Friday, May 4, 2012

City of San Jose Memo: Personal Rapid Transit is Not Technically Feasible

As is always the case with PRT projects - they begin with a lot of hype and hoopla and end with a whimper. A memo from Hans Larsen, the Director of Transportation for the City of San Jose about a proposed Automated Transit Network (AKA podcars, PRT) at the San Jose Mineta International Airport titled ATN FEASIBILITY STUDY STATUS REPORT (PDF) has the following conclusions:
• The complexity and service requirements ofthe Airport ATN project exceed the technical capacity of the ATN systems currently available. 
• There is no established regulatory process to support the construction of an ATN in the United States. This complicates efforts to accurately estimate the cost of building and operating an ATN system. 
• The estimated cost of building the Airport ATN is less than building the APM preferred alignment, plus the ATN offers a higher level o f service and greater coverage. 
• The estimated cost of operating the Airport ATN is comparable to the existing expenses of the Airport and VTA to operate shuttle buses on the Airport and between the Airport and the transit stations
The memo affirms what experts have been saying for years. Here's a Vukan Vuchic quote from Michael Setty's white paper on PRT in Winona (PDF):
The main reason for such absence of any progress in implementing PRT is simple: the basic concept of PRT is inherently unsound. It combines small vehicles, ideal for low density travel, with complicated, electronically controlled guideways that are feasible only for heavily traveled routes. Consequently, in suburban areas where carrying two to six persons would be optimal, construction of guideways is economically infeasible; on major arterials, where large passenger volumes might justify the construction of guideways, small vehicles are highly inefficient and cannot provide the required capacity. Consequently, the combination of the two features–small vehicle and complicated guideway– is paradoxical and makes the PRT mode impractical under all conditions. 
How is it possible that this concept should attract so much interest and even government support for development in several countries? The explanation lies in the fact that the positive features of PRT are often exaggerated while the negative ones are overlooked. Thus, although it is true that PRT resembles the positive characteristics of the automobile more than any other transit mode, it is also true that due to this similarity PRT has the severe limitations of auto use in urban areas: low capacity, very high cost and energy consumption per space-km, and extremely large space requirements for stations, guideway interchanges, and vehicle storage areas. Aerial guideways and stations, in urban streets would be highly objectionable, not even considering the legal requirement for accessibility by the disabled.
These basic problems with the PRT concept were also part of the verdict of the $625,000 2001 OKI Central Loop study. And now after San Jose wasted an additional $1.8 million to study the PRT, they've concluded the PRT concept is too complex and expensive even for an airport (the Heathrow pod shuttle, a loop with only two stations neither of them stand-alone and elevated is not a true PRT). Already, the PRTistas at the Transport Innovators forum are howling with indignation. A quote from Would-be PRT inventor Jack Slade:
"What a lot of bullshit!! You have to build a "Regulatory System" before you can build anything? Are you really talking about the Land of the Free? People who think like this should be deported before they contaminate the rest of the population. I could pick other holes in their "Conclusions"....most of them are wrong....but it isn't worth it.
The ultra-Republican PRT consultant and Fountain Valley Patch contributor Roy Reynolds chimes in, blaming the librul Democrats (of course):
What else should we have expected from a broke and broken Democrat city government /steeped/ in liberal bureaucracy and dedicated to the green technology that Obama thinks is going to save our economy? *Green *was one of their original goals for this project and I'll bet was unmentioned in this memo because, like Solyndra, they couldn't force it to succeed. Needing to have a "Regulatory System" says, in two *perfectly *chosen words, what these people are all about -- that is, regulation, allegiance to AlGore and his climate chicanery, and more government. They couldn't decide (and couldn't afford it anyway since the public employee unions have taken all their money) after spending millions on consultants who couldn't spell PRT before bidding on this project, so they defer it to the Feds. The public and the market seemed to have been completely cut out of this process...
The PRTists begin waxing nostalgic over the halcyon Richard Nixon era and the Morgantown boondoggle. The Citizens for Personal Rapid Transit's Dick Gronning has this observation:
While this shows some of the good side of Republican thinking (there's more), the bad side of the picture was that the Nixon administration threw scads of money at the project without any supervision. Nixon did the same thing with Affirmative Action. His administration REMOVED all of the constraints and supervision for Affirmative Action and threw even MORE $$$ into it. The policy seems to convey the message that human-kind is basically good. It doesn't work for me. Worse yet, there's the assumption that only a certain group have ethics.
Uh, okaaaaay.... speaking of angry, bitter, old, people, the CPRT does not appear on the list of transportation exhibitors at the Living Green Expo this year. Here's a video of their dyspeptic style from a few years back:


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