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

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.

    No comments: