CRAZY WEDNESDAY: AS GREEN AS A POD

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Pod cars could be coming to a city near you soon. These strange little capsular public transport systems are more properly known as PRTs – Personal Rapid Transit systems. Although they look like something out of “Bladerunner”, the developers are convinced that these are a viable adjunct to existing public transport systems.

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The podcar system closest to realisation is in Uppsala, Sweden, and is being developed by Korean company, Vectus. A test track has been built, and now has two cars. Permission to test in Uppsala was given by the Swedish Rail Administration (SJ), itself quite a forward-thinking organisation. Thanks to SJ, since last year the towns of Västervik and Linköping have been linked by the first biogas-driven train link in Europe. Endorsed by Sweden’s Institute for Sustainable Transport, the podcars will, if successful, provide a driverless, on-demand personal transport system in Swedish towns and cities. You can see a video of the test track here.

The principal of operation is based on passengers using a call button to summon a podcar, paying for the ride using debit/credit cards or pre-purchased tokens, and using a panel inside the car to programme the destination

Strangely enough, PRT is actually rather an old idea. American Donn Fichter lobbied hard for its development in his book, “Individualized Automated Transit and the City”, in 1964, and in the UK extensive PRT networks for Birmingham and central London were being considered until 1971. France, Germany, Sweden, Japan and the US also seriously considered similar projects, although none came to fruition.

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As with many old ideas, though, a combination of environmental need and advancement in technology have made podcars seem rather more attractive. In the UK, podcar systems are in planning stage for Heathrow terminal five, and in Daventry the EU-funded CityMobil project is underway, with a proposed opening date of 2011. Advanced Passenger Systems, the developer endorsed by the UK government, estimates that each pod uses only a quarter of the energy per passenger mile compared with a car. Obviously if renewable energy sources, such as solar, were used, it would be even more environmentally attractive, but even with conventional electricity, podcars are still preferable because they produce virtually no emissions.

I think they are quite exciting, and I’m looking forward to seeing them. There’s a brilliant site here, with more facts and figures than you can shake a stick at.

Amanda

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13 Responses to “CRAZY WEDNESDAY: AS GREEN AS A POD”


  1. 1 Get On Board!PRT October 23, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    Thanks for the link!

    And don’t forget to beware of the anti-pod person!

  2. 2 Amanda October 24, 2007 at 5:12 pm

    Hiya Get On Board!PRT
    I really liked your site, it was a pleasure to find your link. Thanks for your interest in my article. As for the anti-pod lobby, I tend to err on the side of “many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip”, and I think many things can go wrong between the good idea and its practical realisation. Sometimes people dismiss the idea on the basis of poor execution, and we should try to see further than that, as you obviously do.

  3. 3 avidor October 25, 2007 at 2:39 am

    PRT is a ridiculous idea that has wasted a lot of time and money in dozens of cities all over the world. PRT has been promoted here and in other cities by anti-transit, pro-highway individuals and groups who use it as a stalking horse to attack light rail (LRT) as being “too expensive” or “old fashioned”.

    Right now PRT is being used to greenwash aiport expansion at Heathrow Airport.

    According to the Saint Cloud Times, right-wing Minnesota politicians Rep. Dan Severson and Rep. Mark Olson are again proposing PRT in Minnesota.

    Learn more at the PRT is a Joke website.

  4. 4 A Transportation Enthusiast October 25, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    There is not a shred of evidence to support any of Ken Avidor’s allegations and he knows it. He wants to kill PRT because he loves trains and views PRT as a threat. Don’t buy into his campaign of lies.

  5. 5 Get On Board!PRT October 25, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    He’s just upset because I am, quote, brilliant, unquote, and he’s not.

    Learn more about PRT is a Joke at the “PRT is a Joke” is a Joke website.

  6. 6 avidor October 25, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Go to the Bigpedia PRT page and scroll down to “Disadvantages”:

    Disadvantages

    Most planners say that no economically successful PRT system has been demonstrated, and there have been too many failures for a prudent person to spend public funds. Transit planners normally evaluate a new transport method as part of an intermodal network. In these cases, a PRT line may compete against a rail or bus line. When operated in an intermodal transit network, PRT may not fully realize the travel time reductions advanced by proponents, because connections to other mass-transit modes are only possible when the other vehicle arrives; a disadvantage where infrequent transit can be the weakest link in an intermodal system. Timed connections between conventional mass-transit modes, though rare, can be more efficient than PRT intermodal use.

    The claims made by proponents depend on certain reasonable but nonstandard design features (see above). Many planners argue that if conservative ridership, operating expense ratios and inter-vehicle lead distances (for bus and train systems) are used, PRT systems are less attractive than bus and train systems.

    In transit planning with standard ratios, if PRT were built in an existing high density corridor, it would be less efficient than trains. Only if additional capacity were required in a low density corridor, would it be more efficient than a bus line or automobile, since the capital costs of streets are already sunk.

