Other Voices: PRT –  a solution looking for a problem

The April 26 Town Crier reported on Mountain View's ongoing fascination with “Pod cars,” otherwise known as "Automated Guideway Transit" (AGT) or more accurately as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). This is a bad idea that just won’t die despite many shortcomings with the concept as discussed by experts. Gökçe Günel, for example, explained why Masdar City's PRT is an “Expensive Toy.” (See https://www.citylab.com/life/2014/09/personal-rapid-transit-is-probably-never-going-to-happen/380467/.)

Steven Hauser explains that PRT is "a 40-year-old concept for a system of autonomous vehicles that can go to multiple destinations on demand, on a track or guideway. Techo-cultists are fascinated by it – a Jetsonesque technology that has its own German joke word, “gadgetbahn.” Like most cults, it has a core of true believers and the more sinister quacks and scammers that prey upon them. Right wing nutcases back the PRT technology movement; they know it will never be built and PRT proposals can block or dismantle real public transit infrastructure and systems. Occasionally, left wing fantasy loonies who want to transform the world into a Futurama cartoon back PRT schemes. All the PRT backers say 'if only' – 'if only there were politicians to back a real big system it would work; if only there were funding; if only ….'” (See https://www.tc.umn.edu/~hause011/article/prt.html.)

Fabien and Young explain that "PRT promoters speak in the conjectural tones of 'could' and 'would'. Or 'can' and 'will'.   After 50 years of such conversations, we cannot truthfully state in the present tense: PRT satisfies urban transport needs. At best, we can point to West Virginia University, which is served by a USDOT demo from the 1970s and a few recent shuttles overseas." (See https://www.podcar.org/News/2016/05/prts-conundrum-why-thebusiness-case-for.)

The folks in Minnesota had to deal with this, as you can read in the PRT Boondoggle blog (https://prtboondoggle.blogspot.com/).

PRT only seems to get built in niche areas, such as airports or planned communities with car restrictions. Author Eric Jaffe points out that "though the concept has been around for half a century, only five completed systems in the world can be reasonably defined as personal rapid transit: those in Morgantown, West Virginia, which opened in 1975; Rotterdam in The Netherlands (1999); Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (2010); Heathrow Airport in London (2011); and Suncheon Bay in South Korea (2014). While there's been a noticeable uptick in the past 15 years, four projects in that span is still, in the report's own words, 'not enough to claim that there is an active market sufficient to support an industry.'" (See https://www.citylab.com/life/2014/09/personal-rapid-transit-is-probably-never-going-to-happen/380467/.)

This topic has been discussed at length. I recommend a couple of articles on the Light Rail Now website.

First, there’s “Let’s Get Real about Personal Rapid Transit,” by Ken Avidor (https://www.lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_prt001.htm). He points out that “PRT has a solid 30-year record of failure. Its main purpose in recent years seems to have been to provide a cover enabling its proponents to spread disinformation about real, workable transit systems.” (delete altogether if you need more space.

 “The unsubstantiated claims of PRT proponents are always presented in the present tense as if the system is a proven success … which, of course, it certainly is not. Promoters never seem to fail to bash real transit, such as light rail (LRT), as ‘old-fashioned technology.’ Sadly, the media rarely check the veracity of PRT publicity and propaganda.”

A longer, more technical article is “Cyberspace Dream Keeps Colliding with Reality” (https://lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_prt001.htm). The authors write, “Despite the persistent and fervent claims of its promoters, repeated attempts to implement a working PRT system, even in very small-scale scenarios, have invariably failed. Not a single PRT plan, during these promotional efforts over the past 40 years or more, has seen successful implementation even in a small test application, much less a major, heavy-duty, citywide rapid transit application. Early would-be PRT installations, such as the AirTrans system at Dallas-Ft. Worth Regional Airport, and the PRT at West Virginia University at Morgantown, eschewed any attempt to provide true PRT-style, small-vehicle, customized origin-destination service, and were implemented in effect as line-haul automated guideway transit (AGT) peoplemover systems with some innovative features (such as offline stations).”

And finally, the good folks at Light Rail Now have put up a helpful list of links to various Monorail, PRT, AGT and “Gadget Transit” analyses at https://lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_monorail.htm.

