Opinion: Forget light rail, bring in the personal pods
BY CHARLOTTE VANDERVALK
WHY is there so much recent focus on an extension of light rail into Bergen County? It is not state-of-the-art transportation. It is not an inexpensive system to build, and there is no funding for it.
Wherever such a system is operational, it merely adds to the existing traffic congestion on the ground, to say nothing of the potential liability from intersection with vehicular traffic.
Years ago, when I started exposing the anti-transit, pro-PRT antics of Michele Bachmann, Mark Olson and Dean Zimmermann, it was common to hear PRT promoters call reality-based transit and particularly Light Rail Transit (LRT) "old fashioned", "19th Century", even "antebellum":
Mayor Greg Nickels' South Lake Union streetcar proposal is the most ludicrous transportation nonsolution I have heard in quite some time. The streetcar record in city after city is clear: high construction costs, high subsidies and no significant effect on congestion. How can streetcars be part of an intelligently designed new biotech district, when streetcars guarantee its streets will be congested?
I find it hard to believe that the best our civic leaders can offer us is this antebellum transit technology. Why is Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) not on the table for exploration? PRT is a "horizontal elevator" system that offers automated, on-demand, mass transit service.
For the same amount Seattle is planning to invest in trains, a grid of lightweight, unobtrusive, elevated PRT rail can be built covering the entire city.
PRT could even be deployed in South Lake Union, serving both as an efficient local circulator and to feed people to and from future train stations. And it could be done at a fraction of the cost of a streetcar line.
So why aren't Seattle's leaders looking at PRT?
Is it because the transit consultants giving them advice make an excellent living going around the country recommending trains?
David Gow, Seattle
Problem is PRT isn't new. For at least half a century, PRT has flopped over and over again wasting millions of dollars- how many chances do these losers get? I recently found an old book in a county library with pictures of extinct PRT projects I've only read brief descriptions in other old books or J.Edward Anderson's history of PRT.
From a website history (no direct link) of Rosemount Inc., a Minnesota company:
Uniflo was a computer controlled, air pressure levitated and propelled personal rapid transit (PRT) system. A Honeywell researcher, who had worked on and then purchased the rights for the project, interested Frank Werner in pursuing its development. Rosemount had hoped to fund the project with public financing or equity participation by another firm, but even with renewed federal interest in public transportation Rosemount had trouble funding Uniflo. A joint effort with Northrup Corp. to win a Department of Transportation (DOT) contract for a demonstration mass transit system at Dulles International Airport failed. The DOT passed over the Uniflo project for more conventional mass transit systems. Uniflo later received two other federal research grants but made no sales. The project, which was abandoned in 1973, cost Rosemount about $1 million.
This was the pitch, sound familiar?
A personal rapid transit system has been developed, capable of providing urban areas with public transportation service that is competitive with the automobile in speed, availability, accessibility, and comfort. The system contributes no pollution in terms of air, noise, or vibration; it is relatively small in size; and it can be installed elevated, on grade, or below grade. These qualities make it an acceptable addition to a community. Because this personal rapid transit system is highly automated, a significant reduction in the amount of labor required to provide transportation service is anticipated. This could mean that it would again be possible to make money moving people.
This is from a University of MInnesota News Service newsletter from 1965 (click on the text to make it bigger):
Here's what Uniflo PRT was supposed to look like - nothing looks more dated than futuristic design from the 1970's (click on the picture to make it bigger):