Containerized Passenger Transportation

Getting someone from point-A to point-B will often — even in the distant future — involve a variety of methods of transport. For example, getting someone from their home in San Francisco to an office in Los Angeles might primarily (the majority of the distance) be served by something like high-speed rail or Hyperloop. However, there’s still the need to get the person from their home to the train station in SF, and from the train station in LA to the office. Further, less common routes might involve transfers; for example, from regional rail to inter-regional hyperloop.

Containerization will allow someone to enter into the transportation module — a pod — at the beginning of their journey, and not have to exit it until they’ve reached their final destination. This is especially important when a passenger also has luggage.

I’m certainly not the first one to think of or write about this. I mostly just wanted to write about this for the fun of it; predicting some of the details of how some aspects will work, including ownership of the various parts, and billing (namely from the customer perspective). Maybe it could be a tiny bit useful to take into account when designing something like Hyperloop, or embarking on creating pods.

Why this matters now

  1. We are at the cusp of transportation automation. Self-driving cars are quite literally around the corner.
  2. Just as self-driving cars have becoming reasonable due to current technology (e.g., fast and portable computers, advanced software, efficient and lightweight batteries), the technology to support containerized passenger transport is also reasonable. That is, all of the ingredients are available and close to becoming economically, socially, and politically ready to deploy, including:
    • Robotics to transfer a pod from one vehicle to another
    • Self-driving vehicles that can bring a pod to anywhere a car can.
    • Technology allowing real-time matching of a passenger with all the parties necessary to transport them, and billing.
  3. We are beginning to re-invest significantly in transportation infrastructure. For examples:
    • In California: High-speed rail.
    • Hyperloop

We should start designing and standardizing passenger transportation pods so that we are poised to start taking advantage of them as we get closer to major transportation infrastructure investments that are expected to have 50+-year lifespan.

What we can do now

  • Begin to think about pod standardization
  • … and much more… <TODO>

My vision


Passenger pods — what the passengers actually sit in — are the staple of this vision, as it’s what will most define their experience.

Also, as the one constant throughout the trip, it is also main channel through which billing must occur. That is, as the passenger’s pod embarks with, say, a train, the train will essentially bill the pod for the trip (including for, possibly, providing power to the pod).


While individuals could own pods, they probably won’t.

  1. People will likely want to use a variety of pods. One might be optimized for their daily commute (expected to take 45 minutes), while another might be optimized for long-distance travel (e.g., 6 hours).
  2. Just as we’re seeing with “ride-sharing” services (like Lyft), and as many are predicting with self-driving cars, not-owning your transportation vehicle/vessel is more economical. Owning your own vessel means your paying for it even when you’re not using it (often >95% of the time). Likewise, you don’t have to find — and pay for — a place for it while it sits idle while you’re at work.


As mentioned above, there will be a variety of styles of pods. There might also be several pod sizes (who knows whether there will be three, or just one). A commuter pod might have mostly chairs and can seat more people (who share a similar route and can share a pod for lower cost of the trip). A long-distance, daytime pod might be have lounger and table, and a long-distance, overnight pod might have a large comfortable bed (larger than might be found in a convertible, multi-purpose long-distance pod).

Long-distance transportation

This category refers to both regional “long-distance” (e.g., getting from Pleasanton to San Francisco; about 30 miles) to inter-regional long-distance (e.g., San Franscisco to Los Angeles; about 300 miles).

In both of these, the passenger pod is aboard a vehicle which has a relatively fixed route; namely rails (or in the case of hyperloop: tubes). Such infrastructure is likely to be much more energy efficient (primarily due to lower friction) and faster (both because of lower friction, and right-of-way). However, exit-points to such infrastructure are likely to be far enough from someone’s destination that they will need separate vehicles for the “last-mile.” (The same idea applies for the “first-mile;” getting someone from their starting point to the entry-point).

These are primary reason for containerization; the need for someone to be transferred from short-distance vehicles to long-distance vehicles, without having to transfer from one vehicle to another. Automation — robots — will be employed to quickly transfer a pod from vehicle-to-vehicle.

Last-mile (and first-mile) vehicles

Basically like a car, a “truck” that can take a passenger pod from any point to any other point (confined to “roads,” but not confined to rails/tubes) a reasonable distance away; perhaps up about 250 miles away (current reasonable upper limit of electric cars), but best suited for less than something like 30 miles.


Like pods — and “ride-sharing” — it would be most efficient (cost-wise and usage-wise) if vehicles were owned by providers (like taxis or Lyft, today), rather than by individuals

Pods and vehicles will likely rarely be owned by the same entity. This is because pods are expected to — designed to, even — be switched from one vehicle to another over the course of the passenger’s ride. It would be impractical to limit a pod to a vehicle of the same owner. However, pods will need to eventually make it “back” to where the owner can, say, service it, so owners will have to build in the cost (and logistics) of possibly having pods returned unoccupied.


In order for a passenger to be able to matched up quickly and easily with a pod (and a vehicle that it necessarily arrived on) that will arrive on time, passengers will not want to be limited to a particular provider of pods or vehicles. So, brokers will make it easy for a passenger to use the pod that meets their needs (e.g., style) and that happens to already be closest.

Brokers will also simplify billing. Passengers only need to pay a single broker rather than have to deal with paying the many possible pod providers (who will probably pay the vehicle providers).

In other words, passengers pay brokers, brokers pay pods, and pods pay vehicles.


2 responses to “Containerized Passenger Transportation”

  1. Tyler Elliott Avatar
    Tyler Elliott

    Typo in styles: posd

    I really like this idea because of how futuristic it feels. Some of it is already here if you consider ferries and especially the Eurotunnel where you drive your car onto the train. The two big challenges I’d question:

    1) Standardization: We already have so much trouble standardizing on the small things: charging cables, passwords / open auth, metric vs imperial . And here we’d need to coordinate standard sizes, interfaces, etc for multiple pod sizes across many different interested parties.

    2) Is it better enough? Imagine a slightly different, more software driven future: I pull up my app and enter a destination. Within minutes a ride sharing service shows up in a vehicle with my name on a highly visible display and takes me to a mass transit station. My phone tells me the number of the train or bus to board. At this point, ridesharing services has vehicles waiting for me as I disembark at every step of the way.
    – advantage: way easier and cheaper to implement with today’s infrastructure.
    – disadvantage: you have to get up and walk a bit, if you have lots to carry this becomes annoying.

  2. #2: That’s all but already happening. What’s the fun in imagining that? =)

    #1: There’s some hope! Shipping containers are standardized, Apple is adopting USB-C, …. So, a _little bit_ of hope =). Part of the solution might be dongles; i.e., pod-vehicle adapters 😉

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