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.