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Transport / Mass transit

"Sky cars" are coming to Tel Aviv

By 2015, Back to the Future promised us, flying cars were meant to be a thing. Yet here we are, six months away, and they haven’t even invented the hoverboard.

Good news for those who’ve grown sick of driving on the ground, though: this week Californian engineering company SkyTran unveiled plans for the world’s first “sky cars”, which’ll launch in Tel Aviv next year. Each car will be a pod suspended from an aerial track by magnetic force; the system is not dissimilar to the MagLev technology already used on some trains.

Initially the cars will whizz around the track at the slightly disappointing speed of 43 mph, although the firm’s engineers claim that later models will be able to manage higher speeds, of up to 150 mph. The length of the first journey will be a little disappointing, too: the first track will be built at the Israel Aerospace Industries campus and will be just 500m long. But, if all goes to plan, a commercial line will be built in Tel Aviv within the next two years. The whole project will cost around $80m (£47m) to construct.

How quickly they’ll make that investment back is not exactly clear: each pod will have just two plush seats, one in front of the other. A ride would set you back around 17 Israeli shekels (around £2.90, or $4.94), which is only a bit more than a bus, but with the added bonus that you don’t have to sit next to anyone. That suggests they’ll need to sell 16.2 million rides before even the initial capital costs are covered.

SkyTran claims the system will have other advantages. It’ll run on minimal power. It should rarely need repair (no flat tyres here). The company claims, too, that the computer-controlled network will help ease congestion on roads, and that “traffic jams are unheard of on the SkyTran network”. If demand’s there, the network could be expanded, and by 2016 could even cut through buildings (no, we don’t know how either).

Toulouse, Kerala, and San Francisco all have plans to develop similar projects. Depending on the outcome of the next mayoral election, Londoners could be commuting in Christian cars or Coe cars before too long.
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