The View from a Folding Chair

10_14_09_socata_table.jpgSo.CA.TA in Fullerton in 2005 Photo:

It is important from time to time as an advocate to expose yourself to the broader universe of perceptions and experience beyond the universe of fellow advocates, agency staff, officials, etc. populating the policy sphere. We all have a stake in transportation issues and it is educational to meet the public and engage with it in an exchange of knowledge, hear their thoughts and concerns plus answer questions.

In my experience the most productive events to do outreach about transit are transportation related ones versus community street fairs, environmental expos, etc. Openings of new Metrolink stations and Metro fixed guideway projects, such as the Green Line, Red Line, and Orange Line, have always been excellent in that regard, along with the occasional transit fairs held at community centers and the like. The annual Alternative Energy and Transportation Expo in Santa Monica and Fullerton Railroad Days, which is currently in limbo due to local politics, have been very well attended events that I very much enjoy participating in.

As the Eastside Gold Line extension opening approaches, quite likely on Nov. 14th per a Metro staff report first noticed and posted by commentor LAofAnaheim on the Streetsblog Eastside opening thread, I have been looking back at what I have learned and experienced during my years staffing a booth on behalf of the Southern California Transit Advocates.

You get a wide variety of questions. Some are quite practical, like how do I get to LAX from downtown or the San Fernando Valley on a bus. Or a question about the status of a particular proposal — at the recent alt car expo a gentleman asked about having direct rail service linking Los Angeles and San Francisco. I was able to share with him the progress the Coast Rail Coordinating Council, whose agendas I receive, has had in that regard and the obstacles it faces, especially of funding and cooperation (or lack thereof) of the host freight railroad (U.P.).

The questions you get asked often depended on the location. At Fullerton people asked about the Metrolink half hour service in Orange County that OCTA plans to start next year. In Santa Monica you would be asked about the progress of the Exposition light rail project and westward extension of the Purple Line in the Wilshire corridor. And for some reason wherever you are folks are always asking about the progress of having high speed service to Vegas (aka maglev to Anaheim).

For over a decade I have had outreach materials from the California High Speed Rail Authority at our booths and have sought input from attendees about the proposed statewide bullet train network. With few exceptions the public would embrace it even as officials and bureaucrats fixated on cost, routing etc. This gave me a notion passage of the long-delayed bonds wasn’t a pipedream — sometimes ordinary people are way ahead of the experts and so called leaders.

Then you get the occasional perverse individual, someone who plants themselves in front of your display space and declares that public transportation is a waste of money and that no one rides rail. I usually let these types spout off because it is obvious their minds are set and any attempt at dialogue would serve no purpose. It is better to let them deliver their philippic and afterward thank them for sharing their point of view. They usually stroll away with a self satisfied thin smile as they seek out the next exhibitor to denounce. I do wonder why anyone would make the effort to go to an event whose purpose is anathema to them. Don’t they have something more enjoyable to do on a Saturday morning? Or maybe it gives them some sort of perverse pleasure engaging in smug vilifying.

This year at the alt car expo I encountered a variation on this with a gentleman whose comments lead up to the fact that public transit is subsidized and is not a profit making activity. He held up his hand as if that fact negated the need for any further discussion and strode away. There are people who think capitalism is the be all and end all and have no conception than anything other than profit can be the purpose of an activity.

Then we have the exotic technology true believers–folks touting a variety of solutions like monorail or maglev or personal rapid transit or (fill in the blank). I even met at the 2006 Alt-car Expo Brian C. Brooks, who the past few years has gotten some attention for his proposal of criss-crossing Los Angeles county with monorails built along flood control channels. The essential problem with these folks was summed up by David Brewster, publisher of a Seattle-based daily online newspaper called Crosscut. As quoted in the Nov. 5, 2007 Christian Science Monitor article "Mass transit plan makes waves in Seattle Ecotopia" regarding policy discussions being dominated by that those that are "… cantankerous, contentious, and think they can design a better transportation system because they did it last night in their garage."

One would think it is self-obvious billions are not spent based on scrawls made on the back of an envelope, but for a true believer once one has what they know is the answer all that is left is to work backward to prove it is what needs to be done (ignoring and or minimizing the downside, contrary data, political obstacles, etc.). I had one guy one Saturday morning at the alt cat expo who shoved into my hand a sheet he had prepared on Personal Rapid Transit. Once I started to point out the attributes that limit its application to being a circulator/collector at airports and the like and that it isn’t well suited for being a mass transit solution he snatched the sheet away and stalked off, angry at my temerity of not being an instant convert to his cause.

