Fact-Checking the "PRT Boondoggle" Blog
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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Here I Am -- or AM I???

Or, "Rule Brittonia"

©MMXI Wiseline Institute & Center For The Secular Humorism

(With update)

If there's one thing PRT Is a Joke IS A JOKE! is known for, it's our disdain for people hiding behind obviously phony sciencey-sounding nameplates. And the other thing is our hatred of skewed polls.

And so, dear readers, I give you:

Yesterday's* Experiment

Problem statement:

So I'm checking my Twitter feed, and I see a little taunt from our old friend Ken Avidor, anti-PRT propagandist to the world:
RT @worldstreets: PRT? http://worldstreets.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/prt-proposal-for-delhi-convinces-chief-minister-but-does-it-convince-you-see-poll-result

Fer crying out loud, what is THAT about? I was going to mow the lawn. Oh, all right.

Ken wants us to see the end of the URL, that there is a poll attached to Eric Britton's World Streets piece on the commissioning of the Delhi Personal Rapid Transit feasibility study. It's an OK piece, insofar as it is well-written and Britton did us all a favor by not hiding his disdain for PRT.

Which is fine! He's entitled to his opinion. Only... on what are his conclusions based? Where are the many years of analyses to which he refers? I don't -- no, they don't appear to be in the article.

Hypothesis: There are no analyses.

Notice how I couch that as a positive, active statement? It'll look good in the abstract. Also, I can't be accused of making the experiment easy, since you can't prove a negative.

The variables:

Avidor put the poll in my lap (no jokes please, this is science), and over at CityFix Britton praises Avidor's egregious PRT Moondoggie blog as "a killer compendium," so the poll it is.

DID YOU SEE THE SIZE OF THAT POLL ON THE PAGE? IT TAKES UP SO MUCH SPACE! THAT'S -- (sorry) -- that's because it's not a poll, it's an editorial. Let's categorize those selections, shall we?

PRT for Delhi? Yes, No, I don't know

1Excellent idea. Do it nowVery positive
2Looks promising. Let's give it serious study

3Hard to say at this point. Need more info before making a decision.Neutral
4You have to know the specifics of Delhi to have an informed view on this technology solution.Neutral
5Looks rather weak. Probably not a priority at this point.

6Probably not for the Global South, but maybe a winner for other parts of the world?

7A bad idea for Delhi and most certainly a bad idea for any other city in the worldNegative
8Too uncertain, too expensive, too slow, too unproven and too marginal to make the needed contribution.Negative, with assurances of years of looking into the matter, take my word for it
9Quite an old fashioned idea really. Looked bad if naively tempting in 1970, but after years of endless discussion looks simply stupid todayNose up, nostrils flared
10This is a truly shameful, bizarre, irresponsible idea flaunted by interested parties and should be consigned to the trash heap of irresponsible proposals immediately.Flame on!

Six out of ten choices are negative, only two positives. 'Skewed' is an understatement -- how can anyone take this seriously?** It is what's known in politics as a "push poll," such as:
1. Do you support John Smith for Mayor?
2. Would you be more or less likely to support John Smith if you knew he had shot a man in Reno just to watch him die?

Methodology: The objective is to get Britton to talk about his analyses of PRT. But I don't have the patience for all that vamping that PRT critics like to do. How can I use the poll to draw him out. Yes, it's not a question.

The placebo: This is the closest I can get to a control group -- unless anyone has a spare Eric Britton? No?

I decided just to let him know I was coming, in really obvious ways. First, I tweeted it.
In this poll about #PRT in Delhi http://is.gd/GV6WsW pollster has helpfully provided 2 positive options, 4 neutral & 4 very neg options
#PRT poll; skewed http://bit.ly/jZeQm6

Second, I gave him my real DNS address by posting a comment, with my real first name, which is on my Twitter account, and my real email address.

Third, I decided I would re-skew the poll in a really blatant way, not hiding my DNS behind proxies or anything. I wasn't hacking. Any administrator would be able to tell what I was doing.

The Testing Series:

Every so often throughout the day, I would go to the poll and vote in the positive, neutral AND negative categories,*** but in a way that made up for the scarcity of positive choices.

I even sent Avidor friendly tweets updating my progress, such as:
@Avidor "shameful"=11.8% http://is.gd/GV6WsW ___ #WahWaaahhh http://bit.ly/cX3zWu
@Avidor "shameful" now =10.8% http://is.gd/GV6WsW ___ #WahWaaahhh http://bit.ly/cX3zWu


You know what? I hate to say I knew it would work, but -- I knew it would work.

Hi Mr. Britton! Thanks for posting your followup 'editorial', in which you equate (seriously, it seems) personalized, last-mile rapid transit with two-wheeled Global South equivalents of the four-wheeled Private Travel Appliances we have in the North. One of these things is not like the others.

Sorry, but I still believe anyone should be able to get around a city without having to drive. Biking and walking are preferred for short distances and the able-bodied; telecommuting and living close to work and shopping are also ideal.

