The Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system known as Sky Loop is being pushed by Forward Quest, a non-profit organization that works on growth and development issues in Northern Kentucky.
Sky Loop is an elevated system of three-person, electric cars that would run in a nine-mile loop connecting Covington, Newport and downtown Cincinnati.
Chip Tappan, chairman of Forward Quest's advanced elevated rail committee, said the committee originally was formed in opposition to the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Government's (OKI) light-rail plan.
At that time, Forward Quest was working on many initiatives for Northern Kentucky, two of which were a monorail line from the airport to downtown Cincinnati, and a loop system. Eventually, the group dropped the idea of rail to the airport because OKI already had plans to develop light rail there. If OKI's light rail is not built to the airport, Forward Quest still would be interested in building a PRT line there, Tappan said.
Forward Quest also decided not to compete with light rail for more practical reasons.
"We can't fight OKI because they've got all the money," Tappan said.
For now, the group is focused on creating an elevated series of loops that would get people closer to their destinations than they could get by using light rail. They chose Sky Loop because it is the lightest, most flexible and least obtrusive, Tappan said.
Tappan envisions people riding light rail from the northern Cincinnati suburbs to downtown, then getting in a Sky Loop car that would take them directly to whatever store or attraction they wanted to go to.
"We will help light rail, and it'll help us," he said.
Jim Duane, OKI executive director, said, "We don't have any opposition to that. We might look at a loop system ourselves."
With all of the development planned for both sides of the river, Sky Loop would help connect attractions that some argue otherwise would remain poorly linked and create traffic congestion and parking problems.
Fully automated, the Sky Loop cars would not have drivers or operators. Instead, a rider would swipe a debit card to open the door of the vehicle, punch in the station number of the desired destination and be transported there directly without stopping at other stations along the way. The vehicles travel at an average speed of 30 miles per hour. It would be available 24 hours a day.
Tappan said that the system would operate "on demand" -- the cars do not operate on schedules but are waiting at the stations for passengers.
"The level of service is equivalent to your automobile," Tappan said.
Ideally, there would be stations located at hotels, major stores and attractions along both sides of the riverfront, he said.
Tappan said another advantage of the Sky Loop is that it would use an existing bridge to cross the Ohio River, probably the Clay Wade Bailey bridge, and would not need to take up a motor vehicle lane.
The committee is in the process of preparing to market the system and begin preliminary studies to gauge public interest. If there is sufficient support from residents, businesses and political leaders, the group plans to ask for federal funds, Tappan said.
The project likely would be financed with a combination of public and private funds, he said. For example, businesses or attractions would pay for the Sky Loop station on their property, he said.
But it is too soon to tell exactly how the project will be funded until studies determine exactly how much it will cost to build and how much they will charge for fares, he said.
The creator of the system estimated it would cost $53 million to build, but Tappan said that figure might not be accurate because there were too many unknown variables.
"If people want it, we'll find a way to fund it," Tappan said. ©