Sunday, October 18, 2009

"Pods Off" - The Real Story of PRT in Daventry

Almost a year ago, Chris Millar leader of the Daventry District Council told the Daventry Express, “The eyes of the world are on Daventry with this project." The project he was talking about was a plan to install a futuristic "Personal Rapid Transit" (PRT, Podcars) system in the quiet market town of Daventry, England, population 22,36.

Now, it appears the plan to bring the much-hyped "revolution in sustainable public transport" to Daventry has been called off... what happened?

Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) is an infeasible, futuristic transportation concept with over thirty years of controversy and failure... so why does PRT keep getting proposed in city after city recently in San Francisco and Phoenix and San Jose and Boston?

Part of the answer is people, Americans in particular are suckers for futuristic monorail flim-flams.. a weakness spoofed in the Simpsons episode "Marge and the Monorail". But there is another reason, the Legacy Media as well as the New Media fail to follow-up on the well-hyped launch of PRT projects and fail to report on the inevitable crash months or years later.

Such is the case with the proposal to bring PRT to Daventry.

In September 2007, the Daventry Express, known to locals as "The Gusher" had an article about a PRT conference held in Daventry.

Daventry District Councilor channeled Lyle Langly with this quote:

"Daventry is very much at the forefront of this. Across Europe, Daventry is at the cutting edge.

“This is a state-of-the-art new form of public transport which has a lot of benefits. This is very exciting and very positive.

“If it works in Daventry, everyone else will want it.”

Fast forward to the April, 2009 when The Gusher published an article titled "Pod Off! Residents oppose Daventry PRT scheme"

More than 100 Daventry townspeople voiced their opposition to proposals for a pod transport network in the town at a public meeting on Monday night.

Why were the citizens upset?

Several people spoke angrily about the lack of consultation from DDC on the pods, and others said not enough information had been made public by the district council.

Rosemary Cooper said: "Many people are very angry about the pods and we still feel there's been a lack of information and a lack of consultation with the public."

Another said: "I feel as if I'm almost helpless and don't know how to change things that are happening."

The Daventry Town Council (a separate governing body than the DDC) agreed, saying:

"Daventry people have not been apprised of the full extent of the infrastructure required to operate the proposed PRT system. This lack of information clearly denies them the opportunity to make reasoned judgement and comment. "

In a meeting in April, after listening to a report by a councilor who had visited Heathrow 5 and saw the transportation revolution first-hand, the Daventry Town Council voted to reject the pods:

RESOLVED: That Daventry Town Council reject Daventry District Council’s proposals for a PRT system and/or pilot scheme in the town, on the basis that it is inappropriate for and unacceptable to the people of Daventry.

According to this PRT website, Chris Millar is blaming the global recession for the demise of his pod venture.

The London Times still reports that Daventry is getting PRT:

"Bath and Daventry councils are considering joining Terminal 5 in this putative revolution"

And what did this fling with futuristic pods cost?. Here's a June 4th letter to the Leamington Courier from a Daventry Town Councillor titled "Shock at cost of pod scheme"

I RECENTLY requested some information from Daventry District Council (DDC) regarding expenditure on the PRT system proposed for Daventry.

I was more than shocked by the result and thought it incumbent on me to share the information with your readership. See quoted response below.

"The total expenditure on Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), including consideration of alternative transport modes, in the period of February 12 2007 to April 1 2009 was £485,936.43. This figure includes commissioned studies and all associated expenses.

"It is not a simple process to extract purely PRT costs, however for the period set out in this response PRT was coded separately within our internal finance processes.

"Please note that the council received grant funding from Northamptonshire Enterprise Limited of £200,000 (in 2007) as support for our studies.

"Hence the net Council expenditure for PRT in the period stated above was £285,936.43." (Northamptonshire Enterprise Limited (NEL) is a Government funded body)

With nearly half a million pounds being spent on PRT I also asked how much money had been spent on the alternative transport systems and the answer appears to be nothing.

This begs the question what are the alternative transport systems being considered and how serious has the consideration of them been?

Another councilor's letter mentions a similar figure:

I am a Daventry resident and a member of the DDC PRT Implementation: Public Advisory Panel – a people's panel that was set up to look at different types of transport and give its verdict on the right type of technology for Daventry.

There are 30 members of the panel who do not all live in Daventry so a public meeting would give the town's residents an input before we spend another £497,000.

£497,000 ... that's a whole lotta mono-doh!

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