Saturday, November 26, 2011

Pod People Fight Over the Definition of Personal Rapid Transit

I have always said PRT is a faith-based transportation concept. Since it doesn't exist in the real world, the very nature of PRT is a subject for endless discussion for the few acolytes left in the pod cult.

Once again, another impassioned debate about the definition has flared up on the pod people's "Transport Innovators" forum. The florid fracas over how many seats should be allowed in a PRT pod reads like the fabled arguments of medieval scholars debating how many angels could sit on the head of a pin.

Some of the pod people challenged PRT huckster Steve Raney's assertion that the new definition of PRT was approved by The Advanced Transit Association (ATRA). The former Chairman of ATRA Dennis Manning fired off this curt admonishment:


Did ATRA have anything to do with writing or posting this paper? If not you should not have used their name in the title. It's deceptive no matter what the merits of the paper might be.


To which Raney replied:


There were a couple of e-mails today between "ATRA EU" / "ATRA Industry Group" and ATRA members today. There were some ruffled feathers. There was concern about the review process, but it wasn't something that resulted in an escalation to the point of leveling a charge of "deception." I know that ATRA has been following details of the formation of ATRA EU. There's no ATRA EU web site or anything explanatory yet, but I believe something will arise at some point. I, myself, am not an expert on the details of ATRA EU (I'm an expert on the "first use" of the document). And we're in summer, so there shouldn't be an expectation of immediate gratification to the questions raised. I expect there's a mutually beneficial way

How's that for yet another non-answer?

- Steve

Raney's "non-answer" snark was not well received by Manning:


Well you dance around but I think it's fair to say ATRA as an organization didn't underwrite your paper. No deception???


How's that for a direct answer? My take is that you unsportsmanly used ATRA to promote your own product.


... and added another disapproving missive for good measure:


This is getting way too deep. Until this paper popped up I'd never heard of the ATRA Industry Group. Who the hell is the ATRA Industry Group? When did they get the blessing of ATRA? You've got a lot of explaining to do to justify connecting ATRA to this
paper which is clearly written to promote the interest of the Big 3. I'm not even arguing that overall this isn't a good move for PRT. But as past Chairman of ATRA I know first hand how much ATRA strived to be PRT system neutral. The ATRA I knew would never endorse this paper.


Anupam Vibhuti puts in his two cents:

All this is 'perhaps' a good method for 'crafting' oligopoly. I also see this as the first overt 'deceptive' step if all this has been attempted without express approval of ATRA or majority of PRT proponents in a transparent manner...

And so does Dick Gronning:

This is interesting...

I KNOW that Dr. J Edward Anderson is a member of ATRA. So is Joe Lampe. So, PRT Intl, PRT MN, were consulted on this advertizing paper? OR, were these entities excluded from PRT Industry Group and, possibly, PRT EU? Again, what is the relationship between ATRA, ATRA EU, and PRT Industry Group? Who are the officials? (We already know about ATRA)


The argument goes on and on... and these people want the taxpayers to spend millions of dollars on something even they cannot define?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Personal Rapid Transit is Just a Very Old Idea Dressed Up as "Innovation"

Jarrett Walker at Human Transit:

Yesterday, twice in one day, I encountered major news articles in media I generally trust (the New York Times and the Atlantic) which described very old ideas as though they were innovations.

Walker goes on to criticize the two reports for not doing proper research which would have revealed that the "new" concepts were really old. But, does it matter?

So my question for discussion is: Should we care? Should it matter if someone claims to have invented an idea, if that helps a good idea spread? Am I just being a curmudgeon or killjoy to point these things out? Is there anything wrong with letting people have the idea that the great ideas were theirs?

In the comments:

Good point. False claims of innovation prevent us from looking at what past experience can tell us.

For example, we have innovators telling us that the sustainable communities of the future can be based upon, instead of everybody riding transit, everybody being able to have their own personal little pod that takes them directly between their origin and destination, that requires the building of a whole lot of new infrastructure on which it can operate.

That's never been done before, right?

Yes, for nearly a century, we've had a personal transport system called AUTOMOBILES. For nearly half that time, "innovators" have been wasting our time (and $$$) on PRT - essentially the same thing as automobiles except on monorails and magically automated. To get an idea how ancient PRT and other, similar "gadgetbahn" ideas are, go to UC Berkeley's Transportation Futuristics PRT gallery.

Yet, as this blog documents time and again, the deeply flawed PRT concept is revived and reported as "new" and innovative. The much-hyped ULTra PRT in a carpark at Heathrow Airport is, with a few added tweeks, nearly identical to an automated vehicle system that debuted in another airport carpark in the 1990's.

Read about PRT in this forty-year-old Popular Science puff piece.

And here we go again; another would-be PRT vendor Maglev Movers with a yet another "innovative" variation - this time festooned with logos:

... and of course, the Maglev Movers have a Facebook page. The Maglev Movers website also make all the usual bogus claims and anti-transit talking points - "Will be built and operated without Public Subsidies" and "will be an attraction for tourists". But adds a few new ones including this hilarious claim:

Frost and Sullivan, a reputable market research company anticipate a growth of some $7trillion over the next 3 years in the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) systems market.

Part of the innovation in Maglev Movers' updated iteration of PRT is they can put your face on their pods, just like a coffee mug - check out Peter "PRT Guru" Muller's mug on this pod:

Friday, November 11, 2011

People Who Live in Glass Pods....

Today, Internet & computer aficionado Michael Fraase tweeted an objection to City Pages editor Kevin Hoffman about a City Pages article not being properly sourced:

Is @citypages' @panopticon13 helping with the WCCO duck/dog story when it uses a single anonymous source?

