Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Duluth News Tribune: "Remember that Duluth monorail idea? It's back"

Peter Passi writes in The Duluth News Tribune:

Ideas to redevelop the former Lafarge cement terminal property have resurrected talk of another ambitious project.

Remember Taxi 2000 Corp. — the outfit that pitched building a monorail-type transit project in Duluth seven years ago?

That project fizzled when the city lost its bid to nab $24 million in state bonding money to jump-start the personal rapid transit, or PRT, system. But talk of bringing Taxi 2000 to town is back, thanks to Sandy Hoff and Alessandro Giuliani, two would-be developers of the former Lafarge site.

Giuliani and Hoff said they have been in discussions with Taxi 2000 recently about how Duluth could become the first community in the nation to demonstrate how the Fridley, Minn.-based company’s Skyweb Express system would work in the field.

It's a good article, read the whole thing.... the article has quotes from Michael Setty who wrote an excellent white paper about PRT in Winona.

Taxi 2000 was the would-be pod vendor Michele Bachmann was talking about when she told MPR back in 2004:

Supporters range from Minneapolis City Council member Dean Zimmerman, a Green Party member, to Republican Sen. Michelle Bachmann of Stillwater. Bachmann says personal rapid transit, like many political issues, creates strange bedfellows.

"People on the right, people on the left, we have the common goal of moving people with transit, but doing it in the most cost-effective manner, in fact, in a manner that may end up costing no government subsidy, it may end up paying for itself," she says.

Reporters never bothered to ask Bachmann exactly how PRT could pay for itself. The media never bothered to ask questions like that. Reporters rarely mention the long and sorry history of PRT flops and fiascos. And so, the PRT boondoggle goes on and on to waste time and money. How many chances do these PRT guys get? As far as Tim Pawlenty was concerned, they get as many chances as the taxpayers will give them. MnDOT's workshop for the pods August 18th, 2010 was a big fiasco that included disgraced, former Mpls councilman Dean Zimmermann.

Of course, if Taxi 2000's grab last year for a taxpayer subsidy is any guide, this Duluth project will likely include a request for local bonding or other government pork subsidy .

The Pawlenty administration wasted at least $150,000 on personal rapid transit . Will there be outrage from "fiscal conservative" GOP/Tea Partiers to public funding for the pod boondoggle in Duluth? Will Rep. Chip Cravaak support the pod project in Duluth? How about Taxpayers League President Phil Krinkie? Will Lieutenant Governor Yvonne Prettner Solon support public funding for the Duluth pod project as she did when she co-sponsored Bachmann's pod bill in 2004? Here's a hilarious video of Prettner Solon & the pod people at a senate hearing on the pods. I've written and called Prettner-Solon's office about whether she will support public funding for the Duluth pod project - no reply.

Both Krinkie and and former gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer voted for one of Rep. Mark Olson's pod amendments (voted down 26 to 107 on April 12, 2006). Which probably explains why the Taxpayers League refuses to take a position on public funding of the pod boondoggle.

The perennial pod farce will end in fiasco as it always does - a bunch of money and/or time wasted for absolutely nothing. This Duluth project sounds a lot like the Alameda project that was also supposed to have pods:

San Francisco Chronicle July 21, 2010 article:

Alameda scrapped its contract with a developer early today to bring thousands of homes and offices to the former Navy base, sending the sprawling project back to the drawing board 14 years after the military left.

The City Council voted 4-0, with one abstention, to sever its four-year relationship with SunCal Cos. of Irvine (Orange County), which had planned to build 4,800 homes, a 60-acre sports complex, offices, parks, schools and a ferry terminal at the former Alameda Naval Air Station, which covers one-third of the island city.

Money quote:

"No matter what kind of Disneyland magic transit they talk about, I don't see how they're going to get all that traffic through two lanes of the (Posey) Tube," Johnson said. "I don't want people to come up to me in the grocery store and say, 'You're the person who ruined Alameda.' "

In the case of Alameda, I can say I told you so:

Ken Avidor, a Minnesota transit advocate and critic of similarly proposed systems, called the project the latest iteration of "gadgetbahn," a play on "autobahn" the German word for freeway. Gadgetbahn refers to highly technological transport systems relying on untried innovations. "All of these gadgetbahn projects always rely on totally unrealistic cost estimates," he said. "A lot of the public officials today are baby boomers. They saw the Jetsons. And it has a lot of appeal," Avidor said. After rattling off a list of failed proposals, including one where proponents claimed to keep costs low by having elevated structures built by machine, Avidor accused PRT supporters of wowing people with technology to block realistic alternatives. "It's a stalking horse for people who don't want light rail," he said.

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A list of recent pod flops and fiascos:

PRT is so not happening at Heathrow.

Pod people invade Newport News ( the article quotes retired professor Vukan Vuchic)

Bizarre hearing for wacky Jpods proposal for Hull, Massachusetts. Video: Bill James Pitches Jpods Resolution to Hennepin County.

Daventry says "Pods Off!". also see the Daventry anti-pod Facebook page.

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

The Swedish/Korean PRT prototype malfunctioned 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.

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. Twitter Reveals Morgantown WVU Personal Rapid Transit's Frequent Breakdowns.

Cross-posted at Dump Bachmann.

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