    Because of network effects, PRT is not fully useful until it is widespread. In this view, a small PRT system will not attract demand because it does not go to many destinations. Many people say that only a large PRT can attract sufficient demand to be self-sustaining. How it could grow from a niche to a local or metropolitan network is unclear to these persons. Growth to a national network is thought especially unlikely.

    Skeptics say that PRT just idles entire vehicles, which is true. The effects of vehicular recycling at rush hours are also disputed by some transit planners, because they are simulations. Some skeptics have said that since gross capacities have to be comparable (because the same number of people are being transported in the same time), no advantage can occur. However, comparing capacity (people per hour), and capacity utilization (money per person per hour) is a fallacy.

    Some experienced advocates claim that the chief problem is that PRT threatens existing livelihoods associated with cars, busses, trains
    and related services. Since the market in rapid transit has a limited (government) budget in each city, and existing options are the best-funded, existing options and organizations tend to win political battles. As of 2001, this may be changing, because existing options have been unable to solve traffic problems.

    The claimed very high vehicle utilizations (vehicles are usually carrying passengers at full speed, rather than parked), means that there might be less need for, and investment in private vehicles, and auxiliary private services such as repair and insurance. Although these are social advantages, they directly threaten the livelihoods of many persons.

    PRT systems may be as unattractive as other public transit. People cannot customize them to their tastes, and therefore rarely have anything approaching the enthusiasm shown for a new car. At Morgantown, most students use, but casually despise the transportation system, and recount stories of its failures. Some jokingly claim the term “PRT” is said to stand for “Pretty Retarded Train.”

    Some call PRT a prime example of a federally funded “pork barrel” project, one of many located in West Virginia due to the influence of Senator Robert Byrd.

    A PRT system is said to have lower costs and automated operations. These could lead to simpler organizations and smaller staff at governmental transportation offices. This directly reduces the responsibility and authority of government officials, which in most civil service systems, reduces their pay. It does not offer much incentive to administrators to adopt it.

    Many authorities say that the cost of constructing and operating the system is unlikely to be as low as claimed. Some systems (such as Morgantown) have had much higher costs than planned (Morgantown has to use steam heat to keep its tracks free of snow). Any new technology has to climb a learning curve, and for every new system, promoters must make speculative claims when asserting low construction and operating costs. Historically, costs are underestimated on transit projects and demand overestimated. Further, methods of recovering unplanned cost overruns can cause political and public strife.

    The neighbors of such a system could oppose unsightly towers holding an elevated rail system, as well as the guideway itself. New infrastructure is hard to build, particularly without the support of the community.

  7. 7 avidor October 25, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    There’s something called Bigpedia that uses a lot of the material from the Wikipedia PRT page… but also includes facts that PRTistas like ATren have kept
    out of the Wikipedia page including links to skeptical sites like mine and Light Rail Now.

    Go to the Bigpedia PRT page and scroll down to “Disadvantages”:

    Disadvantages

    Most planners say that no economically successful PRT system has been demonstrated, and there have been too many failures for a prudent person to spend public funds. Transit planners normally evaluate a new transport method as part of an intermodal network. In these cases, a PRT line may compete against a rail or bus line. When operated in an intermodal transit network, PRT may not fully realize the travel time reductions advanced by proponents, because connections to other mass-transit modes are only possible when the other vehicle arrives; a disadvantage where infrequent transit can be the weakest link in an intermodal system. Timed connections between conventional mass-transit modes, though rare, can be more efficient than PRT intermodal use.

    The claims made by proponents depend on certain reasonable but nonstandard design features (see above). Many planners argue that if conservative ridership, operating expense ratios and inter-vehicle lead distances (for bus and train systems) are used, PRT systems are less attractive than bus and train systems.

    In transit planning with standard ratios, if PRT were built in an existing high density corridor, it would be less efficient than trains. Only if additional capacity were required in a low density corridor, would it be more efficient than a bus line or automobile, since the capital costs of streets are already sunk.

    Because of network effects, PRT is not fully useful until it is widespread. In this view, a small PRT system will not attract demand because it does not go to many destinations. Many people say that only a large PRT can attract sufficient demand to be self-sustaining. How it could grow from a niche to a local or metropolitan network is unclear to these persons. Growth to a national network is thought especially unlikely.

    Skeptics say that PRT just idles entire vehicles, which is true. The effects of vehicular recycling at rush hours are also disputed by some transit planners, because they are simulations. Some skeptics have said that since gross capacities have to be comparable (because the same number of people are being transported in the same time), no advantage can occur. However, comparing capacity (people per hour), and capacity utilization (money per person per hour) is a fallacy.