I thought that was hilarious since Michael Fraase penned a poorly sourced puff piece for the Utne Reader back in 2003.

Fraase was not amused and tweeted he stood "fully behind the article" and there were "plenty of facts in the article" Fraase also said I was "willfully disingenuous." Fraase also directed me to an unedited version of his pod article.

Fraase challenged me to fact-check his article, so here goes:

The first graf claims:

"The future of sustainable motorized transportation is an enclosed driverless golf-cart-on-a-stick [PRT]"

Well, it's nearly nine years since that article and the only "driverless golf-cart-on-a-stick" transport is a few pathetic demonstration models at Heathrow Airport and a basement in the United Arab Emirates - hardly the transportation revolution Frasse and other pod promoters at the time were anticipating.

In his article, Fraase uses the present tense when he describes what PRT can do even though a working, urban PRT system did not exist at the time. For instance, Frasse makes the unproven and bizarrre claim that "PRT moves people the same way the Internet moves data.".

Fraase goes on to claim something that was merely a concept could be less expensive than reality-based transit modes:

Because the cars are simply constructed and lightweight, the guideways can be small, cheap, and cause minimal construction disruption; guideways can be built at an exceptionally low cost of between US$5 million and US$10 million per mile.

Since that article, the only system to go into service has been the ULTra PRT system. Lacking the real-world urban setting that adds complex right-of-way expenses and other costs to transit planning and construction, any comparison is flawed. Transit consultant Michael Setty took look at the rosy cost estimates for PRT in his 2009 white paper (PDF):

ATS Limited has estimated that its particular PRT design would cost between $7 million and $15 million per one-way guideway mile including infrastructure, stations, control systems and vehicles20. Applying the higher ATS figure to a hypothetical, nearly 100% elevated system in Winona results in an estimate of at least $330 million21. This estimate is probably conservative, since the history of new or unproven transportation technologies shows that outspoken proponents often underestimate likely construction costs.

Frasse makes other claims about the efficiency and convenience of PRT that are completely speculative, not factual such as:

A single PRT guideway’s capacity is roughly the same as that of a four-lane highway.


PRT will likely require no operational subsidy.... A commercial endeavor should be able to operate its PRT system in most metropolitan areas without any sort of operational subsidy while generating a fair profit for its owners

Fraase offers no objective, reality-based evidence for this claim or any of the "facts" such as operating costs. Instead, Frasse links to several pro-PRT websites, the Citizens for Personal Rapid Transit, The PRT-promoting Advanced Transit Association and the moribund Taxi 2000 Corporation. Frasse links to "Personal Rapid Transit at the University of Washington", but that link is to Jerry Schneider's gadgetbahn pages on the website. Schneider is one of the anti-LRT monkey-wrenching gang out in the Seattle area (comment on Seattle Transit Blog):

PRT & the Denver Airport boondoggle show us proprietary “alternative” plans to replace the proven technology of light rail run much larger risks of failure. But, to the benefit of Emory Bundy, Richard Harkness, John Niles, Jim MacIsaac, Jerry Schneider, Bill Eager, Jim Horn….and the rest of Kemper Freeman’s gang, it is very rare that fringe transport ideas ever make it off the drawing board. When they do, things get ugly.

But again, light rail always becomes the punching bag.

I tweeted to Frasse that his article lacked any credible sources for his facts. I mentioned two leading transit advocacy organizations in MInnesota - The Sierra Club and Transit for Livable Communities.

Fraase tweeted the folowing:

Cost comparison sources were an NYU economist and someone from U Wash, I believe. TLC would have been great source; space limits.

Fraase's citation of vague sources at universities can best be described as a fallacious appeal to authority.

As for the failure to include TLC as a source because of "space limits"... space limits on a blog?

For the record, TLC and the Sierra Club have resolutions opposing public funding of PRT projects in Minnesota.

Fraase has another post on his blog (illustrated with a pod) whining that buses don't operate often enough for him. In another blog post he makes this snide observation:

Traffic gridlock isn’t yet a problem up here on the far edge, but it’s coming and we regularly need unseen yet heard guidance to get from here to there. And getting from here to there up here almost always means an automobile, one Minneapolis city council member’s grand personal rapid transit (PRT) dream notwithstanding.

The link to the passage referring to a Minneapolis Councilman is broken. The link used to go to the CPRT website's page devoted to Dean Zimmermann's PRT plan for Minneapolis.... this Dean Zimmermann. So much for Mr. Fraase's reliable sources.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Faith-Based Pie-in-the-Sky Boondoggle Cybertran Partner's Right-Wing, Anti-Abortion Tweets

Good article by Alexis Kenyon about Cybertran in Richmond Confidential. Read the whole thing.

The best part is at the end when Cybertran's Chief Technical Officer Eugene Nishinaga talks about God & gadgetbahn:

And so Nishinaga got a job at Boeing and seven years later moved to BART. In many ways, he said he felt he had missed his calling to join the ministry and redeem souls. Until 2008, outside the Richmond field station, when God spoke to him again.

Nishinaga said: “He said, ‘Look at how you have been raised throughout your career … All of these things are the necessary pieces to put this system together. I opened the door for you once, you did not walk through. I will open the door for you again.’”

It is not surprising to find faith-based jargon among supporters of Personal Rapid Transit. PRT is essentially a faith-based concept - check out Higherway PRT brought to you by the inventor of the Savior Cycle.

Meanwhile, Cybertran's partner and right-winger Allen Payton has been tweeting his opposition to abortion here and here.