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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Business Plan

One of the most useful things to know when playing defense against Ken Avidor is that his playbook only has a few pages. He has four basic moves:
The Cherrypick.  This is where he only uses facts favorable to his claims, discarding the rest. Examples: repeating 'Bachmann's PRT boondoggle' while ignoring the 13 Democrats who supported PRT in the Minnesota Senate; blaming a Minnesota High Speed Rail Commissioner's separate support of PRT for cancellation of Ohio and Wisconsin HSR, ignoring that Governors Kasich and Walker just want President Obama to fail.

Far And Away. He lies about places he thinks would be difficult to verify. Blaming a few years of PRT planning for over a decade of neighborhood decay in England is an example of Far And Away. Others include: claiming to be from Alameda; depicting PRT in locations where no one is proposing putting it (1, 2); making a big deal about Amritsar merchants protesting pod transit with a dharna fast, when dharnas are actually very common in India.

Hail Mary. This is when Ken says something prima facie wrong, or a misquote, and hopes to get away with it. Examples: A PRT system for one city "would be in the trillions of dollars"; a dropped sentence fragment turns an anti-oil tweet into a pro-Keystone pipeline tweet.

The Hidden Ball Trick. He states something as fact, tries to camouflage it with bluster or under a layer of narrative, and hopes no one factchecks it.

Avidor's mainstay is the Hidden Ball.  Remember when he portrayed the PRT option at Alameda Point as 'environmental regulation-busting', but the 'environmental regulation' turned out to be an anti-density law -- and therefore anti-Smart Growth? That was the Hidden Ball.

So was his claim that one guy used PRT to "stop rail transit" in Minneapolis in the 1970s -- but bureaucratic infighting was the more believable culprit.

Or the time Ken tried to link an Ultra board member's company to responsibility for a multi-fatality train accident, but in reality another company had been found culpable? That was the Hidden Ball too, as was "recently a snowstorm shut down the [Morgantown] PRT."

What is great -- I count on it -- is that Ken runs these same plays over and over even though they never work.

One of the earliest examples of Hidden Ball was 7 years ago. Read this 2005, pre-PRT Is A Joke IS A JOKE writeup at the NewsCenter, "See How They Distort". In it we took apart Ken's phony claim:

Taxi 2000 Document Reveals Safety Concerns Can Make PRT Systems "Unworkable".

    ...The following are excerpts that show that Taxi 2000 itself believes that PRT is a very risky investment.
"Federal and State safety regulation of automated transit systems can make PRT systems unworkable. Since there are no examples of our technology currently in operation, we cannot predict what sort of state or federal government safety regulation might apply. At this juncture, the Federal Transit Administration - which would exercise whatever regulation might apply at this level - has left the matter up to the states. Management believes the states will look foremost to the work of a committee of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which has developed a set of safety standards for "Automated People Movers" (APM's). We have been following that work and think at this point it will pose only one problem: eg., "brick wall stopping" requirements for the control system (borrowed from railroad signaling practice). The requirement is that if one vehicle stops instantaneously, the next vehicle must be able to stop before hitting the stopped one. That requirement would inhibit the sort of minimum vehicle headway used in our design, but it would not affect operation of the first, lower density systems. In the context of PRT, "headway" means the nose-to-nose time spacing between two sequential vehicles. Setting a minimum allowable headway determines the maximum carrying capacity of the guideway. We will work to have the headway requirement amended, since we believe it is inappropriate to PRT technology, but there is no guarantee we will be successful in that regard.

...The above paragraph is not some earth-shaking secret admission of a fatal flaw. In fact it is a fairly standard "safe harbor" statement, something all companies that offer stock are required to do, to apprise prospective investors of every conceivable risk, no matter how remote...

Every public company has safe harbor statements in their prospectuses, annual reports and 10-K filings. So if everyone gave full, literal and equal weight to everything in safe harbors, no one would ever invest in anything.


It's as if Ken thought no one would think to look up "risk factors" investment on the Internet and see there are over 25 million hits.

Return of the Hidden Ball

So when Ken Avidor posted this yesterday at The PRT Moondoggie blog, I immediately recognized the play:

...Here the "Business Plan" includes the lengthy bios of J. Edward Anderson, A. Scheffer Lang and Raymond A. MacDonald. Then it gets around to... the money:
The Taxi 2000 business plan requires funding of twenty-five million dollars to be raised in successive rounds over a thirty-six month period. The funds will be used for completing specifications, building of the test track facilities, world-class procurement and marketing.

Exit Strategy

The opportunity for investor exit should occur between months 54 and 72. At this juncture, Taxi 2000 should have a strong backlog of booked sales, as well as a substantial number of highly interested potential customers. Initial system installations should be complete and operating, with other systems under construction.

