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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On the occasion of the approval of an Amritsar PRT

Today we take note of the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board's approval of an urban PRT for the city of Amritsar, India.

Let's see what Ken Avidor the Minnesota anti-PRT propagandist has said about Amritsar. Please welcome back Mr. Side By Side Comparison:

Avidor sez:Meh:
With only "revenue service trials" at Heathrow completed, ULTra has teamed up with Fairwood India to propose building an ambitious PRT system in Amritsar, India.
"The Personal Rapid Transport (PRT) – developed by our ULTra PRT, UK – is a revolutionary new transportation system, which has been operationalized in London (Heathrow airport) after 20 years of development."
Yes, Ken, "operationalized." It's a word, the past participle of operationalize, meaning to make operational.

I know what this is! This is like that one time, when your only comment about the M.I.S.T.E.R. PRT was "Polish PRT?" -- isn't it, Ken?

They speak English in India, Ken, English is one of India's two official languages. You might have heard of a little thing called the Raj?
The map for the Amritsar PRT is here. There is no indication that the citizens of Amritsar had any input in creating the route and the proposed destinations on the map. There has already been criticism that the PRT project "would harm historic Walled City of Amritsar and would hamper tourism in the city. He's pulling it out of his butt. He has no idea what public input had occurred or was planned, or what Indian law requires. We can pretty much count on it being different from how we do it in America since, you know, it's a different country.

Actually, the whole purpose of the PRT project is to serve some of the 100,000 religious pilgrims a week who visit (some might say tour) the city's world-famous Golden Temple. How could a low-profile transit system possibly get in the way of that?
One reason that PRT never goes anywhere is the PRT guys never engage the public in any meaningful way.

Dec. 4, 2010
It's not the job of "the PRT guys" to engage the public, "the PRT guys" don't make the decisions. Officials of the various state and city jurisdictions are the ones who lead the process, they are answerable to their citizens.

I'm going to assume whatever public input regulations they have were followed, since India is the world's most biggest democracy.

We know what kind of public engagement Ken likes. He likes it when the citizens are angry about PRT, because that's the output of his international Luddite propaganda campaign, waged in website comment forums and in the op-ed pieces he has gotten published from time to time.

Ken loves when citizens get angry about PRT, and I'm sure he's helped stir it up. When the District government of Daventry, England was planning PRT, Ken gleefully posted and reposted the public's negative, "pod off" reaction to the project (See? Governments do engage the public about PRT). When I was doing background research on the Daventry planning process, I communicated with a District official who said they had received anti-PRT cartoons. Gee, I wonder who sent those.

An angry populace is also no doubt what Ken was hoping for when he was agitating against the PRT initiative by the municipal government of Winona, Minnesota. A centerpiece of his campaign involved drawing attention to local Teabagger opposition to PRT, in the form of Teabag city council candidate Joshua Chasco. Nobody disrupts a town hall meeting like Teabaggers.

Teabaggers disrupt town hall meeting on health care reform, 2009


Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Luddite Veto

Something I've had a chance to write a lot about lately is the subject of transit as a public good -- meaning it's a service delivered by the public, not private, sector of the economy.1 2

The public is highly familiar with the effects transit lines and stations have on land use and the community fabric. It is this public interest that has made transit a public good that is very much controlled at the local level.  Elected representatives and the agencies who work for them are responsible for planning, operating and maintaining our transit systems for all.

Transit is a highly visible and much discussed subject in our cities; transit attracts as much community attention as public safety, schools and property taxes.

Yet Ken Avidor does not respect the decisions that come out of these local processes. Correction -- he only respects local decisionmaking when it decides against personal rapid transit.

Such has been the central part of Ken Avidor's (possibly) decades-long anti-PRT strategy: meddle in other communities' affairs.3 This is the action of someone who doesn't respect or trust citizens' abilities to make their own decisions -- Ken Avidor, the world's worst 'expert' at anything, wants veto power over your transit decisions.

Tragic Waste of Taxpayers' Dollars on Gadgetbahn in Richmond, California

...The latest suckers to fall for the gadgetbahn flim-flam is Richmond, California:
The City Council will spend $20,000 to lobby for a federal transportation grant to help light-rail company CyberTran develop 13 ultralight rail stations throughout the city — a transit system, in the words of city leaders and CyberTran’s CEO, that would be clean, efficient, and create 20,000 jobs in the next decade.
And where is the $$$ going?
[City Councilman Dr. Jeff] Ritterman went to Washington D.C. with CyberTran’s team this July to lobby for the federal transportation funding. The $20,000 approved by the city Tuesday will go to the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, which will seek infrastructure funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s Surface Transportation Program.
See, when a city says Yes to PRT it's because their local planners and democratically elected leaders are suckers!