I do a lot of describing realpolitik as to funding and planning. A woman who lived in Orange County at one of the Fullerton shows told me a particular street she lived on needed bus service. This was solely based on anecdotal perceptions–she had no supporting facts as to commercial or industrial destinations it would serve that could at least provide some sense of whether such service would be productive. When I asked how well she knew the local political scene and what points of influence she could use to reach a member of the OCTA Board she confessed she didn’t even know which County Supervisor’s district she resided in. She had only a vague impression to justify what she wanted and no means of effectively advocating for the proposal. I tried to offer some fundamental first steps she could take but must admit I had qualms that someone who to that point had been so disengaged from the political process was unlikely to be successful as an advocate. But for what it was worth, I tried to share with her my knowledge of how one goes about advocating for a new bus line.

And then once in a while you’ll have an attendee spontaneously express heartfelt thanks. It is a small thing but it is nice to know a few folks grasp the value of what we do. It isn’t why do what we do, but we appreciate the kind thoughts when they do come our way. It helps you slog through the mounds of stupidity than you usually encounter as an advocate.

71 thoughts on The View from a Folding Chair

  1. If you are interested in findung out more about PRT and other new systems, please contact me. I noticed your comment that PRT cannot be a mass transit system. Perhaps you got that idea from Dr. Vuchic.

    I think I can show you enough to prove that he is wrong. All he has ever invented is negativity.
    Have you ever heard of Dr. Ed Anderson? Why not believe him, instead?

    Jack Slade

  2. “I noticed your comment that PRT cannot be a mass transit system.”

    Sure, it can be a transit system. I just don’t know if it can live up to the “mass” part.

  3. Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) is claimed by its promoters )J. Edward Anderson, President of Taxi 2000 Corporation, and Jerry Schneider of the University of Washington, among others) to combine the advantages of rapid Transit private cars. Actually, this is an imaginary system based on an operationally and economically infeasible concept (elaborate infrastructure, yet low capacity) and has no realistic potential for application in urban transportation.”

    – Professor Vukan Vuchic, “Transportation for Livable Cities” (Rutgers 1999):

    Read about J. Edward Anderson here:

  4. “I usually let these types spout off because it is obvious their minds are set and any attempt at dialogue would serve no purpose.”

    How do you know that their minds are set? Why not debate them? You may find that they are not so set in their ways. Your superiority complex toward anyone who might, just might, not be into transit is smugness itself.

    Hell, you might even find out that you are not so set in your ways… Unless it’s about PRT. PRT sucks donkey balls. Wait, let me be fair, computer generated renderings of PRT sucks donkey balls. We’ll see what happens when one gets built. See, I’m open-minded!

  5. Re: PRT:

    PRT promoters kind of remind me of third-party candidates running for President, or State Governor, or some other “big” office….along with the Democrat or Republican, there is a whole string of candidates belonging to parties most people have ever heard of.

    And they get a ridiculously low percentage of the total vote.

    If the third party candidates had started small, say City Council or School Board, they might gain some name recognition and have more success with the larger offices later on.

    Same with PRT. No one knows how well a regional PRT network (say, covering all streets in Los Angeles, Orange and the urban parts of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties) would scale. But it might work for smaller networks, say, covering the business park areas in Irvine, Costa Mesa and the like.

    Someone could, for example, ride Metrolink or a hypothetical freeway-based rail system to Irvine, transfer to the local PRT ,and ride to their office building. During the day, PRT would be useful for trips from office to lunch, or perhaps a meeting at another nearby building.

    Airport areas (terminals, hotels, parking, rent-a-car, transit stations) are also a possible candidate for PRT.

    But this idea that PRT can replace more conventional public transit systems–I’ll believe that when I see it.

  6. I’d love to have someone complain that “public transportation doesn’t turn a profit” – then I’d show that fool a chart of where the money comes from for the “profit-making” roads he used to drive their. The reality is that we have a highway system so deeply subsidized, both parts of the political spectrum forgot that we even fund it – it’s like the roads just appear magically out of nowhere for all of us to benefit, no general funds, sales taxes, property taxes, etc. required.

    You can knock those types of comments out of the park, and have some fun doing it, I’ve found as long as you keep a good sense of humor and use the other person’s ignorance as a toe hold into changing their minds.

  7. Maybe it’s not an either/or situation. What if PRT could support rail and increase its ridership? Rail has an accessibility problem in that every station that is added reduces the speed and overall level of service. A PRT collector/distributor system could bring people to rail stations without adding stations and even reduce the number of stations needed. If it can do so at a reasonable cost it could be a valuable tool for transit planners.

    My opinion is that we should be exploring PRT and other potentially good ideas. Give them a chance to see if they have merit before renouncing them.

    Two PRT systems are soon to open to the public. They are both small but are planned to be considerably expanded once functioning satisfactorily. Let’s see how they perform. If they work well, then let’s see how they can be improved upon.

    For more on PRT visit

  8. How many chances do the PRT guys get?

    PRT is a ridiculous idea that has wasted a lot of time and money in dozens of cities all over the world. PRT has been promoted here and in other cities by anti-transit, pro-highway individuals and groups who use it as a stalking horse to attack light rail (LRT) as being “too expensive” or “old fashioned”. Yet, the hype for PRT goes on and on and on….

