My reaction to the slick advertising pamphlet about the Personal Rapid Transit project was one of concern for the people who attached their names to it. As a person who observed the People Mover’s development in Detroit, Michigan along with the cost overruns, government corruption and faulty workmanship, I am slow to embrace the claims of PRT. The people who without reservation promote this project are taking a tremendous risk. The system of 8.65 miles of track used in Morgantown WV, a city of about 20,000 cost $130 million dollars in 1979 (over 4 times the estimate). The initial trial of the SkyWeb Express by the University of Minnesota required $1 million donations by 68 individual investors in 2003. More recent experiments like those in Daventry, England and the costly results may further dampen enthusiasm.
Winona has the manufacturing ability and the academic resources to take a leading role in “green” technology. While environmentally friendly solutions are welcome additions, they are not always practical, cost efficient or wise. There is nothing wrong with exploring the claims of Personal Rapid Transit, but community investment during a time of very limited resources may not be prudent. We are on the edge of new technological developments in many fields and any one of them may provide the breakthrough which will transform transportation needs. With community investment in their “cutting edge” technology, PRT has the potential to make Winona and southeastern Minnesota a byword for “gullible.” Being the test example can gain acclaim for the enlightened leaders who promote it, but a safer course for a community is to allow some other community to get the “bugs worked out of the system.” If it truly is “the answer,” a federally subsidized working model will surely follow.
The advertising pamphlet that has been circulated by community leaders does not contain the most important information needed to make a decision regarding PRT. Costs, routes, practical integration of a PRT into currently existing means of transportation, private investors and the extent of their commitment need to be at the forefront of decisions. Perhaps the federal government with the “slush fund” created with taxpayers dollars for “job creation or retention” can completely cover the costs for the PRT experiment, and the clean up if it fails. There has to be more information before anyone can make an intelligent choice.
Paul Ibisch and Jeremy Miller are seeking the Republican endorsement. Jeremy Miller's position on the Winona pods is in the previous post.
I sent a request for a statement on the Winona Pod plan to State Senator Sharon Ropes and I will post that statement when I receive it.