San Jose to Participate in Sustainable Transportation Conference in Sweden


In October 2007, the City of San Jose, the 10th largest city in the US, launched a Green Vision program. The program set out a plan to carry out 10 green goals, one of which is to have 100 percent of the city’s public vehicles running on alternative fuels. Ultimately, the city has set its sights on becoming the greenest city in the nation.

Many have taken notice of their efforts and city officials have been invited to participate in the Sustainable Transportation Conference in Sweden this week. United States representatives Hans Larsen, who is the Acting Director for the San Jose Department of Transportation, will be sharing the city’s perspectives on Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). Larsen will be joined by delegates from New York and Los Angeles where ultimately 200 stakeholders are expected to participate.

“I’m looking forward to participating at the Sustainable Transportation Conference in Sweden. This will give us an opportunity to learn more about the latest advancements in new technology for automated transit systems, referred to as Personal Rapid Transit or PodCars,” said Larsen in an interview with Gas 2.0. “San Jose is interested in developing an automated transit project to connect the Mineta San Jose International Airport with our nearby regional mass transit systems.

According to representatives from San Jose, they are leading the nation in fuel-economy standards and registered hybrid, electric and natural gas-fueled cars. In addition, the city has installed 10 charging stations and are working with local companies to encourage them to install EV charging stations in their parking lots.

Larsen continued, “San Jose, as the Capital of Silicon Valley, is stepping into a leadership role to help further the development of innovative transit technologies that have the potential to reshape how we move in the future and organize our cities in a more sustainable and livable way. Silicon Valley is the innovation center of the world and it would be a natural fit for Silicon Valley to be the epicenter for developing new, modern transit technology.”

I asked Larsen to go into more detail about how he felt the programs that were being implemented in San Jose could resonate in other cities around the world. He responded by speaking a bit about several of their initiatives include the installation of “smart” LED streetlights. These streetlights can be remotely controlled, communicate with one another and be dimmed in the late evening hours where there are minimal to no traffic or safety concerns.

“Dimming the City’s lights will make such conversions more economical as well as reduce wasted light while protecting astronomical research,” explained Larsen. “Europe is far ahead of the U.S. in terms of dimming. But thus far the technology has only been applied to high-pressure sodium lights. The technology the City is pioneering will tie together the best of both technologies.”

In addition, the City is pressuring the lighting and communication industries to provide metering capability as part of the streetlight’s intelligence so the cities can get full credit for their energy reductions. Larsen noted that other cities are watching their program closely.

What could be considered a larger program is the city’s efforts to build what could be considered the first modern Automate Transit Network (ATN) in the nation. Larsen explained that an ATN or Personal Rapid Transit or Podcar system is a system of small (4-6 passengers), lightweight, computer-controlled (driverless) vehicles operated on or suspended below an elevated guideway. Amazingly, there are no scheduled routes- passengers specify their destination. Stations are off the main line, so travel is non-stop. The concept is similar to an exclusive horizontal elevator with seats.

Today, there are two commercial applications currently under construction—one at Heathrow-London Airport, the other in Masdar, a community under development in Abu Dhabi. San José’s initial system would connect the San José Norman Y. Mineta International Airport to the Santa Clara Caltrain/future BART station and the Metro/Airport Light Rail station.

“Constructing an ATN system would advance a number of the City’s high-priority goals, including advancing San José’s Green Vision goals supporting technological innovation, and improving the effectiveness of the City’s existing transit network,” said Larsen.

In conclusion, I asked Larsen what he thought the fuels of the future would be. San Jose is taking a gamble on electric vehicles and in November of last year, the city—along with San Francisco and Oakland—committed to turning the San Francisco Bay into the “Electric Vehicle Capital of the World.”

To achieve this, San Jose is collaborating with cities throughout the region to create a network of EV charging stations throughout the Bay Area. They are also encouraging residents to purchase EVs.

“While the City is making use of a variety of alternative fuel options, utilizing electricity for transportation is especially consistent with California’s, and San Jose’s, goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Consider that California’s electrical grid is quite clean relative to the rest of the nation, the state has set ambitious portfolio targets for its utilities for renewable energy, and San Jose has adopted a goal to secure all of its electrical energy through renewable power by 2022,” concluded Larsen.


Joanna Schroeder

Joanna is a writer and consultant specializing in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture issues.