An Aerial Transit System in Clearwater and the Evolution of Construction Tech

March 9, 2020

Clearwater Florida is set up to lead the way for a new form of transit and transportation. A proposed aerial passenger-pod rail system by the company BeachTran could be coming to Clearwater sooner than you may think. 

In February 2020 the Florida City of Clearwater council voted to pass a resolution to look into the updated and futuristic transit system that could clear roads and help ensure growth for the local economy into the future.

Image borrowed from Orlando Weekly.

Why Would They Want an Aerial Transit System in Clearwater?

Every second, tourism contributes almost $330 to the local economy in Clearwater. The ability for people to travel from downtown clearwater to the beach and piers is important not only to the local tourism industry but for locals who work in the tourism industry itself. Over 40,000 cars travel in Clearwater alone in a single day with 5,000 beach and hospitality workers battling traffic to get to their jobs and find parking. 

Traffic is getting busier, parking harder to find and commute times are much longer than they used to be. This transit system is hoping to address all of these problems for Clearwater and beyond.

Clearwater beaches are popular for travellers of all kinds. Image borrowed from TripSavvy.

The Creation of BeachTran

BeachTran was created by Tom Nocera – a longtime Clearwater resident – and his brother Bud Nocera in 2016. Bud is the former CEO of Visit Florida. Having witnessed the growing congestion, increasing population and persistence of parking and driving problems in the city, these two brothers created BeachTran for a single mission:

To use 21st Century technology to provide the best possible solution for Clearwater’s serious beach traffic problem.

What Is the Transit System Proposed for Clearwater?

In a time when Uber is looking to develop flying taxis and Elon Musk’s tunnelling project has started focusing on public transportation, there’s no time like the present to rethink the way public transportation functions and how people move around. 

The transportation system proposed by BeachTran focuses on this revolution as well. The idea is to create a hanging gondola-type transportation system that would move passengers in pods on a rail system. This system would allow people to soar past traffic up in the air. 

Ultimately, it would reduce the number of people on the roads, streamline transportation for those going from downtown to the beach and eventually help to connect the Tampa Bay area in a way that would promote a prosperous tourist industry and local economy.

Image borrowed from 83 Degrees.

The Technicalities of the Project

The proposed system would run from downtown Clearwater to Pier 60 and back. It’s the main route for tourists, tourism employees and locals who are looking to make the trip along one of the most congested routes in the city. 

According to a profile on the project by SmartCities, the trains would run up to 50 mph, sit 20 feet above the ground and would be powered by solar energy. The pods, which would carry up to four passengers at a time, would run autonomously and could also be used as cargo trains to move materials around the city. All of these factors come into play to ensure that the system would run smoothly and be affordable to the general public.

The Next Phase

While the first phase of the project would look to build a track from downtown Clearwater to Pier 60 there have already been talks that a successful project could lead to an expansion into other Tampa Bay areas. This means that the pods and BeachTran system could expand east to Tampa and south to St Petersburg. Perhaps it could eventually go even further than that. 

The overall feeling about the project is positive. Although the vote in February 2020 by the council does not confirm a budget nor a project go-ahead, it does indicate an openness of the city to try something new.

The ability to reduce traffic, strengthen the tourism industry and create a smarter way to bring people around the city are enticing enough to gather attention not only from the city council in Clearwater but in surrounding areas.

There is Still a Long Way To Go

The vote to continue to research this new transportation does not guarantee that it will happen. It’s clear that there is still a long way to go to figure out the logistics. What is exciting about this project, however, is that it’s a real example of a city being open to challenging the norm and embracing a future where anything is possible.

The Future of Transportation, Infrastructure and Technology

As cities begin introducing new technologies and building projects, the construction industry is going to have to respond in kind. Building a system such as the BeachTran system will require work in developed and high traffic areas, plenty of aerial work and most likely the moving of large pre-fab rail systems.

Perhaps we already have the equipment needed to meet this demand. But maybe there’s a smarter, more efficient way that can be developed as the industry evolves.

Construction technology is advancing rapidly on its own. Advancements in equipment tech, autonomous machines, increased site technology and improved data collection are all pushing the industry into the 21st century. The conversation around this transit system highlights the need for these advancements to not happen on their own or siloed.

As smarter infrastructure and transportation technologies change the nature of projects and how projects themselves should be completed, construction technologies will need to follow suit. Advancing for the sake of advancing isn’t worth it if the industry still lacks the ability to meet the demands of the projects of tomorrow. 

Projects like this are a prime example of how autonomous equipment could not work on every site; these construction sites will be working so close to the public that man-operated equipment may in fact be safer. That doesn’t mean, however, that a more efficient and safe technology isn’t out there.

The Future Is Looking Up

Whether it’s an aerial transit system, flying taxis or autonomous trains in tunnels underground, the cities of the future are bound to look different than they do today. Keeping on top of these trends will help the construction industry develop technologies that can work well for the projects of the future. 

It looks like there’s still time before the Clearwater BeachTran project kicks off. Once it does though, there will be no turning back. 

Kevin Forestell

Kevin Forestell is CEO of DOZR and one of the co-founders. Kevin first got started as an entrepreneur when he founded Forestell Landscaping right after graduating from University. His love and passion for the industry and desire to help solve an equipment problem that contractors faced every day is what brought the founding team to start DOZR. Kevin is proud of the level of efficiency brought to the industry through DOZR and hopes that DOZR will help change the standard way equipment is rented.

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