    The much-hyped ULTra PRT project (really a glorified, automated golf cart) at Heathrow has been delayed twice – it was supposed to launch in 2008:

    The much-hyped Masdar PRT project will be a bunch of similar glorified golf carts running around in a basement:

    So much for the “revolution in sustainable transport”.

  9. There are nuts on both sides of the PRT debate, which is unfortunate because it’s an interesting technology. Fortunately more rational minds are seeing that it gets a chance to prove itself, or prove it unsuccesful. Don’t pay any attention to the people who post for or against it, just keep an open mind.

    There’s a project at Heathrow airport that has finished construction and is going in to operation in spring 2010. That will give us a real world implementation to look at and see if there’s value in the concept or not. NASA is also working with another company to build a test track at the Ames research center.

    Most of the posts for and against here are purely hypothetical, and for the most part strongly biased either for or against.

  10. I’d like to point out I carefully noted the possibility that there may be appropriate applications for PRT etc. as circulator/collectors at airports like Heathrow a la people movers. I have to agree with Spokker my doubts are about the word mass in the phrase mass transit.

    Also a large infrastructure firm did build a PRT test track outside Chicago in the 90s, but eventually decided it wasn’t worth pursuing commercially. The proponents have said it was a poorly planned system, not a fair test of the concept. Be that as it may, all you need are a few real world failures (a la the Vegas monorail) for a mostly untested technology to get a bad reputation. That is a simple reality.

  11. PRT won’t be successful until they solve the capacity/headway problem. Which is like saying perpetual motion will be successful just as soon as we find a way around the laws of thermodynamics.

    Low-capacity, individual pods on fixed guideways are a fundamentally flawed idea unless you’re running a ski-lift.

    The PRT advocates would be better served by putting their money into electric cars with automated driving systems. We’ll see those before we see maglev/tram/ski-lift PRT.

  12. The ULTra at Heathrow won’t prove anything. Even if it worked perfectly (it has missed two deadlines so far) ULTra is not feasible in an urban setting. That was the decision of citizens and public officials in Daventry, England:

    Due to legal restraints guide-ways at ground level will require to be enclosed within substantial uninterrupted fencing, making this configuration impracticable for most of the routing proposed for the inner areas of Daventry. High level guide-ways by their very presence would not only have a substantial impact on the character of the town, but also visually impact on individual households and neighbourhoods along the route.

    All evidence suggests that these proposals are moving at a pace with detailed plans now being put in place for a pilot route to precede full scale installation. Daventry people have not been apprised of the full extent of the infrastructure required to operate the proposed PRT system. This lack of information clearly denies them the opportunity to make reasoned judgement and comment. It would seem that DDC are reliant on the public reaction to the earlier showcase demonstration as a measure of public acceptance. The Working Group considers that it is not in the public interest for DDC to hold to this position.

    Throughout this investigation the Working Group has strived to remain impartial, seeking to present the facts as objectively as possible.

    And how much did it cost Daventry to study PRT?:

    The total expenditure on Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), including consideration of alternative transport modes, in the period of February 12 2007 to April 1 2009 was £485,936.43. This figure includes commissioned studies and all associated expenses.

    The PRT “project” at the Ames Research Center is Skytran/Unimodal which is beyond ridiculous:

  13. Discussion about this post at the “Transport Innovators” forum:

    This comment says a lot about the PRT guys:

    We all know Vuchic has misrepresented PRT for decades. There can be
    only two reasons for this:

    1. He truly doesn’t understand PRT after all this time
    2. He understands PRT, but chooses to misrepresent it.

    If it’s (1), he’s an idiot, and if it’s (2), he’s pond scum. Either
    way, he will go down in history as the man who set back transportation
    progress an entire generation. I will personally make sure that the
    world knows the damage he’s done. It’s one thing for know-nothing
    cartoonists to spout propaganda, but for a respected researcher to
    tell the same lie for 40 years is absolutely unforgivable.
    Mike C

  14. That last comment was not me, of course.

    Here’s a video I made of PRT guys saying nasty things about reality-based transit:

    Here’s a video of would-be PRT vendor Bill James and assistant talking about Jpods:

    Listen to him claim the PRT industry “is going to hire about 2 million people over the next 3 years”.

  15. Mr. Avidor, thanks for the peek at the PRT obsessives ranting at the “Transport Innovators” forum. What an odd mixture of insularity and inflated self-importance. And they ascribe to critics like me and Prof. Vuchic vast influence to explain why their fabulous technology hasn’t been eagerly adopted. My influence in the policy sphere is about zero and I imagine the well respected Vuchic would have a heartly similar laugh at the notion of his being all-powerful at shaping opinions.

