Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Share via:


Fast, flexible, safe & congestion-free. Zero-emissions. A vast platform for renewable energy and green, re-humanised cityscapes.



Self-driven electric pods carrying passengers & cargo on demand at high speeds on self-powered networks of sub-surface & surface-level channels connected to existing roads & mass transit systems.

  • Available for hire 24/7, with fare structure promoting shared rides

  • Connecting all points of origin/destination

  • High-speed, flexible, efficient & safe

  • Solar energy powered, emissions-free

  • Low total cost, self-funded.

    People pods: Sleek, compact, up to 4 passengers. Longer models available. Frontal hatch & rear sideways-opening doors. Speed up to 200kph.

    Cargo pods: Similar, but rear doors only & carrying pod containers that stack precisely into standard sea/rail/air transport containers.

    Sub-surface channels: for unimpeded pod travel at 200kph across cities. Pods fit snugly inside. Built just below the surface but with ceilings protruding slightly, allowing surface traffic overhead. Entry/exit ramps & emergency exit hatches.

    Surface-level channels: for urban travel at normal speeds & inter-city travel at 200kph. Progressively occupying an increasing share of the normal road network.

Powered by solar panels installed along the full length of the channel network, feeding surplus to the grid.

The proposed system relies on current & upcoming technologies: self-driven cars, solar power (& “solar roads”), battery storage, wireless charging, aerodynamic design &innovative materials for vehicle manufacture, noise reduction, traffic control &ride sharing systems, & mobile communications.

Expected outcomes: dramatic decrease in vehicle numbers & visibility, & optimized vehicle load factors. This, along with public parking spaces no longer being needed, will allow conversion of vast areas into pedestrian / green / recreation zones. Huge savings will accrue from reduced environmental impacts, substantial reductions in travel times & elimination of congestion delays, improved public health (from reduced accidents, stress & pollution), & avoidance of expensive highway infrastructure.

What actions do you propose?

A. Devising world-wide standards

World-wide standard specifications will need to be agreed to ensure global compatibility – particularly re pod & channel dimensions, power charging methods, & system management & communications. Some proposals:

1. People pods

  • Self-driven electric, sturdy, aerodynamic (sloping front, flat-ish back) & compact (h/w approx 1.6x1.7m; lengths depending on uses). Speeds up to 200kph.

  • The basic model for urban & short inter-city travel (length approx 3.8m) will carry up to 4 passengers comfortably: 2 in forward-facing seats at the front and 2 in side-facing fold-up seats (similar to airline cabin crew seats) on either side at the rear. When folded, this space will accommodate luggage, pets, wheelchairs, etc.

  • A hatch-style front door will open upwards, allowing easy access to front seats. The two back doors will slide open sideways. When front & back doors open, passengers can pass easily through a pod (e.g. if stuck in a channel).

  • Longer-sized pod models will allow for additional sideways-sitting passengers. Other seat configurations in “stretch” models will be used for longer inter-city travel providing greater passenger comfort (including sleepers). Pod trailers will transport additional luggage, sports equipment, etc.

  • The electric engine & battery will be located in the pods' front-middle area, allowing entry & ample leg space for front-seat passengers.

  • Pod batteries will be charged by solar panels on the pod roof and front hatch door when exposed to sunlight. When traveling on channels, pods will be powered by the channel network itself, employing either embedded inductive charging plates or a retractable connector pin emerging from one side of the pod's underbelly to insert into a secured power strip along the length of the channel floor.

  • When traveling in sub-surface channels, windows will convert to screens displaying outside scenes taken by external video cameras along the network.

2. Cargo pods

  • Same basic design (including h/w)& features as people pods, but windowless, opening only from the rear & with built-in rollers on the floor to facilitate loading & unloading of pod containers.

  • Varying pod lengths, depending on cargo volumes transported. Two standard lengths will be approx 4m and 8m, to accommodate pod containers measuring h/w 1.1x1.1m and length either (a) 2.9m or (b) 5.8m. These will facilitate inter-modal transport, fitting inside standard sea transport containers in the following h/w/l configurations: 40-ft container: (a) 2x2x2 and (b) 2x2x1; 80-ft container: (a) 2x2x4 and (b) 2x2x2. Refrigerated pod containers will be slightly smaller. Other size options will be available for air transport.

  • Cargo pods will support agile supply chains by optimizing cargo-size flexibility & response times. Most cargo will no longer need to be bulked into large trucks as the main cost drivers for bulking – the driver & fuel – will not apply.

  • Cargo unable to fit into the largest pod containers will be transported using other vehicles operating only on surface-level channels.

