Fact-Checking the "PRT Boondoggle" Blog
A project of the PRT NewsCenter

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Follow The Money

Originally published ©2005 Get On Board! PRT

Who's in whose pocket?
There's a certain smear going around the transit world concerning Personal Rapid Transit. It goes something like this:

PRT is a stalking horse for the pro-highway, pro-car, anti-transit lobby, and supported by highway engineering firms and right-wing Republicans.
This smear is issued and circulated by persons and organizations that profess to being "pro-transit." But are they, really? Pro-transit means supporting methods that get the most people out of their cars. But traditional American transit systems fail, on a daily basis, to win more than 5-10% (depending upon the city) of trips.
Opponents of PRT insist that only trains and/or buses can provide mass or rapid transit, therefore it is more accurate to call that opposition "pro-train" or "pro-bus," rather than pro-transit. And since they tend to place a great deal of emphasis on non-transit economic impacts of future-chic monorails, retro-chic streetcars and station-area development, other appropriate names could include "pro-gentrification", "anti-neighborhood" and "anti-poor."

Some Republicans and conservatives support PRT. But they aren't the only ones, because PRT appeals to people from across the political spectrum. For example, in the PRT hotbed of Minnesota there are pro-PRT Democrats and Greens—but hardcore bus/train advocates see them as heretics to be attacked and ridiculed.
The right-wing conspiracy charge holds even less water in the Seattle area, where local PRT supporters include:

  • A rhodedendron enthusiast
  • A retiree and former naval aviator
  • A community and former antiwar activist
  • Two former developers for a major software corporation, one a a model railroad and old-time trolley enthusiast
  • A former broadcasting executive and president of a major environmental foundation
  • A manager for a major nonprofit social service agency
  • An engineer specializing in maglev technology
  • A telecom worker

And consider this test: follow the money. Look at the transnational companies in each camp (manufacturers, planners and construction):
Rail, busPRT (USA)PRT (Europe, Asia)
Parsons Brinckerhoff
and many, many more

Siemens is a notorious corporate criminal, investigated and penalized for violating bidding laws, i.e. bribery. Parsons and Bechtel are complicit in the Big Dig boondoggle in Massachusetts. Parsons is the lead consultant to Seattle's Sound Transit, responsible for systematically understating costs and overestimating ridership for the abbreviated downtown-almost-to-the-airport rail line. And Bechtel is plugged into the neocon power structure.

Of course, the planners and engineers working for transnationals are dedicated professionals doing their jobs, and the majority of their employers appear to follow ethics and the law. But rail and bus systems worldwide are a multi-billion dollar concern, and the US is just another market for making money, regardless of whether the systems achieve stated goals: carry a significant number of people, reduce congestion, and save time that could be spent with friends and family, or on bettering the community.

Bus/train supporters are part of a "traditional pro-transit coalition" made up of politically progressive citizens, public transit agencies, and the above planners and builders of high-priced transit projects. The coalition has been reinforcing itself for decades, and is quite good at it. So when one member is threatened, alarms are raised, the sky is said to be falling, and the other members leap to the coalition's defense. Even new transit technology is seen as a threat if one member of the coalition doesn't own, plan, construct, operate or otherwise control it. The result is that the market stays closedto new ideas like PRT. Transit could very well be the only business sector that has exempted itself from the need to innovate.

Ironically, progressives take the corporate bad actors to task all the time, when the subject is pollution, labor practices or no-bid contracts in Iraq. But not a peep is heard from the Left when those same corporations come to town lobbying for new train systems.

PRT development gets ZERO support from the US government. If PRT is pro-highway and pro-car, you'd think the Pro-Oil interests currently running the country would be all for it. But they're not. Because PRT is bad news for Big Oil and Detroit, because PRT is a more attractive form of mass transit that would attract more riders.
In short, if PRT was in the pocket of the pro-car, anti-transit, highway lobby wouldn't it be a lot better funded? 