    Some experienced advocates claim that the chief problem is that PRT threatens existing livelihoods associated with cars, busses, trains
    and related services. Since the market in rapid transit has a limited (government) budget in each city, and existing options are the best-funded, existing options and organizations tend to win political battles. As of 2001, this may be changing, because existing options have been unable to solve traffic problems.

    The claimed very high vehicle utilizations (vehicles are usually carrying passengers at full speed, rather than parked), means that there might be less need for, and investment in private vehicles, and auxiliary private services such as repair and insurance. Although these are social advantages, they directly threaten the livelihoods of many persons.

    PRT systems may be as unattractive as other public transit. People cannot customize them to their tastes, and therefore rarely have anything approaching the enthusiasm shown for a new car. At Morgantown, most students use, but casually despise the transportation system, and recount stories of its failures. Some jokingly claim the term “PRT” is said to stand for “Pretty Retarded Train.”

    Some call PRT a prime example of a federally funded “pork barrel” project, one of many located in West Virginia due to the influence of Senator Robert Byrd.

    A PRT system is said to have lower costs and automated operations. These could lead to simpler organizations and smaller staff at governmental transportation offices. This directly reduces the responsibility and authority of government officials, which in most civil service systems, reduces their pay. It does not offer much incentive to administrators to adopt it.

    Many authorities say that the cost of constructing and operating the system is unlikely to be as low as claimed. Some systems (such as Morgantown) have had much higher costs than planned (Morgantown has to use steam heat to keep its tracks free of snow). Any new technology has to climb a learning curve, and for every new system, promoters must make speculative claims when asserting low construction and operating costs. Historically, costs are underestimated on transit projects and demand overestimated. Further, methods of recovering unplanned cost overruns can cause political and public strife.

    The neighbors of such a system could oppose unsightly towers holding an elevated rail system, as well as the guideway itself. New infrastructure is hard to build, particularly without the support of the community.

  8. 8 avidor October 25, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    There’s something called Bigpedia that uses a lot of the material from the Wikipedia PRT page… but also includes facts that PRTistas like ATren have kept
    out of the Wikipedia page including links to skeptical sites like mine and Light Rail Now.

    Go to the Bigpedia PRT page and scroll down to “Disadvantages”:

    Most planners say that no economically successful PRT system has been demonstrated, and there have been too many failures for a prudent person to spend public funds….

    …and there is much more.

  9. 9 Aurelien October 25, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Seeing your interest in the article’s subject is great.

    However, please observe a gentleman attitude when sharing your respective point of views. Opposing ideas is fine but simply mean comments won’t be published.

    Enjoy & share 🙂

  10. 10 A Transportation Enthusiast October 25, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    What Ken doesn’t tell you is that this is a verbatim copy of a 2 year old version of the Wikipedia page! See the corresponding Wikipedia version – it’s from April 2005!

    Why are those links gone from Wikipedia now? Because they were found to be unreliable! In fact, many of the “disadvantages” you cite were removed by the consensus of multiple editors, when it became clear that there were no reliable sources to support them.

    Here’s another interesting tidbit: also in April 2005, Ken Avidor basically junked that version of the Wikipedia article for his own propaganda-laced version, which was promptly reverted by another editor. So, Ken, two years ago you saw the need to replace this entire text with your own version, yet now you are promoting it? Why did you change your mind?

    And here’s the kicker: do you want to know where the link to Avidor’s website came from? He added it himself! Check out this edit from 2004, where IP address 208.42.19.234 adds the link to Avidor’s PRT pages. Now, browse to the contribution history for that IP address, and you will find this other edit in which Ken identifies himself with a byline!

    So, let’s review: (1) the Bigpedia article is a verbatim copy of the Wikipedia article from 2 years ago, (2) an article with which Ken himself was so unhappy that he replaced completely, and which (3) contained links back to Ken’s anti-PRT site that were added by Ken himself, and which (4) also contained skeptical claims that at least half a dozen other Wikipedia editors agreed to remove because they were unsupportable.

    Thanks for that link, Ken, and for once again proving my point that almost all anti-PRT sentiment on the net can be traced back to you.

  11. 11 avidor October 25, 2007 at 9:46 pm

    Don’t take my word for it… here’s another account about how PRT promoters such as A Transportation Enthusiast/Atren kept reality from intruding on that Wikipedia PRT article…. here’s a good example of ATE/Atren’s classy style.

  12. 12 cmf-seattle October 26, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Sure, light rail is a low-risk investment, but it also offers very little reward in the real world: it takes a very long time to build, and for the cost, it doesn’t serve nearly enough area.

    What’s needed is something that can leverage existing investments while offering more efficiency for the future.

    http://www.cities21.org/TRB_PRT_HBP.pdf

  13. 13 Pretty Retarded Train October 26, 2007 at 7:48 pm

    Mark Twain once said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  The converse is true of PRT – because the reports of its life are greatly exaggerated.


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