Three things here:

1. How does Ken think you get federal funds? I know, he doesn't know: he doesn't even know the difference between grants and earmarks. One of the ways you do it is you hire a firm with federal expertise; a partner in Manatt Phelps is Mickey Kantor (D) -- you know, Bill Clinton's (D) Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor. This makes Richmond's proposal stronger, and Ken hates that.

2. In the cosmic scheme of things, nothing is further from "tragic" than a city investment of $20,000 in an attempt to get 20,000 jobs. A reason Richmond is working with CyberTran (a frequent target of Avidor wrath) is that it is a local Richmond business. Ken, on the other hand, is a couple thousand miles away in Minnesota.

3. And who are the people Ken is calling "suckers"? Well, the bio of Councilman Jeff Ritterman (D) says, among other things, that he's a cardiologist, was a VISTA volunteer, and has organized and delivered medical supplies to victims of apartheid in South Africa and to refugees in Central America and Iraq. Ritterman is the one who introduced Richmond's resolution of solidarity with Wisconsin public employees. Wow Ken, you found a real villain lurking behind PRT!

Another example of a civic-minded progressive -- and a Democrat4 -- working for PRT. Ken Avidor keeps linking Michele Bachmann to PRT as though she invented it; but she has done zero for PRT in Congress. The last Republican to do anything federal for PRT was that liberal Nixon.

3. The other part of his strategy is Shaming Liberal Opinionmakers Who Dare Support or Report Favorably On PRT, like Debbie Cook (D). Recent examples include Josh Marshall, Al Gore's Current TV, and 350.org

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Great Mileage

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda." - George W. Bush

Tell me, what does "No need to ride with strangers" mean to you?

In the context of Personal Rapid Transit, it is describing a fact of the service concept -- when transit service is on demand, a trip starts when you enter the station and select a destination, board a pod and go. People ahead of you are in their pods and don't have to wait for you, and your pod doesn't have to wait for others. Whether you know them or not is immaterial. If you're at your neighborhood station you might know the travelers in the other pods, but otherwise the odds are good that you won't. This is what it means.

To Ken Avidor it means something else: People don't like to ride with strangers.

Let's just tell it like it is. What Ken is doing here is trying to smear PRT with another Ick Factor (like PRT is dirty and PRT=Bachmann). He's implying PRT fans are people who don't care for other people, are trying to scare people away from transit, or trying to appeal to classists, ageists, racists, etc.

Ken 's little paraphrase would be fine if it just stopped there, but it wouldn't be our Ken if he stopped there. Ken takes People don't like to ride with strangers and attributes it to others.

It's gone from a paraphrase to a quote, those are quotation marks. The group Minnesota 350 is holding a sustainability event this Saturday, part of the worldwide Moving Planet day, and Citizens For PRT is participating.
Ken wants to try and shame MN 350 into disassociating itself from CPRT. Lookit what the bad PRT people say! says Ken. He even provides a photo, the Twitpic link. Only, that photo only proves he is the Great Misquoter:

What, he's hoping no one actually looks at it?

This would be a minor amusement, except for that Ken has been pulling this same trick for 8 years.
Apr. 23, 2003 in Pulse Of The Twin Cities:
[gives no reference.]

Jul. 13, 2004, at Car Free Cities: The biggest myth the PRT proponents spread around is that people don't like to ride with "strangers". [gives no reference. At this point he's just quoting one word though.]

Jan. 2005 at Light Rail Now: PRT proponents can say things that the highway boosters could never say, such as "people don't like to ride with strangers". [gives no reference. Now the quote is a whole phrase.]

Apr. 17, 2005 at Mobjectivist: When Councilman Dean Zimmermann testified for Mark Olson's PRT bill (HF1174) in the Minnesota House Local Government Committee March 9th 2005, he said "With PRT you don't have to ride with strangers." This is the audio link:
http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/audio/ls84/locpol03092005.asx [This should be definitive, right? I mean, it's audio! Except Ken gets wrong both the quote and the context. At 3:15:20, what Zimmerman really says is:
"You have the same relationship with this sky cab that you would to an ordinary taxi cab, in that you get in it, you ride it with yourself or your family, you're not riding with strangers. And when you get to your destination you don't look back and say 'now what am I going to do with that big hunk of steel?' You just leave it there, and it's available, sitting in the station, ready for the next person to jump in and go."
He's only describing how PRT is like a taxi.]

