Pod People Wage War on Light Rail, Other Reality-Based Transpo Projects

Writer, cartoonist, cyclist and transit advocate Ken Avidor points us to this video, which he used in a recent Daily Kos diary entry. Writes Ken:

The Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) Pod People are always challenging me to prove that PRT promoters are anti-Light Rail Transit (LRT). Here is a video by one of these libertarian, "free-market" guys claiming LRT is old and expensive and PRT is more modern and won’t cost the taxpayers a dime. The fact is PRT is a Nixon-era concept and there is no evidence to prove it can pay for itself.

PRT, Avidor says on his "PRT Is a Joke" website, is often used as a "stalking horse" to undermine the funding and build-out of real-world mass transit projects. Its supporters include Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who, among other transgressions, opposes the expansion of that state’s Northstar commuter rail line.

Judging from the above video, trashing new light rail service in Phoenix, the thrust of the pro-PRT argument goes something like this: 

Dude! It goes like a hundred miles an hour! You wouldn’t have to read books or sit beside weird people — AND you could listen to AC/DC!

On your iPod, of course.

228 thoughts on Pod People Wage War on Light Rail, Other Reality-Based Transpo Projects

  1. Compact discs should not be listened to, especially in New York. Turn up the volume on that sweet 8 Track.


    Of course no one on this thread has proposed putting PRT in New York today nor asking for funds to do that. Please discuss the idea, instead of false arguments no one is making.

  2. How much did that boondoggle cost the taxpayers, A.T.E?

    Less than the average LRT line? On your own website you say that the experiment cost $67, including both public and private money. A one mile extension of Newark Light Rail in 2002 cost over $200 million. In sections, Newark Light Rail averages under 10mph. From Branch Brook Park station to Newark Penn station, about 4 miles, Newark Light Rail takes about 15 minutes, for an average of 16mph.

    Oh, and the research and engineering work that went into the Raytheon project and the knowledge of what not to do which was gained from it has been incorporated into the current ITNS proposal, which makes drastic improvements in vehicle weight and in other areas. A half-mile test track of this system, including a station and three test cars, is estimated to cost about $15 million–based on the actual opinion of actual contracting firms. Even if that’s an underestimate by half, that’s still about a third the cost per mile of a surface-running section of Newark Light Rail. In effect, the test track could come in more than six times overbudget and still be cheaper per mile than Newark Light Rail.

  3. Let me say that despite its poor bang for the buck, Newark Light Rail is a good thing. I’ve ridden it and I’ve seen plenty of others ride it. For people without a car or who can’t drive–college students, the elderly or disabled, those living in apartments or those who simply can’t afford a car–it’s often a necessity. But that doesn’t mean that a system that serves the same purpose for the same people better and for less money could not or should not be built, either here or in some other community with similar needs.

  4. Research and development is expensive. If you want to know why the iPhone cost $600 when it came out, it’s not because it was made with $600 worth of materials and labor. It’s because Apple was creating a new device from the ground up, and had to spend a lot of human capital to develop something that had never quite been seen before–smartphones of course existed, but they were pokey, were not well-suited to web browsing, social networking, or media playing (let alone graphics-intensive games and applications), and so dry that they appealed only to business users. And yes, they were taking a risk by spending so much time and money on a device that might or might not pay off. But it appears that it did pay off, and that led the way for entry of competitors like Google (!) and Palm (!) to offer competing devices, eventually leading to lower prices.

    That said, the fact that the R&D for an emerging technology cost even less than a single mile of an existing, well-known technology says a lot.

  5. Let me say too that I love trains. That is, the experience of riding on them. There is currently no more comfortable and relaxing means of land travel than a train ride.

    The problem is that most people don’t ride transit for the experience. They ride it to get from one place to another. Moreover, they want to do so as cheaply and as quickly as possible. People flock to transit in NYC because the roads are congested and parking is expensive. People flock to the highways in the suburbs and exurbs because transit is slow, inconvenient, or nonexistent, while land and parking is cheap and abundant (or at least it used to be). It’s not because city people are transit lovers and suburban people are car lovers; it’s because people do what they have to do to survive.

    So regardless of how much romance remains about trains, things have to change if we want more people to ride transit. There are still plenty of horse lovers in America, but the majority of them don’t ride their horse to work every day. Cyclists are an exception, but not everyone can bike, and for longer journeys cycling isn’t an option for most. People don’t drive cars because they hate trains or bikes; they drive cars because they have to. If we can make it so that they don’t have to drive to achieve the type of mobility they want or need, we’ve done a good and necessary thing. And if they still long for the experience of a train ride, that option will still be available to them. They’ll just have other options, too.

