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

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Suidae Aviation gets grounded

Another whine is heard from (again):

"In "faith based transit" all is believable as there are no working systems, only websites selling dream transit.

The history of PRT has small failures and large (taxi2000.com and Denver Airport Luggage handling system) all have cost the taxpayer money (for studies up to several hundred million for the Denver Airport).

In faith based transit one only has to believe that the next incarnation
(second/third/fourth coming) will be the true transit. There is always the argument that it could work, yeah,
well pigs could fly. The rest of us are taking reality based transit, cars, trains, airplanes, bikes, walkways."

Transit propagandists like Johnny can keep framing the issue however they want, but the fact is that PRT is a concept so obvious that in order to exist it doesn't need the conspiracy they lamely allege.

What they call 'reality-based' is merely the status quo. Parts of the paradigm will continue to exist because they indeed have utility. All the forms of transport mentioned will continue in some form: New York subways work; so does the London Underground, and many other systems. But there is nothing within that paradigm that invalidates PRT. That opponents must resort to propaganda and obfuscation (Denver luggage system? Not PRT!), despite the hundreds (thousands?) of person-hours invested by Avicrombie in attacking PRT is proof of that.

The PRT community is trying to transform the way people perceive and use transit.

Malcolm Gladwell ("The Tipping Point"; The New Yorker) has a number of compelling examples that illustrate how such transformative change occurs. People who have the ability to effect such change don't have to have political power, or economic power. What they do have to have is social power. They bridge many social groups; they know people who know people and can get things done.

One example involves David Sarnoff, who was perhaps most responsible for the success of commercial radio. Sarnoff was not a bigwig at RCA. The management didn't know who he was. He had no budget. But he knew people who could get him a transmitter; he knew a guy who knew a guy who could talk about boxing; he had salesmen who could get radios setup in public places. He was able to take those inputs and transform them into the world's first live radio sports broadcast. It was 1921.

People for the first time saw what radio was good for--it brought the world into their living rooms. People started buying radios. In the succeeding year 1,100 companies entered the radio business.

Sarnoff's bosses--the conventional thinkers--had been trying for years to make radio a success, and didn't get the point of Sarnoff's live broadcast. What good could that possibly do? was their attitude. They had been saying 'you should buy this big giant box of tubes because it will bring you news and music.' Yawn.

Today, the issue of urban transit is like radio was in 1921. Some people have the attitude that transit, by all rights, should be a bigger success. But it takes more than just telling people they should use it.

'Big giant box' transit has a role, and will continue to exist. But PRT is the transformative innovation that will reframe all public transit as more appealing, helping more people understand the good that transit can do--for themselves and for society.

All people like Johnny Pocket Sac have on their side is disinformation.

And no, actually, pigs won't fly.

Ken Avidor is the best restaurant I've ever eaten at


A Transportation Enthusiast said...

There are so many good points in this post, I don't know where to start.

- "reality based" = "status quo" - every outdated relic of human history was once the "status quo", from horse-drawn carriages to outhouses to slide rules. The "reality based" argument is nothing more than an argument against progress of any sort. One can just as easily say cars are "reality based" and attempts at retrofitting transit in US cities is "faith based transit". So it's essentially a two-faced argument: when debating car proponents, they push for radical change to the city landscapes in the form of light rail and transit oriented development; then, when facing PRT proponents, they preach keeping things the way they are, using "proven" technology.

- Denver luggage system is not PRT - this is an argument that really baffles me. Consider: what does the Denver system have in common with PRT? Small vehicles on a network of track. That's it! The similarities end there. PRT developers had nothing to do with the Denver mess, yet this doesn't stop "Johnny" from clouding the issue by insinuating a connection.

In response, I'd ask about Amtrak. Amtrak has been heavily subsidized for decades, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. Amtrak is trains, light rail is trains. Why are we building light rail when Amtrak has proven that trains don't work? This connection is no more tenuous than the PRT/Denver baggage connection.

- "social power" - this is what I believe Avidor has in Minnesota: social power. People seem to take his words as fact, without doing their own research, and he's managed to create a strong anti-PRT cabal in Minnesota, to the point where PRT is considered a taboo topic in the very city most associated with PRT development over the last 20 years!

Unfortunately, there was no pro-PRT person in Minneapolis with the "social power" to battle the onslaught from the Avidor-led cabal. Zimmermann was probably the best hope, but then he got himself immersed in scandal and the cabal poured it on, insinuating that PRT was just part of Zimmermann's deception.

Maybe we're seeing the effects of "social power" in Cardiff, where Martin Lowson has patiently battled back resistance, built allies, and found a nice place to build a starter system (Heathrow). Contrast this to JE Anderson, who seemed to alienate some with his perceived anti-light rail stance. Though in fairness to Anderson, his fight may have been doomed from the start in Minneapolis...

- PRT as "transformative innovation" - there is no reason why PRT and other transit options must be mutually exclusive; PRT can work in conjunction with other transit options. Many PRT proponents have pushed PRT as a feeder system for existing transit.

