As it seems to be possible to teleport people between two parts of the ship (e.g. TNG: Gambit, Part II), why the Transporter, instead of the Turbolift, isn't the primary mechanism to transport people to different parts of the starship?

  • 11
    I would assume the turbolift uses much less energy than the transporter.
    – Stan
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 16:32
  • 18
    “And here I am using my legs like a sucker!” -Homer Simpson i.imgur.com/UlAbClM.png
    – phantom42
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 16:38
  • 14
    @Stan And when the turbolift fails, it probably leaves people stranded in it, instead of disintegrating the passengers like a transporter failure.
    – user1027
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 16:41
  • 1
    Have you ever teleported? It's like jetlag on steroids!
    – Sevan
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 16:42
  • 1
    Probably for the same reasons people today don't drive around in indoor cars.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 15:55

6 Answers 6


Because it isn't necessary. Intraship transport is relegated to medical and security emergencies. There are a limited number of transporters available and such energy is more vital to other services on the ship such as shields or the warp engines.

  • Despite the relative abundance of energy in the Federation universe, it still costs energy to convert people into energy and restore them upon arrival. Since this energy comes from the warp engines and depletes dilithium it is unlikely such a use of energy would be conducive to good operational procedure except in emergencies.

  • The turbolift is a far more energy effective means of moving crew members, equipment and visitors around the ship using a fraction of the energy of the transporter. During an emergency without warp power, there would be NO means of getting around the ship quickly except for transporters which could be taken out by enemy fire, power outages, or other emergencies.

  • From a health and psychological perspective, walking is good for the crew, keeps them fit and healthy. Moving through the ship promotes good relationships and interactions between the crew.

  • 28
    Not to mention: Would YOU want to transport across the ship throughout the day, knowing how many transporter malfunctions happen in each series?
    – Zibbobz
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 17:00
  • 6
    @Richard common sense. A turbolift is a fancy elevator. Converting someone's matter into energy, transmitting it, and converting back is clearly going to cost more.
    – Daenyth
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 17:25
  • 4
    And as I recall the TNG Technical Manual (canon?) the pattern buffers have a significant cooldown time that limits the overall capacity of the transporter system and it doubles for site-to-site transport.
    – AndreKR
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 17:56
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    Because you can't stop the transporter halfway for a private chat. Plot device, nothing more.
    – Gaius
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 7:51
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    <comments removed> I've cleaned up the comments a bit to remove the really tangential stuff. Please keep it to discussing issues/questions on this answer. Otherwise, take it to chat.
    – user1027
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 17:29

Starfleet vessels are just too small to merit the expenditure of energy on site-to-site transporters when simple turbolifts are sufficient.

Star Trek production illustrator Doug Drexler, when discussing the next (next) generation of Starfleet vessels identified that the Enterprise-J would use transporters as the primary method of moving people around. He notes that this is due to the sheer size of the vessel:

"as a multi-generational vessel, that had large parks, entertainment zones, and entire universities on board. The ship is so large that turbolifts would be replaced with site to site transporters. [It] had one deflector, recognizably descended from the NX. I opted for spindly nacelle struts because I felt it suggested a technology beyond what we were familiar with. They are beyond transwarp. They can fold space, and they are exploring other galaxies besides the Milky Way."

Also, based on this conversation in the Star Trek pilot, it's pretty clear that although the technology has been ubiquitous for nearly a century, not everyone likes being transported.

DATA'S VOICE : But, sir, the transporter could have you on the Hood in a matter of seconds, Admiral.

Data and the admiral ENTER SCENE at the intersection. The admiral is very old with an almost transparent look.

ADMIRAL : Have you got some reason to want my atoms scattered all over space?

Dr Pulaski shows a similar concern in TNG: Unnatural Selection as does Reginald Barclay in TNG: Realm of Fear, etc. It's hardly fair to expect officers to simply lump it that they'll have to be transported dozens of times a day.

Out of universe, the aim was to preserve as much of the "look" of the original Star Trek while allowing for evolution of the technology rather than outright revolution.

