PRT proposal for Delhi convinces the Chief Minister (But does it convince you? See poll results)

It all started innocently enough with this newspaper article that appeared in the Press Trust of India on April 26. But when posted to the Sustran Global South peer forum for comment, the floodgates opened. For full background on this vigorously discussed, even polemic proposal, we invite you to check out the discussions at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sustran-discuss/message/6637

After Metro, now Pod Cars for Delhi?

Source: http://www.ndtv.com/article/cities/after-metro-now-pod-cars-for-delhi-101691

New Delhi: Delhi may soon have a pod car system on the lines of those in many western cities under which battery operated automated pods, having a capacity to carry up to six passengers, will offer transportation from point to point.

Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, after witnessing a presentation, asked Delhi Integrated Multi Modal Transit System Limited (DIMTS) and Transport Department to prepare a detailed project report (DPR) on introduction of the pollution free transport system in the city.

Pod car system is a public transportation mode featuring small automated vehicles operating on a network of specially-built tracks. In pod car system, vehicles are sized for individual or small group travel, typically carrying no more than six passengers per vehicle.

After the presentation, Dikshit said her government is keen to take it up as a pilot project in areas such as Dwarka, Karol Bagh, East Delhi and Delhi University North Campus.

“It will definitely supplement the existing modes of public transport and will come up as an alternative to the personal vehicles,” Dikshit said.

Transport department officials said the new system may be termed as a personal rapid transit.

The private company, which gave the presentation on the project, has offered to commission it with its own resources.

“Further it will be economically viable as far as the commuters are concerned. The average fare of the pod will come to be around Rs. 6 per km,” said the official.

From the Masdar City project (Thanks to Robert Stussi for the photos).

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And now tell us what you think about this so that we have some additional perspective from this informed international audience. We invite you to check that of the following choices which best summarises your views.  On top of which you also are invited to add your comments just below. Thank you. Off we go.

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23 thoughts on “PRT proposal for Delhi convinces the Chief Minister (But does it convince you? See poll results)

  1. Is the promoter of this technology, a very close aide or relative of the chief minister. To me it seems, it is good for a small group housing scheme, but for a city, this idea seems to be too far fetched. Ms. Dikhit has probably forgotten the total population of Delhi. Delhi does not need pilot projects to showcase advacing technology. It needs proper planning. And when i say planning, it is not just transport planning. It needs a comprehensive plan which takes into account, transport issues, natural environmental issues and built environmental issues. The master plan which is supposed to be ‘the comprehensive document’, fails to do so. Unfortunately it is just a description of cutting a piece of cake called delhi into numerous pieces. It is high time, that our beuracrats realise that Delhi is not a canvas to showcase their ‘genius’. The city is already in mess. These carless and untoughtful moves might criple the city further.

    Adarsha Kapoor
    Urban Designer
    New Delhi

    Reply
  2. PRT has enough capacity to become an interesting alternative to the traditional systems. Many small units are better than few large units.
    It can make it easier to prevent people from buying cars.
    It is not surprising that the “experts” in Bus, Train and Tram systems hate PRT, but that shouldnt be the decisive factor.
    Look seriously at the numbers, please.
    PRT is a valid alternative.

    Reply
    • Hello Palle. It is appreciated to have your views on this. We always wish to hear all the sides of the issues.

      But in your comments you make what I believe to be a serious error, whie at the same time pointing up a critical truth.

      The first has to do with your word “hate”. Now that is a veyr strong word and emotion, and I am confident that that is not the position of even your most fervent opponents. The idea herer, at last, is to stick to the issues, and take them point by point.

      But where you are right on target is your call to “Look seriously at the numbers’, and that where I beleive we all think the action lies. Let’s lok at the numbers: not ones that are picked out of the air but which are backed up by experience in a full variety of settings.

      As we have seen over the last fifty years — during which I have given real time and attention to trying to understand the full potential of PRT, and especially in cities. My own analsysi states clearly that the nubmers do not add up. But I am always willing to look at someone else’s honest and professional analysis. And that, I beleive, is what all our readers are interested in.