A good article by Setty and Demery points out that, “In our view, it is a big waste of time advocating such ‘gee-whiz’ options, given the severe limits of monorails and similar technologies such as PRT, when U.S. transportation problems are almost always sociopolitical and economic ‘not technical’ in nature.” (See https://www.planetizen.com/node/70.)

Mountain View's staff and city council should do some research beware spending money on this solution looking for a problem.

Bill Hough is a Los Altos resident working for a California-based transportation agency. He has a master's degree in transportation from Brooklyn's Polytechnic University.

 

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Other Voices: First Street Green and offices – yes, please!

Downtown Los Altos has suffered too long from lack of private investment and redevelopment, so I love Los Altos Community Investment’s proposal for a new office building and public park on First Street. I find the design appealing, restrained and smart, but it also strikes me as a generous offer for public benefits and potential catalyst for future investments and revitalization in the downtown triangle.

Times change, the economy changes and generations and demographics change, but some local attitudes about preserving a “quaint downtown” never seem to budge. The small but vocal antidevelopment movement must be brought to heel because it stifles downtown economic vitality.

You had me at 'hello': Other Voices

I was born into an analog world and destined to die in a digital universe. That’s OK with me. I love change and welcome this cutting-edge technology where information is but a click away. It’s impossible to download “life,” especially if your power cord is unplugged, but laughter is a universal connection – and sometimes you just gotta laugh!

A friend’s recent “conversation” with his teenage daughter humorously illustrates what I call “the power of the ping.” Arriving home after work, he greeted his wife and teasingly asked where their daughter was hiding. “She’s upstairs studying in her room,” his wife said.

Other Voices: Educational foundation celebrates schools

Families from throughout the Los Altos School District will gather at the Junior Olympics Saturday. This day is more than just a chance for some friendly competition among students and schools – it is a celebration of our community and how much our schools contribute to making Los Altos a great place to raise a family.

As part of this tradition, the Los Altos Educational Foundation (LAEF) presents the district with a check representing the culmination of our fundraising efforts – $3.7 million this year. We will achieve this impressive goal thanks to all our donors, large and small, within the parent community and beyond, as well as extensive corporate matching funds. These donations provide for the programs that enhance learning for every student from transitional kindergarten through eighth grade in the Los Altos School District.

Why DeVos is so objectionable: Other Voices

In his March 1 Town Crier column, “Clearing up misconceptions about charter schools,” John Phelps celebrated charter schools but failed to acknowledge the essence of what has made Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos such a disturbing choice. If she were merely a proponent of expanding charter school choices, as so many of former President Barack Obama’s education appointees were, the opposition to her nomination would not have been so strong.

From the City Manager's Desk: Downtown Vision project needs your feedback

Over the last several years, there have been many community discussions regarding development projects and how they may or may not fit the character of Los Altos. Ask one person what makes Los Altos unique and you might hear comments about its small-town charm, yet someone else may remark about the specialty shops they can only find in Los Altos. As a new resident, I’m coming to find my own definition of what makes Los Altos such a wonderful place to live.

As stewards of your city, the Los Altos City Council and staff have initiated a community vision process for the downtown area. The Downtown Vision effort will include multiple opportunities for the community to engage in the process and share ideas. The objective of the process is to gather feedback from all community members to identify the most preferred direction for maintaining and enhancing the vitality of downtown Los Altos. For the Downtown Vision project to be successful, we need to hear from you.

Protect the majority from redesign by the few: Other Voices

I met a woman at a Los Altos City Council meeting recently who was frightened. She had lived in Los Altos for four decades, and now she was afraid that a massive, five-story building would be developed on El Camino Real and would loom over her backyard.

She is right to be worried. The potential changes to the height and density of buildings in Los Altos can impact any commercial area near our homes. Right now, the battle zones are El Camino Real, downtown Los Altos and Loyola Corners. But if developers win victories there, the commercial zone near you may be next. And though the council recently imposed a temporary moratorium on building along El Camino Real, that’s the last one the city can impose there. It cannot be extended again. Solutions must be applied in the interim.


Submit a Letter to the Editor

The Town Crier welcomes letters to the editor on current events pertinent to Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. Write to us at 138 Main St., Los Altos 94022, Attn: Editor, or email editor Bruce Barton at bruceb@latc.com. Because editorial space is limited, please confine letters to no more than 200 words. Include a phone number for verification purposes. Anonymous letters will not be printed.

You can also have your say right here at losaltosonline.com – scroll to the bottom of any story to add a comment. 

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