Whether traveling to class, work or a sporting event in Morgantown, W.Va., there’s always a risk in taking the Personal Rapid Transit as it frequently breaks down.
The 40-year-old system is convenient because it avoids traffic, is free for students and transports riders to any major part of West Virginia University’s campuses. But, if users have somewhere to be at a certain time, becoming trapped on the tracks can result in tardiness.
Aside from the possibility of not making an appointment or being late for class, there is a question of safety and what actions students should take if they’re trapped on the PRT.
On Sept. 20, the day West Virginia played Oklahoma, one of the cars stopped right before the Medical Station near the football stadium. The car had 15-20 people crunched inside who would end up being trapped for approximately 30 minutes.
“It was so hot that people were trying to use the emergency exit,” said Cory Gabrielli, a senior at WVU. “We teamed up to pull a door open to get air inside, and lodged a water bottle in front of the door to keep it open. If we didn’t get the doors opened, people would’ve passed out.”
Dylan Schaffer, another senior who was trapped in the car, stressed the biggest problem was a lack of staff.
“They announced over the intercom that there was a guy on his way but he was stuck in traffic. But, you would think that on game day they would have people ready for this kind of thing to happen,” Schaffer said. “You know it’s going to break down, and you know traffic is going to be bad. They need more people ready to help if something does happen, because had it been an hour instead of 30 minutes, it could have been really bad.”
Another idea that has circulated is the installment of a backup air conditioner in each car in the case of one breaking down.
“The situation would have been completely different if we weren’t sitting in a sauna of sweat,” said WVU alumni Darren Klaus. “The heat, mixed with the stress of the situation, just made everyone panic. They need to make some changes to the system to make it safe for everyone.”
Arlie Forman, associate director of Parking and Transportation at WVU, said with the age of the system, problems like these shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“It’s tough when it breaks down and it’s that hot,” Foreman said. “We know how bad it can be when there is no air conditioning and our personnel is caught in traffic. And, we can understand why people get upset, but this system has been functioning a lot longer than we thought it would. Until we renovate it, we’re going to continue having problems like these.”
The PRT was estimated to be fully functional for about 15 years before it would need renovations, yet it stands at more than twice its life expectancy.
However, Forman said when people do open doors and try to get out, the delay time becomes exponentially longer.
“When people get out, we have to account for everyone and do a system-wide search. Once the door is open, they all shut down, and then we have to search for people before we can get them running again,” he said. “It’s absolutely horrible how badly people can be inconvenienced on one of the vehicles, but we have to follow protocol so that we can get them running properly again.”
Forman has held his position for seven years, and came on as part of the plan to modernize the system and eliminate these problems.
“There are a lot of theories as to why to PRT breaks down, but we know it’s all electronic issues. It has the same electronic system that it started with,” Forman said. “It’s near the end of its useful life, and we’ve made a lot of steps to move forward with modernization, but we have a long way to go.”