      Reply
      • Mr. Britton, please post your PRT analysis so it may be peer reviewed for accuracy and error omission. If you have crunched the numbers, make them available, and stop making your emotional appeals that tend to obscure fact.

        Reply
  3. I was attending an Future Urban Transport conference initiated by Volvo in Gothenburg. There was a lot of discussion about BRT and other traditional systems.
    At the end was a very interesting speach by Sir Peter Hall giving an overview of the development of transport systems, concluding that PRT was the most promising and also agreeing that a Dual-Mode PRT system (like RUF) would be superior.
    Why would he conclude that if PRT is far out ??
    Please have a closer look at:
    http://www.ruf.dk/recommendations.pdf
    http://www.ruf.dk/rufcapacity.pdf
    http://www.ruf.dk/rufstatus.pdf
    http://www.ruf.dk/rufinvest.pdf

    Palle R Jensen
    RUF International

    Reply
  4. PRT is one of those concepts that looks tempting at first glance but is a total loser once you think it through to city scale. And it doesn’t take a lot of thinking time to figure that out. Normally that would be the end of the matter, but somehow PRT keeps coming back. There is never anything fundamentally different that might make it a viable option in its latest incarnation, it seems that the same old lines are trotted out in the hope that we might fall for it this time (this actually works, it seems someone in Delhi has). I don’t really object to people trying to turn a buck from this nonsense, but I really object to the distraction and delays it causes to the solutions that really do work.

    Reply
    • Mr. Finn the type of “solutions” you often advocate (train and bus) are typically abject financial failures, and seldom attract private investment. The reason is that ROI (return on investment) of trains is almost always negative, and bus ROI is marginal at best (E.G. greyhound, trailways, etc), or usually negative in the case of public bus systems. What train systems are effective at is lining the rail industries pockets with tax payer money. If passenger trains were as wonderful as you often claim, passenger trains would have maintained the 90% market share they enjoyed in the US in the year 1910. Now trains carry less than 1% of people between US cities because cars and jets offer far better value. This trend is accelerating all over the world. Since PRT systems use less than a tenth as much material as train infrastructure to achieve a given capacity, they can be built at much less expense. This is one reason PRT offers a better chance of a favourable ROI necessary to attract private investment (if not for the chilling effect of subsidies for trains). Another reason is automation and passive switching that reduces the labor cost, and allows much more granular accessibility than trains offer. Yo attack progressive modes of transportation just as the Luddite thuggs attacked the automated looms that eventually contributed much to the global standard of living.

      Reply
      • I invite Mr. Oster to validate that I “often claim” anything about passenger trains and, when he finds that I have never proposed, advocated or otherwise supported any rail system, anywhere, ever, I invite him to withdraw his post. And BTW, while being called a Luddite is harmless, I draw the line at being equated to a “thugg”. I presume the PRT advocates keep more civil tongues in their heads when they are panhandling for taxpayer dollars to fund their boondoggles.

        Reply
        • Well Brendan. We now have a chance to compare our insults. What I admire about the beating they have administered to you is that they have made you a two gg thugg. That’s really quite impressive. For my part, my favorite received insult to date, is ” He hasn’t a clue what should be done, if it is more complicated than a bicycle, and ridicules everything that his little brain cannot cope with.” I do think I have won this one, eh?

          We do not normally open the pages of World Streets or any of our programs to the PRT or monorail people, even though as we are seeing here they can be great weekend fun. I think that with all that plus the stuffed ballot box, we can now hope to lay this one at rest.

          Next?

  5. Most PRT companies present a highly idealized vision for what their products could do if provided the resources to be applied pervasively in cities.

    Therefore it is understandable for critics to focus on such marketing visions, forgetting that those companies are not the policymakers who decide whether to purchase PRT, or the planners who would define each implementation. I think it safe to say marketing visions will never match the reality, if only because governments are never going to deploy PRT in a way that moots their existing investments.

    So PRT will be deployed to complement other transit modes, and needs to be evaluated on that basis. Both die-hard proponents and critics alike need to keep the accusations and unrealistic assumptions out of the debate, and analyze the numbers that arise in the course of well-defined applications.

