Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Won't WVU Scrap the Morgantown PRT for Something Better?

The PRT hucksters will often cite the so-called West Virginia University's Personal Rapid Transit in Morgantown as a successful example of PRT "technology":

A heavy weight PRT network opened in Morgantown, WV in 1975 and has delivered 110 million injury-free passenger miles.

But the WVU PRT is neither PRT (it's really an ordinary, automated people-mover similar to what you see in airports) or successful.

The Morgantown Personal Rapid Transit breaks down so often, the University has a Twitter account that keeps track of the breakdowns for students.

In an editorial published Monday in the Daily Athenaeum titled "The unreliable PRT says a lot about this University" WVU Graduate student Michael Levy tells the truth about the deeply flawed system:

In the best of times, I can leave my office in LSB 20 minutes before class starts in Evansdale and be on time. That makes a total round-trip travel time of 40 minutes.

That's certainly not convenient, and multiplied across everyone who uses the PRT, it's a huge inefficiency, but it's not totally unreasonable.

However, at least three times already this semester, my daily PRT adventure to Evansdale has been delayed by more than 15 minutes.

I'm not talking about times when the platform is extra full, and it takes a couple cars to get going. Three times in the first four weeks of the semester, the PRT has been down when I tried to use it. Each time, I end up walking into class with my head hung low, muttering an apology for being late. Sometimes I'll add, "Sorry, the PRT was down," but it feels like such a cliched, used-up, one-size-fits-all excuse that it's not even worth saying.

Michael Levy goes on to describe how frequent delays cause problems with recording student attendence. But, he is also concerned about the ecological cost:

Last week, a resource management professor had a meeting with a consulting firm downtown.
Being ecologically minded, he decided to take the PRT instead of driving.

But the PRT was down, and he showed up 20 minutes late, uttering the same excuse that I'm sure he's so tired of hearing from students.

As a result of this, people are more likely to drive, even when traveling a route serviced by the PRT. And the traffic and the air pollution get even worse.

Just a couple of years ago, the PRT received around $1.5 million to improve efficiency and reduce downtime. Was it even worse before that?

That the PRT is broken doesn't just mean reduced efficiency on campus.

Students learn more from what they see than what they're told. The PRT sets an example of a system that works most of the time, but it can't be depended on. Is that what we want to instill in our students?

Levy pleads with the administration:

Whatever it will take, WVU needs to do an honest accounting of the problem and figure out how to address the issue.

Sorry Mr. Levy, they won't.

The reason is the WVU PRT was created to monkey-wrench conventional modes of transit and will be expected to function as a paragon of "gadgetbahn" for as long as they can keep it going.

It is about the triumph of anti-transit ideology and futuristic fantasies over reality and common sense.

See also: Editorial - Morgantown PRT "Horror Story" & "Flawed Behemoth" Editorial in the WVU The Daily Athenaeum:

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