City Transit Diaries 6: People movers

This is Part 6 in a series expanding on the City Transit project, looking at the different modes of public transportation of the U.S. & Canada in more depth and detail.

The term "people mover" was first coined back in the 60s for a few different proprietary automated transit concepts, including the experimental Skybus system in Pittsburgh, and the eponymous Disney attraction. The initial definition for the term was born of these ideas: an automated system, generally lower capacity vehicles but high frequency operation, on a grade-separated guideway typically running on rubber tires.

Today, the term has become more generic, and can include everything from monorails to maglev. Automation is one of the most defining features of the mode, which if taken on its own would expand the category to include much more complex and high-capacity systems such as as the Vancouver Skytrain, also classified as light metro.

People movers were once envisioned as the future of transit, but never quite caught on. Several urban systems were born of the 1970s Downtown People Mover Program, a U.S. government initiative to to help cities plan systems for their urban cores. Three cities built people mover systems from this program, but they saw very limited success. Today, most people movers operate more successfully on a smaller scale in amusement parks, hospital campuses, and--most commonly--airports.

Below is a list of people mover systems in the United States. This list only includes people movers that act as public transportation in some sort. As such, only airport people mover systems that link to a larger mass transit network are included.



The Las Colinas Area Personal Transit System is a people mover system that acts as a circulator for the Las Colinas Urban Center, located in a suburb of Dallas. Originally envisioned as a 5 mile system, only the first 1.4-mile phase was built, opened in 1986. Ridership is low, and the system was even mothballed for three years of its history.



The Detroit People Mover is one of three urban people movers built under the Downtown People Mover program. It is a 3-mile loop through downtown Detroit, but only operates a single track in a clockwise direction. The trains are driverless, and lack a unique livery, usually wrapped in advertisements.



The Indiana University Health People Mover resembles a monorail, but actually is a traditional people mover system with gaps between the running tracks. The 1.4-mile line is the only rail transit in Indianapolis. Though it exists to connect three different hospital campuses, it is open to the public and operates at a very high frequency 24 hours a day.



The Jacksonville Skyway is one of three systems of the Downtown People Mover Program. It opened first in 1989, and was expanded three times in 1996, 1998 and 2000, including across across the St. Johns River on the Acosta Bridge. Despite these expansions, it remains only a 2.5 mile system with limited ridership.


Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Monorail runs 4 miles adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip, connecting several large casinos. It is one of the few monorails in operation in North America. There are several expansions of the system in planning stages, particularly to the Airport.



The Metromover is the most successful of the Downtown People Mover Program systems, and the only to be fully built out. The 3-mile system spans over 4 miles throughout downtown Miami. Additionally, the MIA Mover a separate people mover operates between Miami International Airport and the Central Terminal rail station. It is one of three people movers in the airport system.


Morgantown, WV

The Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit is a unique system that connects the campus of West Virginia University to downtown Morgantown, a small city in northeastern West Virginia. It originally opened in 1975, and its full length is 3.6 miles. The aging system utilizes small individual vehicles that operate on request during off-peak times.



AirTrain Newark is a 3-mile monorail system first opened in 1996. Originally just an airport circulator, it was refurbished and extended to connect to the Northeast Corridor passenger rail line in 2000. The system is due to be refurbished or replaced in the near future.


New York

AirTrain JFK is an 8-mile people mover that connects John F. Kennedy International Airport to the New York City Subway and Long Island Rail Road. Proposed as early as the 1970s, it first opened in 2003 and operates 24 hours a day.




The Coliseum–Oakland International Airport line is a 3-mile automated shuttle between Oakland International Airport to the BART rapid transit system. It first opened in 2014 and utilizes cable-drawn vehicles. An intermediate infill station may be added in the future.



The PHX Sky Train first opened in 2014. It connects Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to the city's light rail system and features the world's only bridge over an active airport taxiway. At 100 feet tall, even the largest airlines can pass underneath. The final phase of the system is planned to open in 2020.



The Seattle Center Monorail is mile-long monorail shuttle that connects downtown to the Seattle Center. It opened in 1962 for the Century 21 Exhibition, and the original two trains are still in service today. It was designated a Seattle Landmark in 2003.