End of an era for Personal Rapid Transit

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.

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    Mass transit

    The AutoRail Transportation System is right around the corner. Just hang in there.

    Citizens League Transportation Policy Position

    The current Citizens League transportation policy positions are based on the 2005 report "Driving Blind" and do not include any opposition to LRT. The current Citizens League position calls for significant transit improvements (which include LRT) as part of a program to offer free-flow pricing (often called congestion pricing) on a regional basis. Putting a price on solo driving that reflects more of the true costs and offering better transit options are just two of the choices that must be offered simultaneously to attack congestion. The anti-LRT statement that the History Center attributes to the Citizens League does not come from our 1991 Light Rail Transit statement that opposed the Regional Transit Board's proposal to the Legislature. In fact, I am going to investigate where that statement does come from since I am not familiar with it and it does not read like anything that would be published in our policy work. Back in 1991, we were opposing building out an LRT system with nine radial spokes at a high cost. We wanted a single demonstration first that could be assessed and noted that the Hiawatha Line would be much cheaper than Central Corridor (which was then proposed as the first line). We now have the Hiawatha demonstration and it seems to be successful from a ridership perspective and is popular with the public. The Citizens League has not performed an independent analysis, but after four years the Hiawatha line has passed the initial novelty effect in my view. That doesn’t mean that we can view the Hiawatha line as a “typical” LRT line and I don’t suspect that Central Corridor is a typical example either, so we always need to assess the impacts for each project. The Citizens League 1991 position also didn’t discuss the reality that LRT is also about economic development, not just ridership. That is one of the reasons why we are proposing that a mechanism called "value capture" be used to finance major transit facilities that increase property values. This would essentially be using transit TIF districts to help close some of the funding gaps and get projects moving. The current Citizens League position also calls for revenues from free-flow pricing (beyond the program operating costs) to be used for transit operations. That's why free-flow pricing needs to be implemented on a regional basis alongside transit improvements. It is the best way to begin to integrate our transportation system and inform our choices. I would also note that the Citizens League is not anti-PRT and it is somewhat a mystery to me (other than the pursuit of scarce transit dollars) why some PRT and LRT supporters seem to genuinely dislike each other. We must have the political courage and leadership to more appropriately price the costs of our dominant transportation mode -- solo driving -- and then we will begin to find out what people's choices are. To do so will take political courage and leadership. If the public wants PRT circulators on the I-494 strip to feed a couple of LRT lines, what is wrong with that?

    PRT, like the Zepplin, is

    PRT, like the Zepplin, is technology that just does not work for transit. After 40 years of development there are no working systems only scandals, stock pumping schemes and scams. Maybe ValleyFair will use it to send 15 people to the hospital like the "WildThing" fun ride!

    Good 'ol Sheffer must be

    Good 'ol Sheffer must be rolling in his grave. I promise he is not related to me as far as I know. I just might be the "Anti-Sheffer", however. Adieu, PRT! Good ridance.

    From the PiPress ... Warren

    From the PiPress ...
    Warren Anderson, a leading Republican activist in St. Paul, spoke against light rail, calling it "not fiscally sound." He said personal rapid transit, a system of small, robotic cars on an elevated guideway, would serve more of the city for the same amount of money. "All you get for all that money is 11 miles of track," he said of light rail.

    I am amused by the anti-PRT

    I am amused by the anti-PRT rant found in the writings of Mr. Avidor. Such poverty of thought is evidenced when someone spends their career being against something. If PRT could be practical, it would be a boon. Why spend so much time and energy being against something like this? As far as taxpayer waste is concerned, worse things have been done. Suppose all the funding comes from private concerns, then what? The skepticism I share with Mr. Avidor is that PRT could function well as an entire system for a city. The probabilities of error do escalate with the number of moving vehicles. However, small scale applications, such as airports, office parks, suburban-suburban systems could be very advantageous and workable, enhancing the workings of other transit modalities. This is not a zero sum game, winner take all. Our goal as a society ought to be about fitting the best solutions to different problems. LRT, buses, subways, and PRT could all have applications to which they are best suited. Absolutist, all-or-none thinking won't get the job done.

    PRT has had thirty years and

    PRT has had thirty years and an estimated $ 1 billion spent, numerous studies and projects and there's nothing to show for it. Time to move on.