Two potential opportunities for investor exit will be an IPO or a strategic acquisition by a large corporate interest. The strategic acquisition of the investor position would be the more likely scenario but this would be determined by the climate of the public equity markets at that time.

Interesting - a business plan with an "Exit Strategy"?.... [ellipsis in original] anyways, according to Mpls/St. Paul Business Journal:
The firm has raised $2 million in a $24 million fund-raising effort to pay for the testing facility and other corporate needs, according to SEC filings and city documents.

This is a variation of Hidden Ball I call The Smathers, after the possibly apocryphal story of the politician who smeared Sen. Claude Pepper by relying on the audience not knowing the meaning of words:
Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, he has a brother who is a known homo sapiens, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.

The story here isn't the Taxi 2000 business plan decennial, Avidor is keying on the words "Exit Strategy."

Avidor's oldest talking point is that PRT is a scam, a taxpayer ripoff. So even though he is on record as saying
"If those people want to pursue PRT with their own money, that's okay with me"

here he is calling attention to "the money," the search for investors, and to "Exit Strategy," to distort the meaning of "Exit Strategy" in order to make it sound suspect.

I get Ken's subtext in full, he means: Taxi 2000 planned to get taxpayer dollars to build a PRT system, and the original private investors would cash out and run, leaving the public holding The Bag.

It's as if Ken thinks anyone couldn't just Google investor exit strategy definition and get over 62 million hits, such as:
The Exit Strategy - Strategies for Investor Exit

The majority of Business investors will be looking for a planned exit strategy worked out at the time of investment. It will be very beneficial to work out the ideal exit strategy for potential investors before you seek funding. Investors will need to know when they can realise a return on investment so this is a crucial area of the pitch to get right.

Investors want a maximum return on initial investment and a well thought-out exit strategy provides them with the incentive to invest in your venture.

That is to say, investors in startups want to know when they'll realize a return on investment -- which, like it or not (and I don't really), is the whole point of venture capitalism as now practiced.

What we know: Every 'good' startup business plan includes an investor exit strategy.

Therefore when Ken Avidor writes Interesting - a business plan with an "Exit Strategy"? his interior monologue is screaming, 'Don't bother reading this, because I am an ignoramus. I don't know what I'm talking about. I really just don't know.'

gPRT Wall Street Weak

Friday, January 20, 2012

He's green until he's not

My fellow environmentalist and bicycling enthusiast Ken Avidor (Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA) is still trying to exercise his Luddite Veto on the Subcontinent (Amritsar, Punjab, India) -- all because the local authorities worked with an Indian consultant to select a transit system that is right for community needs.

Not surprisingly, those needs are like those in cities all over the world, and have been defined:
Indian cities are not maximizing the density influence to reduce the emissions. International research shows that the dense areas usually have fewer emissions. In India’s case, many cities which are dense are showing high emissions because of insufficient public transport and high influx of private vehicles.

...Then again, why do cities like Bhopal and Amritsar have higher per capita emissions than Chandigarh? Why do cities like Hyderabad and Jaipur have high travel activity than a city like Kolkata? The Indian cities analysis shows that having public transport facilities (e.g., Mumbai and Kolkata) and land-use transport integration (e.g., Chandigarh) can not only better transport be provided but also emissions and economic activity can be decoupled.

This is the lack of transit investments problem.

Two And Three Wheelers in India reported Amritsar had 9,903 auto rickshaws, which is 913 per 100,000 population. It's the third-highest in the whole country (iTrans, New Delhi, June 2009).  This is the local point-emissions problem.

Amritsar is also a city where streets are dominated by, in addition to auto rickshaws, pedicabs and other types of paratransit. All together they constitute a 94% mode share of all passenger travel in the city (Arora, A., Jawed, F. and Jarnhammar, M., Green and Pro-Poor? The Case of Informal Transport in India, 2010). This is the congestion problem.

Furthermore, the community is acting to ban vehicular traffic from the area of the 18th Century Golden Temple, in order to protect the historic structure's marble and gold walls from exhaust fumes.  This is the pollution/emissions and historic preservation problem.

An electric mass transit system is what the local authorities have decided should be a step in addressing these problems, and they have chosen pod transit. There is too much congestion for expanded bus transit, which would also mean emissions, and there is not enough right of way for rail.

But Ken Avidor doesn't care about letting Amritsar make their own decisions. This is what he says:
...there are other, less expensive ways to go from the train station to the city's main attraction:
An auto-rickshaw from the train station to the temple should cost around Rs 20, while a cycle-rickshaw will run about Rs 30.

There is a free bus service from the train station to the golden temple run by Golden Temple trust.

