Thursday, January 7, 2010

Are Personal Rapid Transit Promoters "Deceptive and Dishonest"?

Yonah Freemark had a post about PRT on the Transport Politic blog last month. Freemark said the following about the veracity of the PRT promoters:

Over the years, most attempts at implementing PRT have failed due to a lack of interest from investors — and as a result of deceptive, dishonest campaigns by “pod people” who simply promise too much.

That post generated 245 comments.

Many of the pro-PRT comments came from "Mike C" (Michael Carrato), formerly "A Transportation Enthusiast" , author of the Weinerwatch blog and other nasty stuff on the blogosphere and on Wikipedia. A sample of Carrato's klassy style on the Transport Innovators forum:

Michael Setty is a tired old blowhard. Nathan Koren has forgotten more than Setty ever knew.

Setty, Avidor and Vuchic: the three stooges of luddite transit.

Michael Setty has written a PRT smear piece that he's trying to pass as a legitimate study. Except his "analysis" is riddled with cites to Wikipedia -- yes, THAT Wikipedia which is mostly written by college kids and teenagers.

PRT promoters tolerate and even encourage Carrato's activities. The would-be ULTra PRT vendor ATS Ltd, even recommended Carrato (A.T.E.) as a reliable source of information. Here is an example of Carrato's work on Weinerwatch:

TreeHugger is yet another example of idiot journalism - a collection of untrained, unprofessional writers who take the words of those with an agenda, and present them as unaltered, unswerving fact. Did Lloyd Alter bother to investigate Avidor's claims? Of course not! If he had, he would have found responses from others which answer every single one of Avidor's talking points.

The fact that the PRT industry tolerates and encourages Carrato's activities should suggest that it is not an industry at all, but a deception... a distraction from the real-world transportation choices public officials and citizens face.

This is an excerpt from a comment by "Engineer Scotty" on the blog:

Some of the PRT ideas strike me as interesting, particularly as a way for improving transit outcomes in lower density areas that wish to remain that way. Of course, given the current expense of PRT (until several production systems have been built and there is an industrial track record, I won't trust anybody's cost estimate, and the figures given by some PRT advocates frankly don't pass the smell test--that said, I'm not sufficiently informed to rebut them), it may well be a nonstarter, or require local subsidy to install. But if it could be pulled off, it would integrate better with transit than huge park-and-rides, and result in better environmental and land-use outcomes.

That is a might big If.

That said, the PRT flacks and fanboys that have descended upon Yonah's blog like buzzards over a downer gazelle, are in large part peddling a line of argument is obnoxious in the extreme. Rather than making apples-to-apples comparisons, contrasting PRT with other commonly-used low-density mobility solutions--the personal car, taxis, carpools and rideshares, local bus service (including services enhanced via improved or reserved infrastructure)--instead PRT gets frequently compared to rail. And such comparisons are even made in the application rail excels at, moving lots of people quickly along a linear corridor. The basis of choosing PRT seems to be a) its cheaper, and b) no need to share a vehicle with the riffraff.

I can only think of one good reason for this apples-and-oranges line of argument--PRT vendors and their spokesfolks have made the political calculation that the best way to make money is to divert capital funding from capital-intensive, big ticket urban transit projects (in particular, rail), rather than from roadbuilding and other transportation dollars already going to suburbia. In some areas, their political calculus might well be correct, and some of the more obnoxious "mass transit is dirty and smelly and full of unpleasant and dangerous people" arguments, which are specious at best and outright racist at worst, might win support in some locales. This is most likely true in places where the dominant consensus (especially among the powerful) is opposed to urbanism, publicly funded transit, or the urban demographic itself.

Excellent point. The PRT guys are always bashing transit as these two videos show:

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