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

See How He Makes It Up

Originally published ©2005 Get On Board! PRT

Some especially weak anti-PRT propaganda

(Updated 7/20/2006) That Minnesota anti-PRT activist (who gets upset when I don't use his name, so I won't) doesn't just distort PRT information and repeat it ad nauseous. He also just makes stuff up out of whole cloth. A prime example:
He Claims:The Facts:
In a recent Star Tribune article by Laurie Blake, she reported that Dubai is considering a PRT system, but I can find no information on this on the web. I have found stories about Dubai investing in a $3 billion light rail system.
I think it's highly dubious that Dubai would invest in an unproven system that doesn't even have air conditioners. If the ULTra system did have air conditioning, it would suck the batteries ULTra runs on after a few minutes in the 100-plus degrees summer heat.
1. I have seen the RFP, it exists. The Emirate of Dubai obviously feels no need to post it for all the world to see.

2. From Skyloop.org documents listing the quantities and weights of Taxi 2000 (Skyweb) components:
"Compressor with motor for Air Conditioner (Delphi Auto)... 10.9 [lbs.]
Ventilation system... 1... 9 [lbs.]
Electric heater... 1... 3 [lbs.]
Air conditioner... 1... 25.6 [lbs.]"
Caught, he decides to pick nits:The Reality:
tell me, for instance where ULTra or Taxi 2000 installed air conditioners in their prototype pictures
A source with access to the Skywebproject reports that the red prototype vehicle has air vents and a place to mount a compressor. Whether the prototype, which is located indoors at Taxi 2000's offices, has a compressor mounted in it right nowis immaterial: that is not the idea theMinnesota anti-PRT activist meant to plant in readers' minds when he wrote "doesn't even have air conditioners"
Martin Lowson of ULTra has provided us with this information:
"[It is not installed in the Cardiff demonstrators, because unlike Dubai] we can meet cooling needs here by ventilation [outside air through vents].
     Air conditioning [for places like Dubai] will be available on our production vehicle. We will use standard automotive components for this. These are of pretty small size and can be located anywhere you like. We will probably locate the heat exchange unit [for places like Minnesota] below at the front as in a car, but we are still considering the possibility of a system in the roof.
     We will minimize the power [for AC] required by parking the vehicles in the shade [e.g. in stations]. This means a power load which is less than 1kW."

The ULTra team has considered battery charge life and recharging—obvious variables, why theMinnesota anti-PRT activist would think no one would plan for them is anyone's guess. ULTra found that the battery can be topped-off in just 1 minute after a typical two-mile trip.
Distortion. Uninformed speculation. And now fabrication.

There are many people who oppose PRT. But they understand the basics of PRT, and have evaluated it on its merits. Their opposition is derived from the way they rank PRT's performance on transit service factors, relative to such other factors as perceived social benefits and stimulus of urban redevelopment. How pro- and anti-PRT sides rank the various priorities differ, but the differences are mostly subjective.

At least the majority of the opponents attempt to characterize PRT accurately when they evaluate it. The Minnesota anti-PRT activist is not one of those.

"If God had wanted me in the subway, he would have made it air conditioned. And it's not. The trains are, every once in a while. But the platform? No baby! There is no air in there!"

Randi Rhodes
The Randi Rhodes Show
July 20, 2006

Sunday, May 01, 2005

See How They Distort

Originally published ©2005 Get On Board! PRT

Updated June 16, 2005-- People who hate Personal Rapid Transit really hate it. Some are willing to go to great lengths to persuade people to stick to traditional forms of transit.

Sometimes they don't do their homework. That's what happened last year when the group Light Rail Now released a ballyhooed paper on PRT, Cyberspace Dream Keeps Colliding With Reality. The document was filled with what were most likely innocent errors, caused by the mistake of evaluating PRT on whether or not it worked like a train.

The group SoundPRT wrote a definitive rebuttal to LR Now. The Seattle-based group pointed out mistakes made by LR Now in mischaracterizing--

  • Effect of PRT's on-demand service on station operations and size, and equity of service
  • Distance between PRT guideways and overall low visual impact
  • PRT capacity
  • PRT vehicle headways and emergency procedures
  • Design, components and construction of PRT vehicles and guideways
  • What creates crowds of transit riders.
  • Likely PRT costs
  • Reasons for failures of past PRT test projects, and failure to mention successes

  • For other critics of PRT, fighting innovative transit technology is a holy war. For example, oneMinnesota anti-PRT activist has created a website filled with distortions, innuendo, conspiracy theory, and manipulated images, all crafted to make PRT look like an unworkable, crackpot idea.