    PRT as mass transit hasn’t gotten anywhere due to its failings. These poor folks are so invested in their dream technology that they create boogeymen to explain away the dismal state of its adoption. They can sneer and dismiss me all they want, but their inflated fantasy of PRT is going nowhere for reasons other than a few comments posted on the net or a researcher making some presentations. The poor deluded souls.

  16. Ken, thanks for reposting my forum comment. Vuchic has been lying about PRT for 4 decades, and it’s about time people started calling him on it.

    There are active PRT projects on 4 continents. These projects range from airport circulators to rail transit feeders to moderate-density city transit systems. Within the next 10 years there will be at least a half a dozen systems up and running.

    And yet, people like Ken Avidor and Dr. Vuchic still claim it is unworkable. Why is that? Why is it that the PRT “analysis” claims headways less than 16 seconds are impossible, even though 3 separate systems have received regulatory approval to run at 3 seconds? How can Dr. Vuchic claim that offline stations will require 1300 feet of guideway when a simple back-of-the-napkin calculation demonstrates that no more than 300 feet would be required, and indeed, the How do you and Dr Vuchic explain a 400% error in your calculations?

  17. (repost of my last message, sent accidentally before completion)

    Ken, thanks for reposting my forum comment. Vuchic has been lying about PRT for 4 decades, and it’s about time people started calling him on it.

    There are active PRT projects on 4 continents. These projects range from airport circulators to rail transit feeders to moderate-density city transit systems. Within the next 10 years there will be at least a half a dozen systems up and running.

    And yet, people like Ken Avidor and Dr. Vuchic still claim it is unworkable. Why is that? Why is it that the PRT “analysis” claims headways less than 16 seconds are impossible, even though 3 separate systems have received regulatory approval to run at 3 seconds? How can Dr. Vuchic claim that offline stations will require 1300 feet of guideway when a simple back-of-the-napkin calculation demonstrates that no more than 300 feet would be required, and indeed, the Heathrow system has even less than that?

    How do you and Dr Vuchic explain a 400% errors in your calculations?

  18. The PRT guys just love to argue, argue, argue…. it’s a waste of time…. but, that’s to be the idea,right?

    They show up at transportation meetings and heckle and argue like the tea-baggers.

    Here’s a video I made of one of these anti-LRT/pro-PRT hecklers at a meeting in June:

  19. “The PRT guys just love to argue, argue, argue…. it’s a waste of time…. but, that’s to be the idea,right?”

    While I agree that PRT is likely the worst transportation idea that batshit insane alternative technology freaks cling to, be careful what you call a waste of time. The time you spent making that video is no more productive in my eyes than spouting PRT bullshit on a blog.

  20. Spokker, why do you have such a negative opinion of PRT? It’s not technology love that drives PRT enthusiasts, it’s the operational benefits that PRT provides: reduced energy usage, lower operating costs, convenience, point-to-point travel, full accessibility, bicycle- and pedestrian-friendliness, unobtrusive infrastructure, round-the-clock operation.

    The ULTra PRT system being constructed at Heathrow consumes less than half the energy per passenger-mile than the most efficient US light rail line (San Diego). It consumes less than 1/7th the energy (per pass-mi) than the AVERAGE of all US light rail. All this, while providing a higher level of passenger service. Costs to build and capacity are on par with a street-level rail line.

    Current PRT systems don’t have the raw capacity of a full fledged metro rail (30000 pphpd), but then again, most light rail systems don’t have that capacity either. And metro systems cost 4-10 times more than a PRT system, so that high capacity comes at a cost.

    When you compare construction costs and capacity, PRT compares quite well with most rail lines in terms of capacity bang-for-the-buck — for a system that provides a high level of passenger service and relatively low operating cost.

    So PRT is a very good option today, in moderate density applications and as circulators for metro rail systems. Metro rail is still preferred for high density backbone applications where the high capacity would be fully utilized.

    If your interested in discussing this further, feel free to email me. I was a skeptic once too, until I did more research and discovered that PRT is much more than some high tech gadget.

  21. Mike, you mistakenly use the present tense for the PRT benefits you tout. There is no PRT system in existence that functions as you describe it.

    Heathrow hasn’t even gotten its system up and running yet. And an airport is a relative snap for a PRT system because it has limited, controlled points of entry.

    Converting the service grid of even a small bus system will prove to be an even bigger technological hurdle.

    Once that hurdle is cleared, PRT proponents must then justify the switching costs from any proven technology available on the market.

    If people need transit that can offer the equivalent utility of a car, why is PRT superior to an automobile? With all those tracks, it seems like all you are doing is putting a car on a leash.

    You need to answer why PRT’s leash is superior to untethered owned or leased cars, or rental cars, car sharing, or taxis for that matter.

    If PRT is a successor to public transit systems, how would capital, operations, maintenance and contingency costs be handled? You’ll still need a lot of humans to maintain the system, and you’ll need to have a pool of money for incidental costs (vandalism, litigation, etc.).

