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A groundswell for high-riding pods

Illustration of JPod rail network using ultralight vehicles. JPods

Mike Stanley doesn’t think we necessarily need to find that extra $700 million to $1 billion to fund the Green Line extension into Medford and Somerville.

Wouldn’t it be more convenient, he says, to build a cheaper network of on-demand private pods that you can ride along an elevated track?

He doesn’t think it’s a pod-in-the-sky dream. He and founders of a number of other companies insist “personal rapid transit” is the key to reducing congestion and improving transportation.

Stanley wants to build a 7.4-mile loop of overhead tracks around Cambridge and Somerville. Then, he says, you could hop into a lightweight, automated pod suspended above the street, and ride it nonstop to your destination along the track.


His startup, TransitX, has little funding besides friends and family. But he thinks he can raise enough money to build a system extending into Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, at the estimated cost of $10 million a mile.

Stanley, who would try to underwrite the project entirely with private funds, says it would cost about $120 million for the loop around Somerville and Cambridge, which he thinks would make more financial sense than the Green Line extension. He doesn’t have a prototype ready, but is hoping to raise money for a local test track.

He’s not the only one pushing similar concepts. Just last month, a Minnesota company called JPods was talking with Boston officials about its personal rapid transit system.


Some politicians think it could be a good idea. State Senator Robert L. Hedlund, a Republican from Weymouth, introduced legislation that would allow such systems to be used in the state.

Personal rapid transit has been around for a while, but completed projects are few and far between. Morgantown, W.Va., home to West Virginia University, has the only one in the United States — and that was built in 1975 with funding from the Federal Transit Administration.


While an elevated-track system costs significantly less than a light rail or a subway line, the costs for a network serving a major city would still easily be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, officials say.

Mike Lester, chief executive of a Minnesota-based personal rapid transit company called Taxi2000, says he thinks cities are just afraid of being the first to install massive infrastructure for a little-known technology. He said he believes the systems are on the verge of taking off.

“It used to be, ‘That’s for the future,’ ” he said. “Well, the future is right now.”

T launches recycling effort

The MBTA wants you to recycle — and it wants companies to use its big recycling kiosks to advertise their wares.

Starting last week, patrons traveling through the Red Line’s Alewife Station are faced with two 7-foot-tall kiosks made out of — you guessed it — recycled materials. Almost 3,000 plastic jugs went into making the kiosks, according to Tim Lasker, the T’s sustainability specialist.

T officials made a big show of the new initiative involving MassRecycle, the Massachusetts Beverage Association, and Casella Recycling. Frank DePaola, the agency’s interim general manager, and Cambridge Mayor David Maher joined representatives from the T’s recycling partners Wednesday to unveil the new receptacles.

T officials are hoping the big kiosks will encourage riders to discard their plastic bottles and scrap paper responsibly.

Lasker said the project has been nine months in the making, and is long overdue.


“It’s just the right thing to do,” he said.

The T must pay trash collectors more for removing recyclables from the agency’s stations. But Lasker believes the kiosks will help pay for those extra costs — and maybe even generate revenue for the T — if companies start buying ad space on them.

Until companies take up those spaces for their ads, the kiosks will feature fun facts about recycling.

For example, did you know that recycling one aluminum can will save enough energy to listen to a full album on whatever device you use to listen to music?

Nicole Dungca can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.