3. Sub-surface channels

  • These will be used exclusively by pods traveling unimpeded at speeds of up to 200kmh. Their dimensions (h/w approx1.8x2m) will allow pods to fit snugly inside as they travel. Built at a depth of around 1.5m, with ceilings rising about 0.3m above ground level.

  • Surface traffic – including frequent crossings for pedestrians, cyclists, etc. – will be able to pass over easily &without interruption using low “bridges” (0.3m in height) across the channels.

  • The low walls supporting the ceilings will contain numerous built-in micro-pores for channel ventilation &releasing air pressure from pods traveling within.

  • The roofing will be in part transparent – allowing outside light to enter – &in part covered to support solar panels lined along the length of the channels (except at intersections & crossings). These will be angled to receive optimal sunlight & where feasible will rotate to follow the sun's direction.

  • The solar power generated by the network will continuously charge the batteries of pods traveling along the channels, through embedded inductive charging plates or a secured power strip running along the length of the channel floor (protected against flooding & tampering).

  • The network will be connected to the local power grid & – depending on the network's expanse – will provide the grid with any excess power generated by the system, including from the pods' charged batteries while the pods are not in use e.g. at night and other off-peak times.

  • The channel road surface will use materials that minimize friction sound from pod tires. Other interior surfaces will be coated with sound-absorbing materials. Channel entrances and exits will be equipped with drainage to avoid water entry, and electronic surveillance / protection against entry by people & animals.

  • Every 100m or so there will be emergency escape hatches in the channel ceilings, with accompanying steps built into the channel walls. The hatches will open either from inside or – by emergency services – from outside.

  • Intersections between two sub-surface channels will require one channel to gradually dip slightly (by about 1.2m) and the other to rise slightly (also by about 1.2m). Changing from a channel going in one direction to another crossing it will require clover-leaf type exchange configurations similar to those currently used for highways, but at greatly reduced scales.

  • Pods traveling along sub-surface channels will deliver passengers by emerging either onto surface-level channels, normal roads or special pick-up/drop-off areas.

  • Pods not being used at off-peak times will be densely parked (front-to-back, side-to-side) at distributed sub-surface locations & pick-up areas, positioned to respond rapidly to anticipated demand while charging or discharging their batteries in line with the network & grid requirements.

    4. Surface-level channels

  • These will be special, protected lanes for pods, progressively occupying an increasing share of the normal road network.Larger non-pod self-driven electric vehicles (e.g. carrying out-sized loads) will also be allowed to travel on these channels.

  • They will also have solar panels – mounted on connected posts (also used for street lighting) along the channels, high enough for large-sized non-pod traffic to pass – and the same methods for charging pods. New “solar roads” will be an option.

  • Within urban areas, pod traffic on surface channels will operate at normal speeds and stop at crossings, or traffic management systems could allow traffic to crisscross without stopping. In such cases, frequent pedestrian/cyclist underpasses would be built.

  • For inter-city traffic – where sub-surface channels are impractical or too costly –surface-level channels will allow pod travel at 200kph, physically protected against unauthorized crossings. Intersections with other surface-level channels& roads will similarly require “dipping & rising” & clover-leaf configurations.

  • As often as convenient & feasible, surface-level channels will be built alongside sub-surface channels, thus occupying two lanes in either direction, allowing pods to move easily from one level to another through up-down ramps. Sub-surface channels will be built without accompanying surface-level channels wherever surface travel is not permitted (e.g. under pedestrian zones, green areas, etc.).

    5. System management & communications

  • This will involve i.a. licensing & regulating pod hire services, forecasting transport demand minute-to-minute, setting time- & channel-specific tolls, managing information/traffic flows & power usage, directing & controlling pod travel, maintaining the channel network & dealing with emergencies.

  • The system will also need to encompass(a)pod-to-pod communication systems amongst nearby pods, (b) the pods' own self-drive systems, &(c) users' communications (on mobile devices & apps)to: request travel information & services, hire pods, deliver travel instructions to pods prior to departure & en route, communicate with other scheduled pod passengers & pay for pod hire.

  • In emergencies, pods in sub-surface channels will automatically be re-routed or emerge at the next exit ramp, or come to a stop close to a channel escape hatch. In this case, all pod doors will automatically open for passengers to exit. Pods carrying disabled persons will be given priority in evacuations.

  • All personal identity information of traveling passengers will be encrypted & remain confidential.