Jun. 2, 2005 at Transportation Geek: What they will "market" will be more websites with flashy computer graphics and more brochures with anti-transit propaganda saying stuff like "People don''t [sic] like to ride with strangers". [link to image of flyer with quote that doesn't match]

Jun. 6, 2005 at MAP-NP Community Forum: Dean Zimmermann has testified at the Minnesota State Legislature in favor of Rep. Mark Olson''s anti-transit PRT bills saying that "people don''t [sic] like to ride with strangers". [gives no reference, note same typo as Jun. 2, 2005]

Jun. 14, 2005 at PRT Skeptic: Dean has even teamed up with right-wing Republican Mark Olson at the Capitol and Minneapolis City Hall to say wonderful things about the Taxi 2000 Corporation and spread nasty disinformation about buses and trains such as "People don't like to ride with strangers". [gives no reference]

Jul. 25, 2005 at PRT Skeptic: What do you expect from people who are fond of saying "People don't like to ride with strangers."? [gives no reference]

Aug. 22, 2005 at Seattle P-I (and republished elsewhere): PRT proponents can say things that the highway boosters could never say, such as "People don't like to ride with strangers." [gives no reference]

Jan. 25, 2006 at Detroit Metro Times: PRT proponents can say things that the highway boosters could never say, such as "People don't like to ride with strangers." [gives no reference]

Feb. 7, 2006 at Wikipedia: PRT proponents can say things that the highway boosters could never say, such as "People don't like to ride with strangers." [he was unable to document it, tried to use the Jun. 2, 2005 link]

Apr. 11, 2006 at PRT Skeptic: What do you expect from people who are fond of saying "People don't like to ride with strangers."? [gives no reference]

Jan. 12, 2010 at Democratic Underground: The pod people are always saying PRT is better that reality-based transit because "you don't have to ride with strangers". [includes image with non-matching quote]

And now it's back!
May 20, 2011 at PRT Moondoggie: the PRT hucksters aint [sic] going to give up the fear-mongering about "strangers" on buses and trains

Ken Avidor: the Great Catapulter. How many more miles can he get out of this sleight of hand?

Also: The reality is that PRT ride-sharing is happening

UPDATE: This Avidor  post shows how if someone thinks PRT is about not riding with strangers, it's because Ken gave them the idea.

Archives: Ken's opinions about teenagers and Poland


Super mileage:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

His PRT is made of straw

Ah. You know Personal Rapid Transit is having a good week whenever a loud NNNNNNNNNNGGGGG sound comes from the direction of Minnesota. That's the sound Ken Avidor gets whenever he starts up the totally analog, hand-cranked calculating machine on which he hammers out his PRT Moondoggie blog attacks against anything resembling transit technology innovation. And here it is now:

Saturday, September 17, 2011
ULTra's Glorified Golf Carts at Heathrow Not "Faster, Better, Cheaper"

For many years, I've had to listen to the PRTistas claim Personal Rapid Transit was "faster, better cheaper" compared to conventional modes of transit. The so-called Heathrow PRT project was supposed to be the proof of those claims... [sic] and it has failed miserably.
NNNNNNNNNNGGGGG. The core of this offal is taken from the same tired, old, made-up talking points as always* -- so instead of another dissection, this time I want to make some observations about Avidor's strategic direction. Let's turn to our debunking friend who's fun to be with, Mr. Side-By-Side Comparison:
Ken Avidor blog/claim Fact check
After many years, delays and enormous piles of hype, the pods of Heathrow are now "officially unveiled"(Reuters):
Traveling at speeds up to 40 km/hour (25 mph), after an average wait of just 34 seconds, the system looks like something straight from a science fiction film.
25 mph? Not exactly "rapid". And the 34 second wait? That pretty much dooms their oft-repeated claim that you never have to wait for PRT. Also, a 34 second wait eliminates the possibility that PRT could operate at "nano-second headways" in order to match the capacity of conventional transit. With those pathetic stats, the ULTra pods cannot be seriously considered a viable transit mode for urban areas.
The first PRT study for Heathrow was in 2004, and the go-ahead was given almost exactly 6 years ago. Six years from greenlight, through design, planning, construction, manufacturing, and testing is not a long time for a major civil engineering project that includes the first of a kind product.

