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:

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