But our cities can be huge. Why live in one if not able to freely access all of it? As I commented elsewhere, every square mile should have multiple rapid transit stations of 1 or more modes. We should maintain existing rail systems, expand them as feasible, and add other modes such as PRT, BRT, and GRT. Mode selection and application should use a formula that balances service and quantitative as well as qualitative costs.

It's just a vision.

In the spirit of the example of Excellence In Polling set for us by Eric Britton, please consider participating in this poll:

Also Last Weekend:
The logic-absent 'anti-PRT conspiracy' againAvidor thinks governments (at least ones in Minnesota) are so stupid
they would 1. grant PRT companies rights-of-way concessions without indemnifying themselves against lawsuits, and 2. grant the rights-of-ways willy-nilly, hither and thither, rather than along specific routes so as to complement, and not compete with, existing transit infrastructure.  Ken Avidor continues to be the Anti-PRT Boobdoggle.

* ^ Your mileage may vary according to time zone
** ^ Certainly not me
*** ^ So if you read anything, elsewhere, implying/claiming I only voted for the positive  options, that's what is called wrong

No Ken, POLLS, not 'Poles' http://goo.gl/AMlFU


worldstreets said...

Thanks so much for your comments. Of course you are coming at this from a very different direction that I am, but still it is important that we continue to exchange our ideas. I like the Rule Brittonia bit. I had never thought of that.

But please do not put me down as an anti-PRT guy. I have spent a lot of time with really considerable enthusiasm for them, and it took me more than a year to come to my present conclusion. (a) For a variety of reasons they do not work in most built cities. (b) Their proper place (and they can be very good at it) is to provide first class mobility services in largish areas which are under a single ownership, such as airports, industrial complexes, amusement or wildlife parks, and the list goes one. But (c) for a whole host of reasons, it is not appropriate to fund them with hard earned taxpayer dollars. They need to be privately financed.

I regret that I did not perhaps make my position on this sufficiently clear. Next time I shall try to be more careful.

Mr_Grant said...

Mr. Britton,

If you should decide to review my writings that live elsewhere on the internet, you'll find me pretty much to be a fun-loving and open-minded sort.

I welcome opportunities to discuss PRT with anyone -- other backers, opponents, and even those who, like you, allow that PRT could be a good choice in some situations.

On that point we are actually in broad agreement. PRT is not a panacea for transportation needs; nothing is a panacea. That is why I have stressed multi-modal solutions, with selection made by the public's elected decisionmakers, advised by objective experts.

While my focus is promoting transit that serves everyone equally, I don't object to private providers doing the job, subject to public regulation, I would leave the decision to each jurisdiction.

But I consider urban transit so important & basic that my preference is that transit be public. I also believe a public system's first priority ought to be Access & Service, while Cost is second most important. This is the same way I feel about medical care, a topic of great concern in my country, I hope you see where I'm coming from.

The key is: use of taxpayer funds dictates that for each proposed transit niche, those funds should be spent in the most efficient way possible, especially if the goal is Must Serve All. Therefore, today, if you were to come to me with a city covering a large area that is choosing a rapid rail system, and ask me: "should they do PRT instead?" I would answer No.

Because: the current PRT state of the art has not reached the point where it can substitute for a conventional rapid rail system. A major R&D&proving program would be required, which most local jurisdictions can't afford, nor should they, it's not their job. I would support the conventional system.

That said, conventional rapid systems are so expensive that they can't be installed everywhere needing to be served, and so fails the Must Serve All criterion (Aside: note how my views differ from many other vocal PRT supporters: I do not agree that conventional rapid systems are so expensive that they should rarely/never be built, the excuse being that cheaper new tech can be ready in just a few years under a concerted program. Even if the latter is true, the former is not a responsible public policy decision if the public has instructed their government to create a transit program in the short term using best available technology). So although I would support the decision to build one at this time, the jurisdiction must consider adding other rapid modes in future in order to eventually achieve Must Serve All.

If you ponder it, the areas un- or underserved by the rapid rail loosely fit your subgroup of "largish areas" needing "first class mobility services."

Therefore I support continued R&D&proving of promising technologies, chiefly PRT, and I would prefer the efforts be funded and/or incentivized by national governments. The majority of skepticism about PRT, and a near totality of fervent opposition, has the de facto outcome of attacking R&D&proving undertaken by anyone, public or private.

This gives conventional technologies a monopoly. Obviously this works against the interests of taxpayers.

As already stated, I have no problem with anyone opposing PRT. What I have a problem with is when their opposition is based on demonstrably false information, they refuse to acknowledge its falsity, and continue to spread it in propagandistic fashion.

As long as you don't do those things (and I don't think you have), we should get along like a divided house on fire. But I would hope you would delve deeper and examine opposing viewpoints before again endorsing propaganda like that disseminated by KA. Please consider perusing my postings in the Debunking and Fact Check topics, listed in the sidebar under Subjects.

David S. Gow
Editor and
Chief Satire Officer