25 mph is plenty fast when the vehicle doesn't have to stop until its destination; that speed is close to average speed.

As a comparison, when the Hiawatha Light Rail line opened in Minneapolis, its scheduled speed was 21 mph.**

Also, no respectable PRT designer says there will be no waiting -- they say 'little or no waiting,' or 'on-demand or brief waiting.'

In ULTra, the control system is synchronous, meaning pods are inserted into virtual 'slots' that circulate around the guideway network. Each slot is as long as the minimum interval allowed between pods.

What this means is that there is room for roughly 113 slots on the network's 2.36 miles of guideway. There are currently 21 pods, so the system has plenty of unused capacity, which if needed would be met by adding more pods.

The current ULTra ridership record is 164 trips in an hour using 18 pods, or a capacity of 656 people moving among the 3 stations. The designed capacity is 500,000 riders per year for this phase. Guideway, pods and riders served will increase should the system expand to the rest of Heathrow.

According to ULTra, the company behind the technology, the 30 million pound ($47 million) development could transport up to 500,000 passengers each year and replace 50,000 shuttle bus journeys.
... The cost of the Heathrow pod project proves that the infrastructure is expensive to build. There are no real-life figures on what it will cost to operate and maintain the pods of Heathrow for a year.
Waaaaait. One of the things Ken is supposed to be showing is that PRT is not "cheaper."

$47 million is a lot, but no one ever said PRT would be dirt cheap. Just calling PRT expensive doesn't prove it's not cheaper. To do that he has to compare it to something else. Which he does not do.

But I can. Heathrow ULTra is 47/2.36=$19.9 million per mile.  Light rail in the U.S. averages "about $35 million per mile."
There is a control room and presumably people who have to monitor the pods. How much that all costs - 3 or 4 million dollars a year for a simple two mile stretch, it's certainly not "cheaper" than taxis or jitneys. He just pulls "3 or 4 million" out of his butt. But even if Ken's in the ballpark, doesn't that money represent money for jobs rather than hardware?

Taxis and jitneys burn fuel, Ken. And each one requires a driver -- presumably not working on a volunteer basis. What's the economy in Avidor's universe based on?
It could be argued that the Heathrow pod "system" is not a true PRT system at all. It has a heavy "bi-directional guideway" that would not fit on the average city street. The Heathrow pod system do not have the elevated stations that are pictured in countless visuals on the web- for example, the enormous, hideous station festooned with advertisements on this webpage. The Heathrow pods have rubber tires and do not circulate like taxis, but instead must be berthed separately so they can charge their batteries. The pods must also back out of their berths - requiring plenty of room. Sure, you could argue it. But if someone argues that something they oppose isn't a "true" example of that something, it's usually a sign they know they can't win the argument. Ken is defining ULTra as not-PRT in order to be able to continue to claim PRT doesn't exist and is unproven.

And for the record, "bi-directional guideway" (2 guideway, one for each direction, on the same support posts) is used at Heathrow where it does fit, and because it would be stupid to go around the end of the runway by more than one route.

That last Ken Klaim™ is what I want to focus on. As I noted, he's trying to parse ULTra, basically nitpicking it. He's hoping the casual reader will take his ULTra-as-outlier argument at face value.

This is the approach he has taken for years when opposing ULTra. Sure, it looks like a car on something resembling a footbridge. Compared to the even-more-futuristic designs of Taxi 2000 and PRT International (which Ken is more familiar with because they are being developed in Minnesota), ULTra looks downright present-day.

Which is the problem for Ken . Because looking present-day, existing and functioning translates into feasibility. Which makes a joke (appropriately enough) out of Ken's Number One Talking Point: "Personal Rapid Transit is an infeasible transportation concept."

Keeping PRT looking infeasible is why Ken Avidor continues to panic-bash the Heathrow transit-pod project. Heathrow is shaping up as the smiling, telegenic poster child for feasibility.