    Here's an example from just a single page from the site, alongside the actual facts:
    Anti-PRT Activist:Facts:
    "Raytheon made an attempt to build a PRT system. It was a huge flop. It just looked awful. The undercarriage of the pod had these little tires that looked like they came off a boat trailer. The tires looked very, very dorky."

    Quoting a photographer:
    " ' We were just outside Boston, Massachusetts at the Raytheon [PRT test track]. Several energetic images were needed to promote the new system worldwide, with instructions that we were not to reveal the rubber tires under the vehicle in any of the final photos.'

    ...Ed Anderson [Skyweb Express PRT designer] and crew made sure that the new model they built would have a fully enclosed guideway concealing the clunky undercarriage and the dorky wheels.

    ...Imagine one of these things going 100 mph on those crappy little wheels. Look at the narrow wheel base and the crappy go-cart-style undercarriage and imagine this pod taking a turn at 40 mph with 3 heavy passengers. For contrast, take a look at the undercarriage, wheels and suspension system of cars, busses [sic], trains and trolleys."
    Raytheon's project was a flop because the company had deep pockets, and so had no problem making design mistakes that resulted in an oversized, too-expensive system. Though they had purchased rights to Anderson's PRT design, he was not involved in Raytheon's work and did not approve the changes made.

    The photo (a copy of this one) used to illustrate the 'dorky boat trailer tires' is NOT Raytheon's vehicle (that usedautomotive-sized tires), but rather an early scale model of Anderson's Skyweb Express. It bears resemblance to the products of a small-aircraft maker that had been in talks as a potential producer of PRT passenger cabins. Small wheels are acceptable in this design, because they are only needed to support and roll the vehicle; propulsion and braking are performed by magnetic motor, not through the wheels.

    In Anderson's design, the guideway will be covered by a thin shell for appearance, as well as to keep foreign objects off the running surfaces. Raytheon's guideway would have had covers too; showing the tires in the photos would not have been an accurate portrayal of the appearance of the finished product.

    Top speed of an urban PRT system will more likely range 35-40 mph, not 100. Anderson's design will corner just fine because there are also lateral stability wheels, visible on the model just above the larger, 'dorky' wheels.

    Three-seat PRT cars will carry less than 1000 lbs. The amount of supporting structure needed is therefore much less than that required for the underside of a bus or train.
    Anti-PRT Activist:Facts:
    "Another problem was that massive guideway. The above picture shows the actual Raytheon guideway superimposed on a Minneapolis street... Ed Anderson and crew disowned the Raytheon project, claiming Taxi 2000 could make the pylons and guideway slimmer. The engineers of the 2001 OKI Central Loop Study proved that there was no way that slim guideways and pylons could safely hold up a bunch of fully loaded PRT pods."Once again: Raytheon made its guideway too big; the guideway in the photo is without its covers. Here's a pagewith unretouched photos of the test track.

    What Parsons was supposed to do in the 2001 study for Cincinnati's OKI agency was evaluate a PRT proposal by a local committee, as submitted. The committee had chosen Anderson's Taxi2000/Skyweb. Instead, Parsons invented its own imaginary PRT design. Parsons has no real PRT expertise and failed to ask Anderson or anyone else who does, so it is no surprise that Parsons found its own PRT engineering unsound and too expensive.

    Anderson's design, with covers
    How Parsons bungled the OKI project
    The Gatekeepers
    Anti-PRT Activist:Facts:
    "ULTra, who also claim they can use slim guideways seems to have resorted to Raytheon-style photographic fakery to convince people that a slim structure can be feasible. In photos on their site, UlTra(downloadable files) shows a test track built mostly on the ground like a go-cart track. Only one section is on pylons... two pylons... with the ramrod-straight guideway firmly anchored into solid abutments. It's not a guideway at all , but a simple "beam bridge". Other photos show only the pods, guideway and pylons, but no abutments... it's so fake."ULTra is a British PRT design. The test system referred to was designed with elevated and ground-level portions expressly in order to demonstrate the design's flexibility.

    The abutments are ramps that allow the vehicle to climb and descend from the elevated portion.

