Sunday, August 21, 2011

Talking Points Memo Falls for Personal Rapid Transit Hype

Sad to see a great website like Talking Points Memo publish a poorly-researched puff piece about the glorified golf carts of Heathrow. And Josh Marshall, usually a sensible, smart guy embarassed himself by tweeting:

Forget Michele Bachmann sponsored legislation for Personal Rapid Transit boondoggle.

Forget that the debut of the ULTra pods at Heathrow was delayed a bunch of times.

Forget that the crummy pod car design that ULTra is based on had an almost identical debut in 1997 at Schiphol Airport.

Forget that ULTra has all kinds of bogus stuff on their website like these goofy plans for PRT projects in Minnesota.

Forget that the Heathrow pods have a 5% failure rate.

Nevermind that Heathrow pod ride is so bouncy and shaky, you will get seasick watching this video:

There's another video of a bumpy pod ride on this blog.

Nope, Josh Marshall says the pods are awesome.

Many years ago, I put something on my website called "THE MEDIA PRT TECHNO-PUFFERY HALL OF SHAME". But I could not keep up with the constant flood of PRT hype. This is what I wrote seven years ago:

The PRT publicity mill grinds out happy stories about PRT and the news media publishes them with little or no fact checking. The media likes to publish "Gee whiz" techno-puffery and for the most part, stories about rocket jet-packs and personal hovercraft don't do a lot of harm. PRT cleverly sneaks under the radar as a "Gee Whiz" story...but, of course there's a serious side to PRT . When PRT is revealed to be something that can cost taxpayers and investors a lot of money, the media just stops reporting ...I suspect out of embarrassment. Nobody wants to admit they were snookered, especially editors and publishers. All those hyped stories about PRT also create a false impression of PRT...and of course this creates a closed loop of information leading to even more cyber-hype and media techno-puffery.

Remember the embarrassing puff piece Salon did in 2004? Here's a Mark Olson explaining why PRT never goes anywhere in Minnesota:

Olson, who has been heading a PRT public relations campaign in Minnesota to drum up support, says public skepticism about new technologies is a big hurdle, as are established government relationships with existing transit manufacturers. "You have 40-plus years of relationship between our legislators and bureaucracies, and a flow of money between them," he says. "We're basically recreating the battle between horse-and-buggy manufacturers and the creators of the automobile."

Mark Olson was voted out of office after he was arrested and convicted of spousal abuse and is now a lobbyist for a PRT vendor with a $100 million project for Coon Rapids.

The Salon article provoked a lot of emails like this one:

Your article about Personal Rapid Transit was lacking in both context and perspective. The data on rail passenger-mile efficiency are not "skewed" by the success of the New York City subway or by scheduling that takes into account ridership patterns.

Further, the quote from Rep. Mark Olson does not even mention the battle in Minnesota over the highly politicized new (electric) light-rail line in Minneapolis. PRT has long been offered as an alternative to light rail in the Twin Cities by out-state Republicans who are against rail and in favor of more highways. This may be because PRT is currently in use exactly nowhere, and Minnesota Republicans expect and hope the status quo will continue in that respect.

Finally, your writer was evidently unable to find anyone who disagrees with the businesspeople/cheerleaders quoted in this piece. It's hard to believe that nobody has a question about PRT. Transit is a vitally important issue, but one-sided articles serve only to hinder informed discussion.

Maybe TPM will follow-up their PRT puff-piece with some of the well-researched muckraking TPM does best.

Read about recent Personal Rapid Transit flops and fiascos HERE.

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