    You can try to correct on the deficiencies of today, but don’t make a clean break from history. San Diego got right with the Trolley what the Bay Area got wrong with BART.

  22. Wad:

    The lack of a running system doesn’t mean we know *nothing*. ULTra has been running on a test track for several years, where energy measurements can be made. And the nature of PRT makes it very predictable in terms of energy usage: a dedicated right-of-way, fully automated control, and purely on-demand vehicle movement means there are no significant variables in calculating the energy of a typical trip.

    Having said all that, yes, it will be nice to have real world systems that can actually demonstrate this. Those are coming soon. But I would be very surprised if the real world measurements deviate significantly from the projections gleaned from decades of research and test-track measurement. It’s far more likely that the real world deviation from projection will be minimal, and I am fully confident that the existence of real world systems will mostly validate the projections.

    That’s one of the reasons PRT people are so eager to see a real world system in operation, whereas rabid opponents like Ken Avidor vehemently oppose any project whatsoever — even the project at Heathrow, which is privately funded on private land in a foreign country. (Why on earth would anyone oppose such an effort, that will answer many questions without costing the public a dime?)

    “Once that hurdle is cleared, PRT proponents must then justify the switching costs from any proven technology available on the market.”

    New transit systems are being built all the time. What would be different about a PRT system that is tested and safety approved? Detailed PRT plans are already in place for many communities, most of them only awaiting validation at one of the pilot sites (e.g. Heathrow for the ULTra system, Masdar for 2getthere PRT, several future sites in Sweden and Korea for Vectus PRT).

    There is nothing about PRT that makes it more difficult to deploy. In fact, the light infrastructure makes it easier to deploy than other options. Primary construction on Heathrow’s pilot system was completed in *weeks*.

    “If people need transit that can offer the equivalent utility of a car, why is PRT superior to an automobile?”

    1) MUCH more safe. 2) MUCH less city land usage. 3) Pedestrian/bicyclist friendly. 4) Fully disabled-accessible (most systems) 5) No local emissions.

    Consider the land usage point: PRT guideway provides the capacity of a freeway lane in maybe 1/3rd to 1/10th the space of a freeway lane. And whereas freeway lanes must be clumped together in groups of 8 or 10, PRT guideways can be spread out. So instead of a 10-lane monstrosity slicing a neighborhood in half, there is a small, unobtrusive guideway (smaller than a pedestrian crosswalk) running overhead on one out of 4 city streets.

    Then there’s parking. PRT vehicles are equivalent to a small automobile, and would be reused throughout the day, perhaps 10 times in a daily commute. And PRT vehicles don’t need large lots to park – they can be packed together tightly in out-of-the-way storage areas when not in use. Automobiles require parking space that is 2-3 times larger than PRT storage (due to the need for individual vehicle access), AND automobile storage must be close to the major destinations.

    So 1/10th the PRT vehicles are required, the storage space per vehicle is 1/2 to 1/3 as large, and storage does not have to be close to destinations. The end result is at least 95% less city vehicle storage requirement for every passenger who switches from automobile to PRT. In a mature PRT-covered area, parking lots and garages might even be reclaimed for parks or housing.

    “If PRT is a successor to public transit systems, how would capital, operations, maintenance and contingency costs be handled?”

    Extensive studies have been done on this, by respected transit consultants. For example, Daventry (UK) had a very detailed feasibility study which calculated costs all the way down to light bulbs in the stations. This study, and others like them, projects $2-$3 fares will cover all operational costs and some or all capital costs.

    Of course, these are still projections, and we all await real-world validation. But the evidence is strong that PRT will be more financially sustainable than any existing US system (all of which require significant subsidy just for daily operations). The reason for this projected financial viability is the uniquely efficient operational model which eliminates the cost of the driver and the inefficiencies of scheduled operation.

    At the very least, the lofty claims from respected consultants are convincing enough for us to take a “wait-and-see” attitude, rather than the outright rejection pushed by opponents like Ken Avidor.

    “San Diego got right with the Trolley what the Bay Area got wrong with BART.”

    I agree. PRT has it’s place, but it’s not a panacea. Every application needs to be evaluated on its merits, and PRT is mature enough and promising enough to be *part* of that evaluation.

  23. Spokker: “In fact, you seem to be obsessed with this guy named Zimmerman. Your videos are creepy and so is your behavior, Avidor.”

    I was invited to that transportation meeting and had no idea that Zimmermann would show up to rant about PRT and LRT. I always bring my camera to transportation meetings to document the behavior of the PRT guys.

