The 2006 Legislature has adjourned this year with transportation winners and losers. Northstar Commuter Line got $60 million in bonding and the Central Corridor got $7.8 million. Among the losers of this session was Personal Rapid Transit (PRT).
Personal Rapid Transit is a futuristic transportation concept comprised of thousands of little pods on an elevated, monorail-like structure with many off-line stations.
For years, bills were introduced into the legislature that granted bonding, regulatory and tax advantages to develop a PRT industry in Minnesota. Not one of these bills survived the legislative process, but along the way they provided a platform for anti-LRT, anti-Northstar politicians like Senator Michele Bachmann and Representative Mark Olson to denounce conventional transit as too expensive or old fashioned.
For over 30 years PRT seemed to have support in Minnesota from members of anti-transit, pro-highway groups. PRT had no support from traditional transit groups such as Transit for Livable Communities and the Sierra Club North Star, both of which have resolutions opposing the public funding of PRT.
Perhaps the high point for PRT promoters at the Capitol was the 2004 session when a PRT bonding bill for $4 million was passed by the House only to be extinguished in a conference committee. Things went quickly downhill after that.
Late in 2004, PRT “visionary” Professor J. Edward Anderson was prevented from regaining control of the Taxi 2000 Corporation. Some of the company’s shareholders were bitter. Michael Andregg of Saint Paul wrote in a letter to the Pioneer Press, “I was present at all of the relevant shareholder meetings and can affirm without reservation that this company was taken over by a gang of political opportunists led by one Morrie Anderson.”
Morrie Anderson was chair of the Citizen’s League’s Transportation Committee. The Citizens League is a Minnesota organization that has traditionaly been opposed to rail transit. A previous CEO of Taxi 2000, Sheffer Lang 1927-2003) was a strong opponent of rail transit at the Citizens League. Lang was known for fierce attacks on transit such as this statement: “The highway sets the standard. … Behind every single one of these [rail] initiatives is a bunch of people who are convinced… that the automobile is the curse of modern civilization.”
In 2005, the Taxi 2000 Corporation filed a lawsuit and restraining order against J. Edward Anderson and two associates. An affidavit was filed with the lawsuit by Jeral Poskey, a Taxi 2000 employee, now Chairman of The Advanced Transit Association (ATRA) Poskey told how he retrieved a Taxi 2000 computer from the home of Ed Anderson. Poskey discovered that the hard drive had been tampered with and company files were missing. Poskey managed to recover the files from the hard drive and discovered e-mails Ed Anderson had sent before and after announcing he left Taxi 2000 to start his own company. In some of the e-mails the founder and former Taxi 2000 CEO, Ed Anderson denounced the current CEO Morrie Anderson. Anderson’s e-mails also revealed a close, yet stormy relationship with a highway engineering firm, Short, Eliott Hendrikson (SEH). SEH shares two lobbyists with Taxi 2000.
Also in 2005, One of PRT’s most energetic promoters, Minneapolis Councilman Dean Zimmermann, was investigated and charged by the U.S. Attorney’s office with extorting bribes from a developer. Zimmermann subsequently lost his seat on the council to Robert Lilligren, a supporter of conventional transit. Dean Zimmermann is scheduled to go on trial in July, 2006. Without Zimmermann, the remaining promoters of PRT in Minnesota are mostly right-wing, pro-highway Republicans. PRT has lost its support among liberal and moderate Minnesota politicians. An attempt by Representative Mark Olson to attach a PRT amendment to a bonding bill in the Minnesota House on April 12th was voted down 26 to 107.
Although the Taxi 2000 Corporation and Dean Zimmermann’s troubles likely sealed PRT’s fate at the Capitol, a far more likely factor was the phenomenal success of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line.