But that doesn't stop Avidor and pals from attacking them as an enemy to transit. Look at the way they attacked people like Julie Risser and the Independence Party, for simply mentioning PRT as part of a multi-modal solution. Avidor likes tell the story of pushy PRT proponents interrupting a Minneapolis board meeting and insisting on PRT, but how is he any different? For him, it's LRT or nothing.

- propaganda tactics - a while back I found an interesting paper called Zen... And the Art of Debunkery which makes the argument that anyone can debunk just about anything. Browse through it, and you'll find just about every Avidorian tactic described in startingly familiar detail. It's an interesting read.

Mr_Grant said...

Notice how Pocket Sac's mention of cars is not in an anti-car context. When it comes to monkeywrenching innovation, K#nz Platoon prefers the automobile, thank you very much.

Mr_Grant said...

Another thing you might find interesting is what Gladwell has to say about conventional thinking-- conventional thinking can be an impediment to solutions.

Example: homelessness.

The old frame: Homelessness is huge and intractable. Gladwell cited a study of homelessness in New York City. In fact, it was found that the number of homeless without families, support structures and homeless year-round was only 2500.

The old frame: Homelessness is cheaper to manage than solve. Wrong: homeless use emergency medicine; a typical; annual cost per person is $50,000-100,000.

The old frame: Solving homelessness is a moral obligation. No: it's practical--homeless people can still make a contribution to society.

Another example: Fall of the Berlin Wall.

The old frame: It will take years, millions of dollars, and probably a war. In fact, it took a month, no (government) money, and no war. A protest erupted in Leipzig; the police for some reason did nothing. The next town over noticed, had a bigger protest, and again the police did not act. This continued until, a month later, crowds gathered in Berlin to protest, began tearing the Wall down, and the police just stood and watched.

In the case of transit, the problem is commonly defined as time spent in traffic, and environmental responsibility. Conventional thinking says the way to address this problem is to use trains and buses (time spent waiting and riding, uses only slightly less energy per person than a car). As Mr. Pocket Sac implies, cars are seen as an unbeatable dominant element of the transportation system.

The conventional thinking essentially cedes victory to the automobile. The only way it will die is to hope for major economic dislocation, like Peak Oil. The conventional thinking does not look further ahead, to what happens when the streets are clogged with electric, hydrogen or LNG cars instead.

We again see PRT as transformative: it has advantages existing technology doesn't have. It can act alone, or become part of the existing mix of systems. It not only meets unmet needs, but also generates additional demand for both itself (the unmet needs) as well as the overall transit network (by interfacing with other modes).

Mr_Grant said...

- "social power" - this is what I believe [censored] has in Minnesota: social power.

I think I have to disagree. What he has is the relentless practice of using the internet to create the impression of prevalence and gravitas.

Who is in his platoon? Eva and his co-bloggers; Johnny Pocket Sac; Andy Singer; Barb Lickness. Who else can be considered one of his lieutenants? Mrs. Ovendoor? She has never even been mentioned by name in the literature, her only activity was as his co-presenter at the fateful LRT talk he alleges was disrupted all those years ago.

That's not a lot of people. People with brains, such as Demery and Setty, now assiduously avoid being associated with Opendrawer.

Everyone else who has bought his propaganda (including publications) aren't true believers. They just haven't done their homework to know his arguments are based on lies. Due to the internet, Labridor is ubiquitous; that ubiquity takes on the air of legitimacy.

To call that 'social power' is a disservice to the spirit in which Gladwell uses the term.

Excuse, I'm off now to purchase some agricultural commodities.

A Transportation Enthusiast said...

Re: "social power":

I didn't read the Gladwell piece, so perhaps I did misrepresent the spirit of "social power". Maybe it's more appropriate to think of it as peer pressure. Here's a guy who seems to aspire to noble goals, giving him a certain level of credibility among those who share those same aspirations - just enough credibility that he can get away with his spewage on PRT. So, people who agree with his overall message (i.e. anti-car, pro-transit) implicitly trust his assessment of PRT. This is the "peer" part.

The "pressure" part derives from the caustic "you're either with me or against me" tone of his message. Even those who might disagree with his PRT stance are unlikely to voice their opinion, because he's so rabidly against it and he viciously attacks anyone who brings it up in a serious discussion. The result is that his lies go unchallenged, giving them more credibility, and before you know it even reasonable politicians are quoting him.

You are correct - the ubiquity of the Internet also contributes to his false legitimacy. It's downright scary how much power one persistent person at a keyboard can have; it's amazing how much anti-PRT content out there can be traced to him. I've claimed that it's 95% but I really think it might even be more than that. He's like the Ahmed Chalabi of the anti-PRT movement.

Mr_Grant said...

He's like the Ahmed Chalabi of the anti-PRT movement.

Or Curveball. OR, more appropriately, "Screwball."