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? 

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