B. Designing, building & managing the transport system elements

The system elements will then need to be designed, built & managed in accordance with the agreed standards. Additional features will take account of local conditions & customer preferences. Some proposals:

1. The pods

  • The pods will be designed & built by specialist manufacturers – most likely the automobile manufacturers of today, and especially those taking the lead in developing electric, self-driven vehicles. Prior to manufacture, pod models will be certified as conforming to standards by relevant authorities.

  • Different pod manufacturers may offer additional pod features, making them more or less attractive to end customers (a sale point for competing pod hire services).

  • Governments will use a range of carrot-and-stick approaches to promote pod use: tax incentives, progressive elimination of public parking areas, and eventual prohibition of non-conforming vehicles. In any case, non-standard vehicles will be greatly disadvantaged by being unable to use the pod channels.

    2. The pod hire services

  • Cities, regions or countries may decide to have one or more licensed pod hire services. These will either be private enterprises (e.g. online car hire/ride-sharing networks, taxi services, transport companies, etc.), public services &/or public-private partnerships (PPPs).

  • These will be the pod manufacturers' main customers. Purchases of pods by private individuals will remain possible, albeit made very expensive by high taxes, higher channel tolls, etc. Individual pod ownership will generally be discouraged by the ubiquity and efficiency of pod hire services.

  • Pods will be offered for voyage-based or time-based hire, for immediate or future use, to transport passengers or cargo. Customers will hire pods using apps on their mobile devices. Rates will vary depending on the moment's demand, e.g. peak vs off-peak travel. Rate reductions will be offered to passengers on shared trips, especially during peak times. Hires may cover combined travel on pods & mass transit systems.

  • In general, rates will make pod travel readily accessible to all segments of the population. Governments may wish to regulate rates or offer travel vouchers to low-income families.

    3. The channel networks

  • Channel networks will typically be built by national, regional or city governments, or through PPPs.

  • A city network will typically consist of a grid-type or circle-and-spoke design, with sub-surface channels intersecting every 800m (8 blocks) or so, thus creating segments of about 64 (8x8) city blocks. Each segment will contain a combination of surface channels & normal roads. Configurations will vary from city to city depending on topography, demography, the existing road network, traffic flows, resources, etc.

  • Normal roads will progressively evolve into surface channels; these, in turn, will progressively be converted into sub-surface channels. As this happens, the network efficiency & the greening &quality of life of cities will be increasingly enhanced.

    4. System management & communications

  • A specialist entity will need to be selected to manage the system, at least at city level, carrying out the functions described above.

    5. Financing

  • The system will be self-financing, being built & operated on a cost-recovery or profit-making basis with revenue generated by licensing operators, pod hires, channel tolls & the sale of surplus power to the grid.

Who will take these actions?

A. Devising world-wide standard specifications

The relevant standards – i.a. concerning pod & channel dimensions, power charging methods, & system management & communications – will be developed by the ISO along with national/regional/city authorities, industry & transport user associations.

B. Designing, building & managing the transport system elements

1. The pods

These will be designed & built (conforming to standards) & marketed by competing manufacturing enterprises.

National/regional/city governments may initially offer tax or other incentives to encourage launching of pod manufacturing facilities. Investing in channel networks & adopting regulations progressively restricting the use of non-standard vehicles will make investments in pod manufacturing more attractive & less risky.

2. The pod hire services

These will be set up & offered by enterprises, public authorities and/or PPPs, either as sole providers or, preferably, in competition.

National/regional/city government incentives, regulations & investments will encourage & facilitate setting up these services as the pods also become available.

3. The channel networks

National/regional/city governments will typically build these networks, either contracted to construction firms or as PPPs.

4. System management & communications

National/regional/city governments will decide who will manage their systems, i.e. public authorities, contracted specialist enterprises or PPPs. The closest equivalent structures would be those managing airports & air traffic control systems, although the proposed new system would be more complex.

5. Financing

Participating enterprises (pod manufacturers, pod hire services, etc.) and national/regional/city governments will finance the systems through their own budgets and/or with bank loans.

Where will these actions be taken?

A. Devising world-wide standard specifications

Internationally, through consultations amongst the organizations referred to above.

B. Designing, building & managing the transport system elements

1. The pods

Internationally, by manufacturers operating globally, & by manufacturers operating at the country & possibly even at the city level.

2. The pod hire services

These will be offered locally, by global pod hire services and/or by national/regional/city services.

3. The channel networks

These will be built first at city level, and then expanded for inter-city travel.

4. System management & communications

This will be carried out at the national, regional and/or city level, as appropriate.