    Dean Zimmermann is a former Minneapolis councilman who was convicted of bribery in 2006. The Minnesota based Citizens for Personal Rapid Transit still meet in Zimmermann’s home. In this video. The FBI witness said Zimmermann tried to scam him with PRT:

    But, I agree that any video with a PRT guy is going to be creepy, Here’s a video with a PRT guy that I didn’t make that shows what PRT is really about… spreading misinformation about LRT:


  24. Why does Ken Avidor insist on guilt by associating a TECHNOLOGY with disreputable/questionable people who happen to say they support it? Because pure-form advocacy of any transportation technology, by anyone, does not determine how a government would use it in the real world.

    Advocacy outlines the stakes, but does not decide, public policy. If PRT doesn’t work, if it’s technically impossible as Ken Avidor has claimed, it wouldn’t have any credibility in the transportation field. Scientists wouldn’t keep trying to develop it, regulators wouldn’t keep safety approving it, entities like the EU and Swedish Rail wouldn’t be working on it, interests like World Wildlife Fund wouldn’t endorse it, companies of all sizes (big ones like BAA, POSCO and Masdar) wouldn’t keep investing in it, and firms like Arup and CH2M Hill wouldn’t try to build it.

    Politics is relevant to policy that would implement PRT, not to the feasibility of the technology. You shouldn’t oppose PRT because Dean Zimmermann is for it, any more than you should support PRT because the concept (as we know it today) was created by a liberal Democrat.

    Ken Avidor does what he does because he hates PRT, and hopes cooties from Dean Zimmermann (or Michele Bachmann or Mark Olson — I know, I don’t care either) will taint it in the minds of a critical mass of people.

  25. David Gow (Mr_Grant) has been part of the “anything except rail transit” guys (monorail, PRT, BRT etc) up in Seattle for many years. Here’s Gow’s screed against streetcars from 2003:

    Antebellum technology

    Mayor Greg Nickels’ South Lake Union streetcar proposal is the most ludicrous transportation nonsolution I have heard in quite some time. The streetcar record in city after city is clear: high construction costs, high subsidies and no significant effect on congestion. How can streetcars be part of an intelligently designed new biotech district, when streetcars guarantee its streets will be congested?

    I find it hard to believe that the best our civic leaders can offer us is this antebellum transit technology. Why is Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) not on the table for exploration? PRT is a “horizontal elevator” system that offers automated, on-demand, mass transit service.

    For the same amount Seattle is planning to invest in trains, a grid of lightweight, unobtrusive, elevated PRT rail can be built covering the entire city.

    PRT could even be deployed in South Lake Union, serving both as an efficient local circulator and to feed people to and from future train stations. And it could be done at a fraction of the cost of a streetcar line.

    So why aren’t Seattle’s leaders looking at PRT?

    Is it because the transit consultants giving them advice make an excellent living going around the country recommending trains?

    David Gow, Seattle

    The claim that rail transit is “antebellum” was absurd then and is absurd now… but the anti-LRT/pro-PRT guys still use it:

  26. Ken,

    Your accusation that David Gow is “anything but rail” rings hollow when your position seems to be “nothing but rail”. I’ve seen David Gow support rail when it’s done right but is it so unreasonable to be against specific rail projects that cost too much and provide too little?

    According to US government data, the Galveston light rail consumes more than 30,000 BTUs per passenger mile. This is fifteen times the San Diego light rail, which is the most efficient US light rail system at 2000 BTU/pass-mi. Now, don’t you think an alternative MIGHT have been better in Galveston, where they clearly don’t have the ridership to support rail?

    David Gow and I are enthusiastic about all forms of well-conceived public transportation, not just those which happen to be large vehicles gliding on precisely 2 rails. :-)

  27. “Nothing but rail” is not my “position”.

    But, it doesn’t matter what my “position” is.

    It’s up to citizens and public officials to decide what transportation is right for their community.

    In order to make those decisions, they need honest, accurate information.

    It is not accurate to claim that PRT is “faster, better, cheaper” than conventional transit because there is no true PRT system in revenue service anywhere in the world.

    If the PRT guys were really intent on creating their “revolution in sustainable transport”, they would put more time into proving it could work instead of arguing at transportation forums and blogs or putting out tons of hype and CGI videos on the web… just do it already.

    And the argument that a city can be served better by PRT than conventional transit could be tested with a peer-reviewed computer model… but, the PRT guys won’t do that because such a model would prove that real world circumstances (vandalism, weather etc.) would make a complex system such as PRT infeasible in an urban area.

    But, the PRT guys intention is not to build anything… it’s to mislead citizens and public officials.

    The intentions of the PRT guys become more clear when you learn that many of the more outspoken PRT promoters are also outspoken opponents of funding reality-based transit. Some even belong to anti-rail transit organizations such as CETA in Seattle. Very few of them belong to pro-transit organizations.

    The good news is there are so few of the PRT guys left. If you look at their forums, it’s always the same dozen or so PRT guys.

    Look how few people post on this PRT forum:

    Or this PRT forum:

    Compare that pathetic level of participation to any forum for reality-based transportation modes such as LRT, streetcar or bicycles.