    Google is showing European

    Google is showing European Union-backed PRT development going on in Britain and Sweden. One is backed by the company that runs Heathrow Airport, the other is designed by Posco, a huge Korean steel company. It seems that reports of PRT's death are premature.

    PRT offers potential that

    PRT offers potential that other systems do not, both automobile-based systems and traditional large-scale mass transit. The technological solutions to the problems of automobiles (alternate fuels and self-driving cars) are both far off in any practical sense. Conventional mass transit, unfortunately, has no new ideas at all. They just recycle the old ideas and just hope that no one does a simple cost-benefit analysis. The situation with Taxi 2000 is very unfortunate, and their infighting has done us all a diservice. Dean Zimmerman's framing by the FBI was also unfortunate for PRT; I'm sure it didn't have anything to do with his support for PRT, but more reflected on how strongly the DFL hates the Green Party, and probably the result of his anti-federal-government policies as a city council member. And so you are right, it looks quite likely that Minnesota won't be the birthplace of practical PRT. That's a real loss for Minnesota -- the state had a chance to be part of something really important. Nevertheless, the future for PRT looks bright elsewhere, with the projects in Britain and Dubai. You can't suppress everyone's imagination and desire for something better than the status quo.

    Readers of this article

    Readers of this article should be made aware that Mr. Avidor is editor of at least one website utterly devoted to all things anti-PRT. When I attempted to inquire of him by E-mail just why he is so compelled to trash the idea -- or for that matter why he is so threatened by the technology (what public "policy groups" might be backing him up) -- there was unsurprisingly no reply; indeed, the E-mail address furnished with the site proudly interjects the proviso, "I will not read nor respond to any messages from PRT fanatics". Cowardly and unprofessional is such know-it-all pravado, and plainly typical is this article of Yellow Journalism. Nowhere in it does he address any specific shortcomings of the PRT concept, choosing instead to focus almost entirely on internal politics and skeptical guardians of taxpayers' money. Anyone who has seriously investigated the PRT story will tell you that the biggest bug-a-boo frustrating the effort is trying to convince the public that many single units can effectively transport most commuters at least as well as only a few very heavy, mechanically complicated -- and much more expensive -- light rail vehicles. Visually, the tiny pods just don't sell themselves as "mass" transit, and as a partial result their potential in more limited applications suffers greatly. The U.S. has been built upon one successful application after another of untried, sometimes frightening forms of advanced technology. The Wright brothers and Eli Witney had their share of scorn from a doubting public, and yet they broke through to unimagined advances. LRT for the Twin Cities itself was dismissed innumerable times as a pipe dream. Pathetically, Avidor presents and nurtures this very same aggression against well-researched social improvement, while Europe, Asia (in this case, South Korea), and the Middle East are moving ahead with Minnesota technology.

    Ren Tawil says, "...convince

    Ren Tawil says, "...convince the public that many single units can effectively transport ... at least as well as only a few very heavy, mechanically complicated -- and much more expensive ..." The _public_ needs no convincing as they are already using PRT-style technology. "[M]any single units" is the why the Internet and the World Wide Web are so phenomenally successful and conversely, why the old telephone system with it's heavy, centralized network was unable to stop these tiny, self-aware packets of information from revolutionizing communication. Unfortunately the Baby Bells have not given up the fight to control the Internet politically and economically, where they failed to prevail technologically. I find it amusing that Avidor, et al, use the electronic analogue of PRT to suppress its real-world, meat-space transportation equivalent.

    Mr. Avidor's rabid and

    Mr. Avidor's rabid and hysterically over-the-top opposition to PRT puzzled me, until I investigated other portions of his website. There, he reveals his cherished utopian dream called _"Illiychville",_ a community he designed to be surrounded by farmland, with elegant arched buildings - and no cars, no motorized transport at all, just horse drawn wagons and bicycles and pedestrians. The economic support for the town is supposed to be tourists who will hike in across the farms to marvel at the beauty and buy wonderful artist pottery to lug home. He hopes the tourists will be so inspired that they will remodel their communities to resemble his luddite "no car" dream world. Mr. Avidor is not really in favor of light rail, he just sees it as a way to get the rest of us out of those "horrible cars", and his ultimate goal is the end of all motorized transport. He despises PRT because it vaguely resembles the cars he hates, and worse, PRT networks could easily survive the coming "end of oil" and thwart his post-techonogical utopian dreams.