Ken wants Amritsar to maintain its dependence on rickshaws and buses -- he doesn't care if they have congestion and emissions. And in his PRT Moondoggie blog he uses it as an excuse to write -- yet again -- about the Cincinnati "Skyloop," which he continues to think was an actual PRT project rather than a technology screening and study that was part of an official public planning process.

Avidor also takes the opportunity to imply Skyloop (which, again, did not go past the 2001 study phase) is to blame for the current lack of progress in Cincinnati installing streetcars. Apparently electric transit is OK for America, not Amritsar.

It's a new chapter in an old, old story -- Ken (white American) thinks he knows what's better for the (multiethnic) people of Amritsar than their own democratically elected officials and highly educated planners.

So maybe he thinks Amritsar is in Indiana.



2. Another Luddite Veto (2011)

3. Short & Stout! (2010)

gPRT Policy analysis beats art college YET AGAIN!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fire Bad

Like OMG there was a big gigantic malfunction today involving the Morgantown PRT! Let's go to the coverage:
Investigators were working on Saturday to determine the cause of a transformer fire that caused a power outage at an El Cajon mall, fire officials said-

--oh hold on. That's not the story about Morgantown. That's one of the other 3,690 hits for 'electrical fire' currently being returned by Google News.

Courtesy of Laffable Luddite Ken Avidor, the Morgantown story is:


This is what I wrote back in 2010 about the so-called WVU PRT:
The PRT hucksters will often cite the so-called West Virginia University's Personal Rapid Transit in Morgantown as a successful example of PRT "technology":
A heavy weight PRT network opened in Morgantown, WV in 1975 and has delivered 110 million injury-free passenger miles.
But the WVU PRT is neither PRT (it's really an ordinary, automated people-mover similar to what you see in airports) or successful.

While the crackpot-free version goes something like this:
WBOY-12 Morgantown Jan. 11, 2012

West Virginia University officials responded to an electrical fire at the PRT, Personal Rapid Transit, substation on the Evansdale WVU campus Wednesday afternoon.

A mechanical malfunction which resulted in an electrical fire has interrupted service to passengers.

WVU officials said passengers were in no immediate danger and no injuries have been reported.

The system is expected to be operational by around 5 p.m. Wednesday.

The point, of course, is that electrical fires are common throughout the world and not inherent to Personal Rapid Transit. Today's fire was in the substation, the vehicles and track were not involved.

Ken Avidor is basically criticizing PRT for relying on electricity.

Update 1:

Avidor's panic-bashing of the Morgantown PRT is sort of like the time a car crashed into a power pole in a snowstorm, causing a power outage affecting the PRT, and Ken blogged "a snowstorm shut down the PRT."

Update 2:

Avidor's blog headline promises description of "chaos" caused by electrical fire -- then he quotes the Daily Athenaeum article that shows the emergency was handled in a calm, orderly and professional manner.

Students were evacuated, and no one was harmed, according to University officials.

The PRT service was restored by Wednesday evening.

Students, faculty and staff were able to use the Mountain Line bus service and WVU shuttles while the PRT was out of service.

"Normally, when the PRT shuts down for an extended period of time, shuttles are used to transport between stations," Mazzella said.

Max Carozza, a senior finance student, said he was stuck on the PRT for 30 minutes on the track along Beechurst Avenue.

"The lights flickered, and it shut off," he said. "It slowly died. The PRT voice told us to hang tight."

PRT workers then located the car and led the seven people on the PRT tracks to the Beechurst PRT station.

Devin Novak, a sophomore nursing student, said she waited on the PRT for an hour before she was rescued.

"They said it took so long because a girl was claustrophobic and they needed an ambulance for her," Novak said.

Novak asid [sic] that before being rescued, another student on the PRT tried to pry the door open herself, but was quickly told over the car's intercom not to proceed.

"You could tell something bad was happening," she said.

At the opening of his post, Ken re-treats us to part of his conspiracy theory about the Morgantown PRT, that evil transit "concept" that relies on electricity:

...the WVU PRT was created to monkey-wrench conventional modes of transit and will be expected to function as a paragon of "gadgetbahn" for as long as they can keep it going.
The FTA and Recovery Act are supporting the PRT's modernization program, so by "they" Avidor must mean the Federal Government. Can we quote you, Ken, that you believe the Obama Administration and USDOT Sec. Ray LaHood are anti-transit?

But Ken never attacks them as 'infeasible' or 'dangerous'; #ModeBigot.

Update 3:

(3/14/12) - 21,000 in Boston lose power due to transformer fire. Hey Avidor, maybe this is connected to the Raytheon PRT test center that used to be in Marlborough!