    Of course an elevated guideway is going to resemble a bridge, that's unavoidable. It's... elevated. ULTra's elevated guideway has exactly the same two running surfaces--beams, if you will-- as the ground-level portions.

    And it's not fake--the ULTra system in the photos is a functioning, complete loop with station. It has been exhaustively tested, and certified by the UK rail safety agency. Members of the public have ridden it, and given it high marks.

    See: ULTra test track
    ULTra public questionnaire results(Word)
    This is just one example of tactics employed by those opposed to the type of technology advances represented by PRT: distortions and unsupported guesswork are pulled out of thin air, enter cyberspace, and--despite being debunked--are repeated over and over.

    When right-wing (anti-environment, anti-transit) elected officials and their media talking heads continue to repeat untruths even after they've been disproved, it's called the Big Lie. What should it be called when perpetrated by "pro-transit" people who are against Personal Rapid Transit?

    "Stick with proven kinds of transit" is the opponents' mantra. But this attitude, when combined with the reality that the system that manages and delivers American public transit is highly risk averse, leads to an absurd conclusion. The implications of their reasoning are (1) that the "proven" technology of buses and trains ought to be exempt from one of the basic impulses of human nature: the drive to make things work better, to innovate; and (2) corporations now profiting get to do so in perpetuity, protected from competition.

    Consider where we would be today if the following "proven" technologies of the past had been made safe from being superceded, from becoming obsolete:

    Mercury space capsule, Redstone rocket. No Apollo, no Saturn rocket, no Moon landing, no Shuttle, no space station.
    Model T Ford. No '57 Chevy, no Volvo 240 series, no Smart minicar, no gas/electric hybrids.
    Crank telephone. No rotary dialing, no mouthpiece & earpiece in the same handset, no touch-tone dialing, no cellular phones.
    Black & White cinema, celluloid. No color, no Technicolor, no digital.
    Silent film. No talkies, no stereo, no Dolby/surround/THX.
    The IBM Personal Computer. "640K ought to be enough for anybody" -Bill Gates.
    Vacuum-tube Radio. No transistors; no Television.

    In short, "proven technology only" means no progress.

    What motivates opposition like this, especially from progressive activists who ought to be open to new, more sustainable forms of transit that can get more people out of their cars? It would be unfair to speculate. But all of the above Facts are available on the Internet--including on this very site. And theMinnesota anti-PRT activist in question is aware of it: his name appears regularly in this site's webstats report.

    The Personal Rapid Transit debate heats up—a few notes.

    (June 13, 2005) A certain anti-PRT activist recently started a blog, and wrote:
    The PRT proponents dare not spell my name or link to my site lest the Googlebot ups the rank of my website... like at this PRT proponent''s web site [sic]. For example:

    "For other critics of PRT, fighting innovative transit technology is a holy war. For example, one Minnesota anti-PRT activist has created a website filled with distortions, innuendo, conspiracy theory, and manipulated images, all crafted to make PRT look like an unworkable, crackpot idea." (Click on "See How They Distort") 

    Recently one blog-roving PRT proponent - "PRT-Liberal" was invited to participate in a PRT podcast debate with me... Mr PRT Liberal decliined [sic] the invitation.

    I have the facts, I know my stuff. That is why no prominent PRT proponent will debate me. Not Representative Mark Olson who scratched his bill HF1174 from committee agendas twice to avoid giving me a hearing, not Mark Olson''s[sic] PRT partner Minneapolis Councilman Dean Zimmermann who has not replied to my challenge to debate his PRT plan for Minneapolis.
    Fella, the reason I don't use or spell out your name is solely in order to wind you up, as the Brits say, and apparently it worked.

    The reason I am not going to do the podcast with you is explained in the RoBlog thread: not only does your neocon-esque talking-points strategy (Distort, Lather, Rinse, Repeat) make it, as Ian Bicking points out, "an unwinnable debate for the defender," the simple truth is that you don't have the facts, OR know your stuff. You have demonstrated this over and over. And over and over and over...

    I no longer wish to encourage someone like you and your platoon of followers, because your brand of "activism" is really disinformation.

    I just don't take you seriously. It's probably the reason others won't debate you either.
    And, as for "blog-roving," speak for yourself.