to owning a car and provides an energy efficient alternative that is easy to drive and safe to use. Importantly, it provides the ‘last mile’ solution for many public transport journeys.
The ESPRIT vehicle (and the EV charging system) is currently in the prototype phase, with a demonstration held in September 2018 at Hillington Business Park in Glasgow. Larger fleets are expected to be piloted in future subject to investment. Public and private sector organisations are invited to express interest in making orders for delivery of vehicles in the early 2020s. ESPRIT aims to be self-financing which is different to other car sharing schemes which require subsidy.