 But don't take my word for it. Let's compare ULTra to the official definition of PRT by the Advanced Transit Association:
ATRA sez: ULTra?
Personal Rapid Transit has all of the following characteristics:
• Direct origin-to-destination service with no need to transfer or stop at intermediate stations. Check.
• Small vehicles available for the exclusive use of an individual or small group traveling together by choice. Check!
• Service available on demand by the user rather than on fixed schedules. Check-a-roony.
• Fully automated vehicles (no human drivers) which can be available for use 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. ULTra is fully automated, but -- Oops! ULTra is only available 20-22 hours a day, depending on day of the week :( But this is more hours than the Heathrow Express train from London (no service 11:30pm - 5am). So we'll call this one... 'Chec.'
• Vehicles captive to a guideway that is reserved for their exclusive use. There are no off-ramps from the guideway, so Check!
• Small (narrow and light) guideways, usually elevated but also can be at or near ground level or underground. Check, check and check!
• Vehicles able to use all guideways and stations on a fully connected PRT network. Check!
Note that these bullets define characteristics of service and safety only. PRT is technology independent, and manufacturers are free to use any technology they choose.

Note that last thing: "PRT is technology independent, and manufacturers are free to use any technology they choose." All this Avi-steria -- about FROG, little rubber tires, kinds of guideway and stations, everything -- is just a lot of smoke.

He's saying Don't use ATRA's definition of PRT to evaluate ULTra, use MY definition.  What is known as a straw man.

ULTra is Personal Rapid Transit. ULTra works. Which is more than you can say about Ken Avidor's arguments.

gPRT Big Bad Wolfidor


* The following links debunk other Talking Points appearing in Ken's post:
ULTra does not use FROG-brand navigation
2getthere née FROG still exists, it was the old parent company that went bankrupt.
• Michele Bachmann: one of 5 Republicans and 13 Democrats authoring PRT-related legislation in the Minnesota Senate session in question. Her bill was insignificant.
• Vukan Vuchic says the automobile is a necessary part of "modern transportation," and lumps it in with buses and rail. In other words, the automobile-centric status quo.

** A news item reported by Light Rail Now, so it must be true.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

“Another FAIL” for the anti-PRT propagandist - Heathrow pods officially launched

These are just a few of the many statements Ken Avidor has never formally retracted:
"...there is no PRT project at London's Heathrow airport..."

the fine print in the BAA press release says that the [Heathrow] project depends on "agreed milestones being achieved.". [sic] It is highly unlikely that ULTra-as-PRT will pass these milestones.

"PRT is so not happening at Heathrow."

Heathrow's PRT had a brief test last year, and has been in an extended public trial since April. The new system officially launched today.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Light Manufacturing

Ken Avidor's strange relationship with chronological order continues. Late on the Friday before Labor Day, where news goes to die, he posted thusly:
Friday, September 2, 2011

The Federal Transit Administration said Friday that it has approved preliminary engineering work on a new light-rail line that, if built, would become the third in the Twin Cities.

The 15-mile Southwest Corridor line would connect downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. If the project continues to clear FTA hurdles and wins federal funding, construction would begin in 2014, with an aim of making the rail line operational by 2017 or 2018.
I remember when the PRT hucksters proposed their idiotic pod concept for the SW Corridor - how many chances do these crackpots and con artists get?

Remarkable. It's an article about federal approval of preliminary engineering work, and suddenly out of left field comes PRT -- as as if PRT was referenced in the story (it wasn't), and as if PRT is still in the Southwest Corridor picture at this point.

It's not. The selection of light rail occurred on May 26, 2010, closing the door to competing modes.

This means Ken's Friday post was another of his non-stories. It was just another of his attempts to manufacture excuses to take shots at the viral-magnitude positive buzz surrounding the ULTra starter-PRT at Heathrow Terminal 5.

Update (9/8): Ken aligns himself against Al Gore's Current TV over this segment:

It's a Ken Avidor "FAIL" fail!

Friday, September 02, 2011


Things must be really slow in the cartoon biz, because now Ken Avidor is actually trying to generate support for PRT so he can have something to attack.

It's as though Ken needs PRT to complain about, so he has bought one at Ikea -- and he is going to try to put it together all by himself!

1. Tools needed:

2. Identify component parts:
  • @SaveTheVikesOrg on Twitter

3. Assemble!* (Twitter goes from bottom-up)

Sure, one leg of this stool is shorter than the others, and there are parts left over. And the Starting Line proposal that he's desperately trying to get SaveTheVikesOrg to read is in no way connected to the Vikings' current Arden Hills project. Plus the readership-of-one couldn't figure out what Ken was talking about.

But SO WHAT, accuracy and low traffic never stands in the way of the PRT Moondoggie Blog -- right, Ken?

poo-poo head!
* Or in his case, 'dissemble'