Saturday, December 4, 2010

Masdar and Heathrow PRT Still Not Happening

UPDATE: This from the Times of India:

At present, Heathrow airport is the only place where the pod is operational. While it is right now being used by the airport staff, the commercial operations will start soon after Christmas.

There is no mention of this new launch date on the ULTra PRT site.

I recently received an email asking me what is happening with the PRT projects at Heathrow and Masdar. Here is what I've found on the somewhat-reliable internet:

The Masdar PRT has been "scaled back" to a small demonstration project:

Gone is a proposal for a pod-based personal rapid transit (PRT) system, which would have run beneath the podium.

PRT pods are already running at the development site but only from the gate to the recently opened building that houses the Masdar Institute, a post-graduate university with a focus on clean energy. The pod cars are part of a pilot project, Mr Bone-Knell said.

A description and a pathetic little picture of the pods crawling underground like moles at this blog. It should be noted the company's website still claims the project is on - obviously not true. 2GetThere has had demonstration projects when it was a part of FROG, it had essentially the same "cybercab" demo they had years ago at Schiphol airport and at the Floriade. More about FROG and its FUBAR attempt to automate transit here.

Frog/2getthere created the guidance system "platform" for the ULTra - ULTra supposedly improved it, but I don't see much difference. It's really a stretch to call either 2GetThere's cybercab or ULTra's pod "PRT". Both are essentially automated, battery-powered golf carts - neither are personal (passengers sit awkwardly across from one another, knees almost touching), rapid(bikes are faster) or transit (totally lacking capacity).

Speaking of ULTra's glorified golf carts, the official word is they are still testing, testing, testing at Heathrow:

Heathrow revenue service trials produce excellent results

The four weeks of "Simulated Revenue Service" trial - intended to mimic real operating conditions - using Terminal 5 staff is now complete. This involved operation the system for 10.5 hr each day of the trial period....

No date set for the actual date for the real revenue service launch. with real passengers [see update at the top]. It should be noted that ULTra has missed deadlines to launch at Heathrow 3 or 4 times .

With only "revenue service trials" at Heathrow completed, ULTra has teamed up with Fairwood India to propose building an ambitious PRT system in Amritsar, India.

"The Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) – developed by our ULTra PRT, UK – is a revolutionary new transportation system, which has been operationalized in London (Heathrow airport) after 20 years of development. "


The map for the Amritsar PRT is here. There is no indication that the citizens of Amritsar had any input in creating the route and the proposed destinations on the map. There has already been criticism that the PRT project "would harm historic Walled City of Amritsar and would hamper tourism in the city."

One reason that PRT never goes anywhere is the PRT guys never engage the public in any meaningful way. Here is an LTE published October 6th in the Winona Daily News:

Ken Avidor: Let the public have a voice in PRT

Boston Personal Rapid Transit promoter Lawrence J. Fabian in his Sept. 23 letter chided the citizens of Winona for their lack of enthusiasm for the PRT plan proposed by the city of Winona.

“If Winona wants to think small,” scolds Fabian.

An interesting criticism when you consider that Winonans never really had an opportunity to comment or ask questions in a public forum about the PRT project.

According to a Jan. 20 article in the Winona Daily News, a meeting where the public could have asked questions was for Winona City Council members only, “While there was little discussion of PRT during the meeting, the vote came after council members examined the system during a pre-council informational session that lasted more than one hour.”

I recall a similar PRT “informational session” for Minneapolis city officials only on March 26, 2005. When a proposal for a PRT project later came up for a vote in committee, the PRT promoters failed to show up and the matter was tabled. More recently, public officials in Daventry, England, complained that PRT promoters would not show up at public forums to answer questions. The Minnesota Department of Transportation held a “PRT workshop” Aug. 18, which cost $50 to attend and was not a public meeting. Why are PRT promoters avoiding the public?

When the city of Winona revisits the issue of PRT, as it has recently indicated it would, I would suggest they hold a free, public forum and invite critics as well as promoters. I would also suggest inviting experts in the field; transit engineers, transit advocacy groups and environmental groups. But most of all, I urge Winona city officials to invite the public.

Grassroots support for any big public project is essential. For it is the citizens who will end up paying for it— and if built, living with it.

The Amritsar PRT project should not be taken seriously. Dozens of these proposed PRT projects have gone nowhere over the years.

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