Thursday, November 11, 2010

San Jose Podcar Conference a Big Flop

The Personal Rapid Transit movement (PRT) that Michele Bachmann once sponsored legislation for and promoted in the media has all but fizzled out. Much-hyped PRT projects at Masdar and Heathrow failed to enter revenue service as per schedule. Cities that expressed "interest" in PRT - Ithaca, NY, Daventry, UK and Winona, MN failed to get funding or public approval for PRT.

With nearly a half century of failure, the PRT guys (rebranded "podcar") met one more time last month in San Jose, CA.

Michael Setty, who wrote an excellent white paper on the Winona pod proposal has this report on the Podcar Conference in San Jose at Public Transit:

The first thing I noticed is that the average age at this conference, held at San Jose City Hall, was over 50, with a very large percentage over 60 years of age and 90%+ male. The second thing was that 20%-25% of the attendees were Swedish; presumably the Swedish government sees a potentially large export market in funding PRT, particularly Vectus and its efforts to establish pilot projects in a few Swedish cities. Third, a large percentage of attendees were clearly either exhibitors or consultants. I’d be surprised if more than 50% of Podcar City attendees were either PRT activists or potential customers, such as the City of San Jose who cosponsored the conference.

The usual suspects in the PRT world were present, such as J. Edward Anderson and the hierarchy of the Advanced Transit Assocation (ATRA), as one would expect.

The first session I caught at the end was about finances and a discussion of the mechanics of fare collection. Afterwards, I had brief conversation with conference organizer, Christer Lindstrom, regarding the many issues with fare collection, such as the cost of enforcement--the issues go well beyond how the money is collected, per se (BTW, Christer, thanks for the free conference pass).

There are things that will increase costs, for example, if turnstiles are installed at every PRT station. Turnstiles add $250,000-$500,000 per station, plus ongoing costs for maintenance, cash collection, security monitoring and so forth. If a PRT system goes with a barrier free system like most LRT systems in the U.S., these costs would be lower, but operating costs for stations would be higher than most PRT advocates claim.

One major point is that most PRT stations would be low volume and very hard to justify the capital and ongoing expense of turnstiles and sporadic fare inspections, at best, would be required to minimize fare evasion.

Irony alert... back in 2005, Bachmann and another PRT supporter Ray Vanderveer tried to kill the Hiawatha LRT with a bill requiring LRT stations to have expensive turnstiles. Vanderveer and Bachmann made a movie that supposedly proved there were a lot of fare scofflaws.

Setty also reports that the so-called Vectus podcar will likely end up becoming an ordinary people-mover. Read the whole thing.

Here are more recent examples PRT fiascos:

The Pawlenty administration wasted at least $150,000 on personal rapid transit .

PRT Conference Newsletter & Website Features PRT Plan by Convicted Felon.

PRT is so not happening at Heathrow.

Daventry says "Pods Off!".

Video: Bill James Pitches Jpods Resolution to Hennepin County.

Federal Funding Nixed for Winona Personal Rapid Transit Project

Minnesota legislators tell pod people not to expect funding from the state at dismal MnDOT "workshop".

Taxi 2000 lobbyist and Bachmann pal Ed Cain also lobbied for the phony U.S. Navy Veterans Association charity.

ULTra PRT Heathrow Debut Postponed a Fourth Time.

No $25 million earmark for PRT pork project in Winona, Minnesota.

The Swedish/Korean PRT prototype malfunctioned recently in front of the media.

The Masdar PRT (actually computer-guided golf carts that follow magnets imbedded in the roadway) has been scaled way back, This setback got a mention in the NY Times and confirmed in this Bloomberg article. and confirmed again in the UAE National: "Commercial electric cars replace transport pods plan".

The so-called Morgantown PRT (it's a mundane people-mover) was the subject of a student newspaper editorial after a malfunction created a "fireball" and filled a vehicle with smoke. The cost of fixing the Morgantown boondoggle is $93 million.