  28. Ken, why do you oppose privately funded PRT systems in Masdar and Heathrow? If you were truly about getting information to citizens, and if you truly believe PRT will fail, then why would you oppose private money being spent to build it?

    I would think you would welcome private entities spending money on PRT, because if you’re right, then there would be a real-world failure which proves your point and costs citizens nothing; and if you’re wrong, i.e. PRT succeeds in those settings, well then as a transit activist you’d have a new public transit option to promote as an alternative to cars.

    Because cars are the real enemy here, right Ken? If those private systems are successful at demonstrating the economic and environmental sustainability of PRT in a real world setting, you will support it, right? Of course you would, because it would be hypocritical for a pro-transit advocate to oppose a proven transit solution.

  29. Another question Ken:

    Why do you oppose Morgantown PRT? That is a public transit system that has been moving 16,000 passengers per day for decades, without a single serious incident, and with $0.50 fares covering half of operating costs.

    That’s thousands of automobiles taken off the roads of Morgantown every single day and you, as a supposed “pro-transit” anti-car activist, continuously mock this public transit system which has eliminated millions of automobile-miles in its operating lifetime.

    How can you justify that position, Ken?

  30. To be fair, a lot of Hitler’s criticisms could apply to a lot of public transportation systems, not just this dumb PRT system. Metrolink came to mind when I watched it.

  31. They’re not straw men in the least, just very direct and simple questions: why do you oppose privately funded Masdar and Heathrow, and why do you mock a public transit system that removes millions of automobile-miles from the road every year?

    Simple questions. Your stubborn refusal to answer them is quite telling.

    Oh, and BTW, now that you finally know who I am, how about debating me?

  32. Ken, how am I “anything but rail,” when my letter that you quoted includes:

    >PRT could even be deployed in South Lake Union,
    >serving both as an efficient local circulator
    >and to feed people to and from future train stations.


  33. Also Ken, since you cross-posted the same Times LTE that you used in your Daily Kos post ( ), I have a question about something else in that post. I asked you there, but I thought maybe you’d answer it now.

    For Streetsblog readers, if you haven’t seen it, Ken included a section called “In other Pod People news,” a lengthy list of PRT concepts/companies. Next to each he made a little comment.

    For ULTra he wrote, “postponed a second time.” For Alden he commented “octogenarian dabbler… goofy.” Next to Vectus: “glorified roller coaster.” He wrote Cabintaxi is “wacky,” Beamways “very silly,” CyberTran “totally ridiculous,” and SkyTran “totally absurd.” Go down the list and read all the criticisms and slams.

    And regarding MISTER, a company based in Opole, Poland, Ken Avidor’s comment was: “Polish PRT?”

    What did you mean by that, Ken?

  34. “And regarding MISTER, a company based in Opole, Poland, Ken Avidor’s comment was: “Polish PRT?””

    So a polack walks into a bar and promotes a PRT concept…

  35. So a priest, a rabbi and Alfonso Ribeiro are riding PRT. “Oh no,” the priest exclaims, “The pod has broken down again!” And then Ken Avidor makes his 20th YouTube video about Dean Zimmerman.

  36. @35

    Ken, does the “honest, accurate information” you stand for include the time you posted an old Google Maps photo of Cardiff, taken before the ULTra PRT test track was built, and claimed it had been bulldozed? (Sorry, but your use of the Fox News “?” doesn’t get you off the hook.)

    Or the time you claimed the Morgantown PRT broke down in the snow? But it turned out an automobile had crashed into a power pole and caused a blackout?

    Or how about when you linked ATS (ULTra) board member Trevor Smallwood to a multi-fatality rail accident in the UK? Except it turned out a court blamed another rail company, not Smallwood’s company?

    How about when you tried to blame 10-15 years of neighborhood neglect in Daventry on 2-3 years of PRT planning?

    Are these examples of what you mean by “honest” and “accurate”?

    (Note to readers: I found my Streetsblog login)

  37. Wow… that big heap of straw men keeps getting bigger and bigger.

    Whenever anyone tries to inject some reality into a discussion about PRT, the handful of PRT true believers attack the messengers; Vukan Vuchic, Michael Setty… and me.

    As for that straw man about me blaming neglect in Daventry on PRT.

    It wasn’t me… I quoted one of the many letters written to the local newspapers complaining about Chris Milar’s ridiculous pod plan:

    As Daventry District Council continues to reveal ambitious plans for the future, including state-of-the-art transport systems, new homes, shops and 21st century facilities, residents say The Grange has been left to fall apart.

    Then there’s this article:

    Pod Off! Residents oppose Daventry PRT scheme

    MORE than 100 Daventry townspeople voiced their opposition to proposals for a pod transport network in the town at a public meeting on Monday night.

    In September 2007, the Daventry Express had an article about a PRT conference held in Daventry.