There were also production considerations;

The fact that Gene Roddenberry liked the concept of having discussions in the turbolifts of the Galaxy-class Enterprise influenced the designers of the ship, who at first considered having an on-bridge transporter for TNG, to ultimately discard that idea. (Starlog issue #125, p. 46)

  • 1
    Re the (now deleted) Answer about energy budgets being nonsense. This was an apt comment and modifies every Answer already offered. Given the extent and use of the Holodeck, with TNG fwd, one can hardly argue consistently about hypothetical "energy budgets" constraining intra-ship Transporter use. The real answer, the only answer, is Roddenberry.
    – user23715
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 22:44
  • @user23715 - For the record, the holodeck has its own power supply.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 22:46
  • 1
    For the record, the Transporter Pad can be powered by a Hand Phaser. Just say'n...
    – user23715
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 23:00
  • @user23715 You're referring to The Hunted. Given that a Type II phaser can disintegrate multiple humanoids, and a phaser on overload can do considerable damage, that seems about right.
    – Schwern
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 2:32
  • 2
    People seem to be conflating the volume required to store energy with the amount of energy that's available. Sure, a phaser packs a tremendous amount of energy, but the ship isn't stuffed full of phasers. Even in today's society, most people are not this wasteful - they'll walk rather than drive for 1 block. Some people might drive, but those people are probably not "starfleet material".
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 5:38

From my answer on In Star Trek - What's the Point of the Transporter Room?

Originally, transporter beams only faced outwards, so you had to use a transporter room to beam out. Then they started pointing them inwards, but had issues with safety (such as materializing inside a bulkhead).

By the time we get to TNG, these technical issues have been overcome, but there is a large energy requirement for beaming. If the entire population of the Enterprise D (1000+) were transporting everywhere they went, it would consume a lot of energy. Furthermore, there likely are not enough transporter beam emitters facing inwards to satisfy the volume of transports that would be used in a a regular commute with-in the ship and recreation.

It is typically in emergency situations that you see people using site-to-site transports (such as to sick bay).

From the dubious Wikipedia

A possible explanation for this is put forward in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual, where such site-to-site transports would probably use twice as much energy as would be required for transport to or from the transporter room itself

Site-to-site transporting costs twice as much energy as just going to the transporter room. Therefore, if you have to walk to the transporter room, you might as well take the turbolift to 10-Forward.


Transporter Operator

One important answer that was missed here is personnel. In every incarnation of Star Trek there is a Transporter Operator. Whatever the technological advancement, automated transport by the computer was a rarity (though it certainly did happen; nevertheless, often in "Emergency Transport" situations there was still an operator).

If we assume they weren't wasting the personnel on unnecessary transporter supervision, then the Transporter Operator performed some essential function in supervising the transport and making sure it was executed properly.

This, more than anything else, would make it prohibitive to use transporter technology for intraship transportation.

  • On numerous occasions, it's shown that the ship is capable of automated transport. It's not preferred, but is possible.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 1:54
  • 1
    Certainly, Richard. I noted as much. However, if the automation was truly reliable there would be no need for a sentient operator, the computer could be trusted. Put another way, Starfleet doesn't have Turbolift operators, they are a trusted and reliable technology.
    – Captain P
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 4:36
  • A computer would definitely have much more trouble moving its two fingers upwards in a sliding motion. (not disagreeing with you, just saying they never really made it impressive the actual importance of a human operator)
    – Anthony
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 3:40

I suggest it's because as a general rule, transport while at warp is prohibited. As you would need to navigate the ship at any time - and whilst walking the corridors, have limited knowledge of whether you're at warp or not - it would likely be an established practice to just use the turbolifts.

STTNG S2 Ep 6 The Schizoid Man and STDS9 S2 Ep 15 Paradise being (possible) examples?

This theory supported by this line at Memory Alpha

"Except in cases of extreme emergency, protocols prohibited transporting objects while traveling at warp speed".

  • This doesn't apply to transports within the same warp bubble, only to transports outside it. It's presumably the same constraint that prevents you using phasers at warp.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 14:48

Another likely reason they didn't use the transporter for intraship transport is because of the risks involved. As mentioned on http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Transporter#Transporter_accidents, There has been at least a dozen incidents with the transporters, some of which with lethal consequences, and that's just on the handful of ships we see in the shows and movies. Meanwhile, the turbolift (http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Turbolift#Turbolift_incidents) has only had a handful of incidents, and none of them had deadly consequences.

  • Geordi tells Barclay that transporting is the safest method of travel with a vanishingly small number of incidents per million transports.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 14:27
  • @Richard He's talking about long-distance transport. the Turbolift has far fewer casualties even, but isn't suited for long-distance travel due to requiring existing infrastructure.
    – Nzall
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 14:28
  • Based on what we see in the show, turbolifts seem quite dangerous too :-)
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 14:34
  • @Richard have you checked my sources? from what I can tell from the wiki, there have been far more incidents involving the transporter than involving the turbolift. Also, where does Geordi tell Barclay that?
    – Nzall
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 14:59
  • 1
    TNG Realm of Fear; "GEORDI: How many Transporter accidents have there been in the last ten years, Reg? Two... three? What about the millions of people who transport every day without a problem?" - "Transporting really is the safest way to travel, Reg."
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 15:03

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