    Are you the Chris Muir who

    Are you the Chris Muir who creates the comic Day by Day? Actually, car-free streets, neighborhoods and car-free cities exist and they are very popular. In Minneapolis we have Nicollet Mall which is car-free and a very popular street. Most people prefer to live apart from the noise and pollution that cars create. Even in the suburbs, people reside on cul-de-sacs to discourage other motorists from driving down their street. Would tourists flock to a a city without cars? Thay already do in Venice, Italy.

    That is some other Chris

    That is some other Chris Muir, apparently. And Venice is beautiful.

    The literal translation of

    The literal translation of _utopia_ is "no place." It's an idealized world that doesn't exist. The vast majority of the present world moves by non-motorized transit (such as walking, bicycling, or on the back of an animal). Simple agrarian communities exist all over the world. Meanwhile, _cornucopians_ (believers in endless abundance of materials and energy for human consumption) promote the idea that oil scarcity will not stop the development of a world based on plentiful energy. But a vast industrial infrastructure built on "renewable" energy has *never existed.* PRT has also *never existed.* %{color:blue;}*So ... which is the real utopia?*%

    "... a vast industrial

    "... a vast industrial infrastructure built on 'renewable' energy has never existed. PRT has also never existed" Thanks for the encouragement you ninny.

    "Go live with the Amish" ...

    "Go live with the Amish" ... was what Chris Muir told me back in 2004, when he and other PRT advocates crashed the discussion list of the Minnesota Green Party. The cornucopian view that he (and other podsters) expressed at that time was a *{color:blue}deep denial about the limits to the natural world and technological salvation.* Here are some highlights from the discussion: Steve Anderson wrote: p()). Perhaps you can remind me again what you would like to see in terms of transportation that doesn't involve large-scale infrastructure. Mark Knapp wrote: p()). Well, imagine a world in which fossil fuels and electricity are scarce. What's left for transit? The primary sources of energy that come to mind are muscle power and wind -- e.g. horses, human-powered vehicles, walking _(gasp)_ and sailing ships. (Feel free to suggest anything I've missed.) Such transit may appear pre-industrial, but its use of technological innovation and other lessons of modernity will make it post-industrial. Chris Muir wrote: p()). I can imagine running low on fossil fuels, as there is a finite supply and very little is being produced. Electricity, on the other hand, can be produced from almost any energy source available -- hydro, wind, geothermal, solar, tides, etc. If those sources were to become scarce, then all life on earth would be endangered. How then could electricity possibly get "scarce"? p()). As for that vision of "post-industrial" transit consisting solely of horses, bicycles, and sailing ships, it is both shortsighted and insufficient to transport all the food and necessities needed by 6 billion people. p()). If you want to live that way, *go live with the Amish.* Mark Knapp wrote: p()). The point is that the available energy won't be enough to sustain industrial civilization -- including transit schemes like PRT.... p()). Being shortsighted is clinging to the faith -- against all evidence to the contrary -- that humanity can overcome natural limits.... p()). And that's an interesting comment about the Amish. I detect a strong resistance to living more simply. In their quest for the Green label, it seems that PRT advocates have failed to understand that greens do not share their desire to maintain the industrial world. Mark Snyder wrote: p()). To follow up on Mark Knapp's excellent point, I'd like to share a quote from "Carolyn Raffensperger":http://www.derrickjensen.org/raffen.html that I read earlier today while researching the precautionary principle. The quote came in response to a question about whether scientists can actually be expected to foresee problems with emerging technologies. p(())). %{color:brown}Surprise is the rule rather than the exception in ecosystems, particularly when we employ a technology on a global scale rather than tailor it to the local level. It is possible, however, to scan the horizon for problems using principles of ecology and evolutionary biology. Right now, we use toxicology instead of evolutionary biology as our touchstone. As a result, we ask, "Is this safe for the 150-pound male?" rather than, "How does nature work?" We plant genetically engineered corn on millions of acres, because it seems safe to eat, and then are caught by surprise when it has environmental repercussions. We've asked the wrong questions. We don't have systems in place to catch our mistakes before they become global problems, like CFC destroying the ozone layer.% p()). For those not familiar with Carolyn, she is widely viewed as the "Mother of the Precautionary Principle" even though she's too modest to accept such a title. [end of excerpts] Final comment: There is a similar precautionary burden on those who tell us to redesign our entire urban landscape with reckless abandon.