    Daventry District Councilor channeled Lyle Langly with this quote:

    “Daventry is very much at the forefront of this. Across Europe, Daventry is at the cutting edge.

    “This is a state-of-the-art new form of public transport which has a lot of benefits. This is very exciting and very positive.

    “If it works in Daventry, everyone else will want it.”

    Fast forward to the April, 2009 when the newspaper published an article titled “Pod Off! Residents oppose Daventry PRT scheme”

    More than 100 Daventry townspeople voiced their opposition to proposals for a pod transport network in the town at a public meeting on Monday night.

    Why were the citizens upset?

    Several people spoke angrily about the lack of consultation from DDC on the pods, and others said not enough information had been made public by the district council.

    Rosemary Cooper said: “Many people are very angry about the pods and we still feel there’s been a lack of information and a lack of consultation with the public.”

    Another said: “I feel as if I’m almost helpless and don’t know how to change things that are happening.”

    The Daventry Town Council (a separate governing body than the DDC) agreed, saying:

    “Daventry people have not been apprised of the full extent of the infrastructure required to operate the proposed PRT system. This lack of information clearly denies them the opportunity to make reasoned judgement and comment. “

    In a meeting in April, after listening to a report by a councilor who had visited Heathrow 5 and saw the transportation revolution first-hand, the Daventry Town Council voted to reject the pods:

    RESOLVED: That Daventry Town Council reject Daventry District Council’s proposals for a PRT system and/or pilot scheme in the town, on the basis that it is inappropriate for and unacceptable to the people of Daventry.

    And what did the pod episode cost?. Here’s a June 4th letter to the Leamington Courier from a Daventry Town Councillor titled “Shock at cost of pod scheme”

    I RECENTLY requested some information from Daventry District Council (DDC) regarding expenditure on the PRT system proposed for Daventry.

    I was more than shocked by the result and thought it incumbent on me to share the information with your readership. See quoted response below.

    “The total expenditure on Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), including consideration of alternative transport modes, in the period of February 12 2007 to April 1 2009 was £485,936.43. This figure includes commissioned studies and all associated expenses.

    “It is not a simple process to extract purely PRT costs, however for the period set out in this response PRT was coded separately within our internal finance processes.

    “Please note that the council received grant funding from Northamptonshire Enterprise Limited of £200,000 (in 2007) as support for our studies.

    “Hence the net Council expenditure for PRT in the period stated above was £285,936.43.” (Northamptonshire Enterprise Limited (NEL) is a Government funded body)

    With nearly half a million pounds being spent on PRT I also asked how much money had been spent on the alternative transport systems and the answer appears to be nothing.

    This begs the question what are the alternative transport systems being considered and how serious has the consideration of them been?

    Another councilor’s letter mentions a similar figure:

    I am a Daventry resident and a member of the DDC PRT Implementation: Public Advisory Panel – a people’s panel that was set up to look at different types of transport and give its verdict on the right type of technology for Daventry.

    There are 30 members of the panel who do not all live in Daventry so a public meeting would give the town’s residents an input before we spend another £497,000.

    £497,000… that’s a lot of money for nothing, Mr. Gow. It’s understandable why the residents were angry.

    Do you have any evidence that I had something to do with the grassroots revolt against the pod in Daventry, Mr. Gow?

    Another question, Mr. Gow…. do you earn any money promoting PRT and commenting about PRT and PRT’s critics on blogs?

  38. Ken, I don’t care about Daventry. You haven’t answered my questions: why do you vehemently oppose privately funded PRT projects at Heathrow and Masdar, and why do you mock the Morgantown PRT, a transit system which has been removing millions of automobile-miles from the streets of Morgantown every year for decades?

    Why do you avoid answering these simple questions? Just give us your reasons, don’t you think you owe your readers that?

  39. Ken, the Express article (it wasn’t a letter) mentioned Grange decline and PRT, and you cheered that linkage, and keep on promoting it.

    You always ignore context. As I pointed out back then, the District would be spending money on planning anyway (on a broad range of topics, not just transit) because population was projected to go up by 40,000 by 2021. Have you tuned out yet, Ken? Because I want you to pay attention and get the point: even if PRT had not been in the picture, they would have spent that £285,936 studying light rail, streetcars or buses, not on The Grange neighborhood. Understand?

    100 residents who complained about “lack of consultation,” and “not enough information”? The District government posted voluminous information and reports! It’s not DDC’s fault 100 people out of 70,000+ residents weren’t paying attention until late in the process (who? Politicians who don’t like the District? Anti-PRTeabaggers? You tell me).

    Finally, the money question: Ken, you are already well acquainted with what my terms are.

    Why won’t you explain why you oppose private PRT development? Why do you think a 30+ year old transit system (Morgantown) shouldn’t need maintenance and upgrades?

    And what did you mean by “Polish PRT?”

Comments are closed.


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