  6. “That’s why you see Cabinentaxi everywhere.”

    And that’s why 95% of trips in America are made by light rail.

    Oh, wait…

  7. Ken, why isn’t there light rail on 42nd St. yet? Could it be because it’s expected to cost $200 million per mile?

    What if instead we built a system for even lighter transit at a fraction of the cost that didn’t interfere with pedestrians, cyclists, or uptown/downtown auto traffic? Then pedestrians and cyclists would have more room and not have to worry about being hit by a small train (and there would even be more room available for street vendors, performers, or just more tables and benches), riders would have faster and more scenic trips, and ambulances would be able to cross 42nd street without being blocked by a slow-moving train. The money saved could be used to help pay for the pedestrianization, or for expanding the city’s bike lane and greenway system.

  8. Note that the PRT system would be physically lighter, but would carry as much or more capacity as the proposed light rail, since PRT vehicles have faster average speed. So the expected economic benefits of the light rail–$700 million a year of generated business and $175 million a year of additional city and state revenue–would apply just as well to the PRT system. But the rewards would be gained for much less cost.

  9. @#199 Ian Turner wrote: “One must learn to walk before one can run.”

    Of course! Most PRT proponents agree completely. The problem is with people who won’t even allow the system to “walk”. Consider this: Ken Avidor is currently campaigning heavily against Heathrow Airport and Masdar City, two privately funded PRT systems in Europe and Asia!

    What possible objection could Ken Avidor have to privately-funded systems on remote continents? Not a single dime of US tax money will be spent, and not a single shovel of US soil will be moved, but Ken Avidor is still railing against these two “walk before you run” efforts. Ask yourself why he would be SO opposed to these private efforts. And then ask yourself whether you would support Ken’s relentless efforts to kill PRT wherever it appears, even in the Arabian desert.

    Note that PRT proponents did not take the argument here, PRT opponents did. No PRT proponent is suggesting PRT replace subways, and few PRT proponents want to see rail fail. That’s just what Ken Avidor wants you to think, because he wants to see PRT fail.

  10. The comments began with the PRT guys saying they don’t bash LRT like the PRT guy in the video.

    The comments end with the PRT guys bashing LRT.

    Keep it klassy PRT guys!

  11. But you didn’t answer the question. Why isn’t there LRT on 42nd St.? This is no different than the same exact question you’ve been asking us over and over.

  12. Ken, why do you want two privately funded transit projects, in Masdar and Heathrow, to fail? What possible reason could a pro-transit person have for wishing failure on a transit project?

    You’ve never answered that question.

  13. A Transportation Enthusiast:
    Ken, why do you want two privately funded transit projects, in Masdar and Heathrow, to fail? What possible reason could a pro-transit person have for wishing failure on a transit project?

    You’ve never answered that question.

    The question is irrelevant. The two PRT systems at Heathrow and Masdar will rise, or fall, on their ability to stay in regular daily, reliable, economic, and punctual service. Nothing Avidor or I says will make any difference (unless it unnerves the developers, I suppose). Of course, I think they will fail due to various technical and economic factors that I’ve outlined on my own blog, and for reasons that the denizens who read the Google “Transport-Innovators” group already know.

  14. “Of course, I think they will fail”

    If they don’t fail, then what will be your next line of defense?

  15. #221 M Setty wrote “Of course, I think they will fail…”

    If you think they will fail, then why do you spend your time criticizing them, as you did with ULTra in your “I don’t trust aluminum” thrust? Why not just wait 6 months when (if you’re right) PRT will be out of your hair forever?

    Really, please answer that question Mr. Setty. I would think you would sit back quietly and wait for these systems, built on foreign lands with private money, to fail as you’ve been predicting for many years now. If they don’t fail, we can all rejoice at having a new tool in our transit workbench; if they do fail, not a dime of public money was lost and you can be known as the prophet who can say “I told you so”. You have nothing to lose.

    So why the new anti-PRT thrust now, M Setty? Do you WANT it to fail?

  16. If anything has convinced me that you PRT pod people are nutjobs, it’s the quality and number of comments that you’ve posted in this thread. There is no possible way that you are getting work done in the real world if this is what you’re spending your time doing. And for that reason, I’m glad that Streetsblog has allowed this conversation to run. Keep these PRT guys hanging out here where they can’t really do too much damage to the world.

Comments are closed.