During a spontaneous road trip with some friends I had the chance to check out and ride the Suncheon SkyCube PRT. It is one of the handful personal rapid transit (PRT) systems in the world and the only PRT in Asia.
Andy wrote about that SkyCube PRT system several times:
- PRT System to Open for Suncheon Bay Garden Expo
- What’s the story with Suncheon Bay’s PRT?
- Only one year late…
There you’ll find the most important information about the system. In this post I’ll write about my personal experience using the PRT.
The northern PRT station is inside the Suncheon Garden Expo. This means that you have to pay admission to the expo garden. I won’t show you any pictures of that but to summarize it briefly, it was a nice tourist attraction with beautiful and sometimes exotic flowers.
This station is called Garden Station (정원역). It is a three-story building with a ticket booth on the first floor and the platform on the third floor.
The ticket booth is outside the station. It costs 6,000 KRW for one direction and 8,000 KRW for a round-trip. Researching for this article, I found out that the prices were raised in the beginning of 2015. The price for a round-trip ticket were originally 5,000 KRW.
In 2014, when the PRT begun to operate in April and until 31 December, a total of 285,000 people rode the PRT. The operators earned 1.3 billion KRW through ticket sales but the running costs were 4 billion KRW.
A red carpet led the way to the PRT vehicle! As you can see, they have facilities like a subway station. A station employee greeted us, checked the ticket and guided us to the vehicle.
A really positive point about the station is that the station platform and podcar entry are at the same height and there’s no gap. A man in a wheelchair had no difficulties to get on the podcar.
Both stations have safety doors (or so-called screen doors in Korea) like a modern Korean subway station.
There were always three podcars at each of the two stations. I didn’t have to wait for a vehicle on my way to the bay or back.
We got on a podcar and the staff told us that we just have to press the door button, then the door will close and the podcar will leave the station.
Two monitors inside the podcar show travel information: In the left corner you can see the travel speed which is at 40km/h. Our podcar didn’t go faster than that. The maximum speed of the car is 60km/h. S1 stands for the northern station and S2 is the southern station. The distance between the stations is 4.64km and it took a little bit less than 8 minutes with the Skycube podcar.
That is the station at the southern end of the PRT line, called Literary Museum Station (문학관역). From here it was a 10 minute-walk (around 1.3km) to the Suncheon Bay entry.
I saw a lot of empty podcars driving between the stations. The system always tries to keep at least three vehicles per station ready for passengers. So as soon as our podcar left the station, an idle podcar probably left the other station as well.
The design of the podcars is really nice. They are ultra-modern and very clean. In my opinion, they look better than the ULTra PRT which operate at Heathrow Airport in England.
This picture shows how short the distance between podcards can be. Theoretically they could operate at a very high frequency with many podcars on the rail.
Andy wrote that a podcar allows 6 passengers. But at the station a sign said that 8 people are allowed in each vehicle. The seating space looks also rather made for 3 people on each side. 2 to 3 passengers could stand in the vehicle. We were four people and we had enough space to sit comfortably in the PRT vehicle.
You can see in the picture that the air conditioning system (the black round buttons) is only one side of the podcar. That’s the front of the vehicle. Doors are on both sides but only the only the left side has the door-opening/ride-starting button.
Suncheon SkyCube PRT Ride
Luckily, I had some help and two cameras to shoot some clips of the vehicles and the ride. Here are some snapshots of the ride with a DSLR:
And here a full ride from the Garden Station to the Bay Station (captured with a GoPro):
Problem of the Suncheon SkyCube PRT
The positive aspects of the system are that the podcars have been waiting for us at the station, it is very clean and quiet and the speed is very adequate. I felt save in the podcar. The vehicles and stations have a good wheelchair accessibility.
The actual problem of the SkyCube is the location of the southern station. It is a ten minute walk from the Suncheon bay. The parking lot is way closer to the Suncheon Bay than the PRT. A ticket costed 8,000 KRW (round-trip) per person but parking costs right next to the entry of the preserved area costs 2,000 KRW per car. Take a look at the map to see the problem:
My friend told me afterwards that if it wasn’t for me, he would’ve never considered to use the PRT. Instead of 2,000 KRW for a car parking, we paid 32,000 KRW for four persons and had to walk over 1km. Thus, there are sadly no direct benefits for PRT users.
My guess is that this is the reason why the amount of passengers is relatively low. A solution to the problem would be to move the parking lot to a new location which requires at least as much walking as the PRT. Or alternatively, the parking fees have to be as high as the price of a round-trip with the PRT.
Under current terms it is very difficult to compete with the car parking. Of course, there are also visitors without a private vehicle and they will probably more likely use the PRT.
Summary of Suncheon SkyCube PRT Ride
Overall I have to say that it was a great experience. I really enjoyed the ride even though there wasn’t anything spectacular about it. A smooth ride without technical problems was a great feeling. After reading so much about the PRT and often receiving emails about that system, I was finally able to explore it with my own eyes. I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in transportation. I won’t go into the discussion about PRT’s as the future of urban public transport as they compete with self-driving cars and other futuristic concepts but the system has some very nice features.