Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Was Minnesota Personal Rapid Transit Huckster Run Out of Fayetteville, Georgia on " a Greased Rail" After "Press Release Hoax"?

That's the opinion of one of the Personal Rapid Transit aficionados at the Transport Innovators Google forum:
In February, JPods' Bill James outlined a demonstration project for "a type of monorail system that would use solar power to operate to move small cars, or pods, across portions of the city." (link to The 2/26/13 Citizen article "JPods don't get off the ground with F'ville Council")

After a fried[sic] discussion at a retreat on February 22/13, mayor Clifton said "it would be better for JPod Corp. to pursue a participant from the private sector, adding that there is no current need for a city committee to be established to (even) study the proposal."

James badly damaged himself with his press release hoax. Basically, they ran him out of town on a greased rail.
Apparently, the would-be PRT vendor Bill James (JPODS)sent out a press release that suggested his proposal to cover Fayetteville and the sprawling Atlanta metropolitan area with pods on elevated tracks was a done deal (download PDF HERE):

Fayetteville resolution supports building of PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) network Fayetteville, GA. Dec 21, 2012: JPods, Inc of Atlanta, GA and UK-based Equility Capital Ltd have signed a Letter of Intent to build and fund the world’s first solar powered Personal Rapid Transit (PRT or podcar) network in Fayetteville, GA. The $100 million project is part of a larger $3 billion, three year effort to build a network that solves congestion in Atlanta. The project will commence as soon as all rights of way, planning, engineering contracts and other agreements are in place.

The Fayetteville project will be the first PRT system built in the US since a nine-mile network was built in Morgantown, WV as a solution to the 1973 oil embargo. The Morgantown network has since delivered 110-million oil-free, injury-free passenger-miles. On Sept 6, 2012 the City of Fayetteville passed a resolution to support transportation innovation. Bill James, President of JPods, Inc said: “The Fayetteville resolution on innovation opens a door. The Performance Standards resolution will allow building the first PRT network in the US since Morgantown. CSX Railroad commercials note ‘Our trains move a ton of freight 423 miles on one gallon of fuel.’ Radically greater efficiency is practical. JPods achieves efficiency by combining computer networks with ultra-light personal trains. Next time you ride in an elevator, you are riding in a vertical-JPods, pick a destination and you are chauffeured there using 1/10th the energy of cars or buses, without car payments, gasoline, accidents or congestion. You do not wait. You do not ride with strangers.”

Equility Capital is the leading global specialist in providing project finance from the alternative capital market. The market, now widely recognized to be worth $67 trillion, is backed with private money channeled through hedge funds, asset managers and similar institutions. Because most of the money was earned by entrepreneurs, the alternative capital market has a huge supply of ‘innovation-inclined’ funding to support new technologies and other ventures that traditional banks and lenders shy away from.

David Rose, CEO of Equility Capital noted the provision of funds is contingent on the Fayetteville project being ‘shovel ready,’ Rights of way agreements, building permits, design, civil engineering, manufacturing contacts must be signed as part of a viable business case to secure the release of funds.

The Fayetteville City Council has a resolution pending to grant rights of way access based on a set of Performance Standards where projects are privately funded, operate without government subsidies, exceed 120 passenger-miles per gallon, are regulated by theme park standards (12,000 time better safety record than highways), privately insured with environmental approvals granted based on saving energy relative to transport modes already approved in the rights of way.

James said: “We will be appointing the lead contractor, hiring and breaking ground as soon as the City Council passes the regulatory Performance Standards resolution and choose the partners to build.”

JPods has two signed agreements to build in China. Other existing PRT projects include the Ultra PRT system recently opened at Heathrow Airport in London, and Vectus PRT has a network in Uppsala, Sweden.
The press release has contact info for "Equility Capital" who James says would be the financial backer for the project.

A February 18 Fayetteville Daily News article says the JPODS press release became part of the discussion at a city council meeting:
While the presentation offered an interesting look at a transportation system that some cities in other countries have implemented, the viability of the idea for Fayette County was questioned, as were James' intentions. Councilman Larry Dell challenged James with a press release he found online, bearing James' name, entitled "Fayetteville, Ga. Signs PRT Letter of Intent: Georgia To Be First with Solar-Powered Transport System."

As of press time, the press release dated Dec. 21, 2012 can still be found on the blog of Personal Rapid Transport Consulting, at the website www.prtconsulting.com. A google search for 'JPods Fayetteville' also yielded a Google Groups discussion group featuring correspondence from James saying "it looks like we've broken the right-of-way barrier," and then referencing a September resolution from Mayor Clifton that generally supported "private sector solutions" to Atlanta's traffic congestion. The resolution made no specific reference to JPods or any other specific transportation innovations.

In response to Dell's questioning James said the press release was not meant to be released to the public and that he had thought the resolution had been passed within the context of the JPod idea. Councilman Walt White emphasized that the resolution had been passed with the Mayor's tie-breaking vote. The resolution was in fact passed with White and Dell opposing it, while Paul Oddo and Mickey Edwards voted in favor. Councilman Ed Johnson abstained from voting, allowing Mayor Clifton to break the tie in favor of the resolution.
The lesson for public officials - If you're wondering whether PRT is a boondoggle or not, Google is your best friend.

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