5. Financing

Financing would be arranged by all parties involved in the building & operation of the proposed transport systems, typically at the national, regional & city levels. Investment recovery and / or profit will be generated from licensing of operators, the sale & hire of pods, channel tolls & the sale of excess solar power to the grid.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

As per Climatecolab, road transport constitutes 15% of global emissions.

If the proposed ground transport system becomes fully operational world-wide, it will thus reduce global emissions by at least 15% as it relies entirely on self-generated solar power & would feed surplus power into the grid.

For the proposed new system to succeed, several things are necessary:

  • It must be highly attractive to transport users &to the public & civil society in general(see next point below).

  • Holdouts need to become detached from the existing system by making it increasingly costly & inconvenient.

  • Governments need to become fully committed by providing investments, incentives & a conducive taxation & regulatory environment.

  • Businesses with strong interests in the current system need to be given an opportunity to build a stake in the new system.

  • Innovative businesses offering technologies useful to the new system must be provided with an overwhelming interest in supporting it.

What are other key benefits?

In addition to the above reduction in global emissions, the proposed new transportation system will offer a number of key benefits to individuals & to society as a whole:

  • Huge welfare & economic advantages from substantially reduced travel times, elimination of congestion delays & much more efficient / less costly transport of people & cargo.

  • Greatly improved cityscapes & quality of life from converting vast areas currently used for driving & parking cars into pedestrian/green/recreation zones.

  • Improved public health from reduced accidents, stress & pollution.

  • Significant savings from avoiding the need to build expensive highway infrastructure.

What are the proposal’s costs?

A. Devising world-wide standard specifications

  • Costs of experts to develop the standards proposals

  • Costs of setting up international working groups & organizing world-wide consultations

  • Costs of disseminating the standards

  • Costs borne by the participating organizations: ISO, national/regional/city governments, industry & transport user associations.

B. Designing, building & managing the transport system elements

1. The pods

  • Costs of designing, building & testing prototypes

  • Costs of certification to the global standards

  • Costs of full-scale production

  • All costs borne by pod manufacturers, recovered through their sales of pods.

2. The pod hire services

  • Costs of designing & developing the pod hire systems

  • Costs of certification to the global standards (if applicable)

  • Costs of operating the pod hire systems

  • All costs borne by pod hire service organizations, recovered through pod hire fees.

3. The channel networks

  • Costs of designing & building the channel networks

  • Costs of channel network operation & maintenance

  • Design & build costs borne by the relevant national/regional/city government, recovered by receiving a share of the channel tolls (if applicable)

  • Operation & maintenance costs borne by the entity selected to be the overall manager of the transport system (or by a subcontractor, if relevant). Costs recovered by receiving a share of the channel tolls.

4. System management & communications

  • Costs of designing, developing & testing the management system

  • Costs of certification to the global standards

  • Costs of managing the system, including, i.a.: licensing & regulating pod hire services, forecasting transport demand minute-to-minute, setting time- & channel-specific tolls, managing information/traffic flows & power usage, directing & controlling pod travel& dealing with emergencies

  • All costs borne by the entity selected to be the overall manager of the transport system. Costs recovered by receiving a share of the channel tolls.

Time line

A. Devising world-wide standard specifications

These could, in principle, be developed within 1-2 years.

B. Designing, building & managing the transport system elements

1. The pods

Pods could be designed & begin to be built 2-3 years after the standards are set. They could even be made available in advance of the channel networks, by operating on normal roads with access to provisional plug-in facilities.

2. The pod hire services

Pod hire services could begin operation as soon as the pods become available.

3. The channel networks

Once the standards are agreed, many surface-level channels could be built relatively quickly (in 2-3 years). They would co-exist with, & progressively replace, existing roads.

Sub-surface channels would then progressively be built as quickly as possible to replace those surface-level channels with the highest traffic flows & the best potential for rapid cross-city travel.

The key time-frame issue will be to begin getting existing vehicles off the road quickly to encourage take-up of the pod hiring services, e.g. through regulations to progressively restrict & eliminate public parking spaces & prohibit travel of non-standard vehicles on the growing network of surface channels. Taxes on existing vehicles would be hiked, thus also providing additional resources to build the channel networks.

4. System management & communications

The technologies for system management & communications could likely also be designed & developed 2-3 years after the standards are set.

5. Financing

Financing for the systems should be easily available given that revenues generated would certainly cover the investment & operation costs, & generate healthy profits over the foreseeable future.

With the support of governments & other stakeholders, it would be feasible for the proposed system to become initially operational in several cities around the world in no more than 5 years. It could then be expected to expand quickly & dramatically across the globe over the next 10-15 years.

Related proposals