    The present case appears to be well-defined. Examples of sites are given: Dwarka, Karol Bagh, East Delhi and Delhi University North Campus. No indication is given that this pilot is a first step in pushing out “solutions that really do work.” As a pilot, it would show whether PRT is one of those solutions. The Chief Minister even says “It will definitely supplement the existing modes of public transport” (emphasis added).

    The Times of India coverage of this story provides an explanation why authorities are interested:

    the system would be ideal for confined areas such as ITPO, Dwarka sub-city, Karol Bagh, east Delhi, Delhi University north campus and other such areas… as it would supplement the existing modes of public transport and could be an alternative to private vehicles. …the new system can be commissioned in a limited space with poles of 40 cm in diameter and elevated track having 1.6m width.

    Our goal should be the ability to get anywhere in a city on rapid transit; an LRT, subway or PRT station in every district (I would say at least 4 per square mile) should be as important as having running water in every house. Clearly, Delhi is interested in PRT as a possible way to address communities that are un- or under-served because conventional modes are either too slow or there is insufficient right of way.

    Reply
    • David, your analogy of “running water in every house” applied to transportation accessibility makes good sense. Now let us focus on supplying transportation accessibility at the lowest possible cost. Let us compare the numbers as you advocate.

      While trains offer some advantages, the cost of providing train accessibility is enormous compared with providing road accessibility. The per seat cost of an electric train is more than $50,000 per seat, while the cost of a car with 4 to 6 seats of capacity can be less than a tenth as much as a single train seat! The cost of a road can be less than $1million per lane mile, while the cost of a railroad infrastructure is more than 3 times the cost when compared on a cost of capacity ($/passenger/hour) basis.

      Advanced PRT systems such as ET3 can be built for less than 1/10th the cost of high speed rail infrastructure, AND provide more than 10 times the capacity at a design speed of 350mph(600km/h)! Benefit/cost = value, and value is what wins open markets.

      The first tenet of public service should be providing necessary services uniformly, and at a cost no greater than necessary. Unfortunately lies, graft, and corruption (often traceable to the rich rail industry) circumvent achieving this ideal.

      Planners, politicians, and policy makers who yield to rail industry sponsored lies and half truths will impoverish those who they seek to serve. Propping up outmoded and failed transportation modes like trains with gross government subsidy is a sure way to stunt economic development and improvement in standard of living and quality of life.

      Reply
  6. Yes Yes PRT.
    I saw this system in London Airport and I think this should be in the core city areas. This is not so expensive as monorail and can be worked out in the congested areas with less turning radius. It not only can work like a feeder to the mass transit system like metro but also work as a park ride concept from the outer cordon to the core commercial areas. I think the system can work good in mixed landuse areas containing commercial, offices, residential and university as the demand would be there throughout the day. I know implementing this system would not be a easy task in Delhi conditions and requires a in depth planning taking care all the constraints that would make the system complimenting the other public transport system.

    Reply
  7. PRT will accomplish one thing that other systems do not. Once you have entered a PRT station you have disappeared from City traffic, and do not re-enter it until you heve completed your trip. With all other systems you remain as a part of the congestion mess, because your travel is always interferring with some other movement.
    This is why it will be most effective in very populated Cities. Most of the objectors don’t seem to understand this.

    Reply
  8. Trains displaced muscle power transportation for inter-city transportation in the UK and the USA in the mid 1800s because for most people trains offered better value that muscle powered transportation (walking, bikes, and horses). In the the 20th century cars and aircraft displaced more than 70% of passenger train travel in developed nations like UK, France, Germany, USA, Japan, and Korea. The reason is for most people cars and aircraft represented less cost, and better usefulness than trains. Not all cars represent an improvement in transportation value, a small segment of cars are over priced and/or grossly inefficient in materials and energy consumption. Just as some cars are not value oriented, all PRT systems are not equal, and must be evaluated on their relative merits and compared with existing modes. The more advanced forms of PRT such as our patented Evacuated Tube Transport (ET3)tm system represent a quantum improvement in transportation value that in an unfettered market has the potential to displace cars and jets (just as cars and jets displaced passenger trains).

    Reply
  9. Pingback: Britton on PRT: “He hasn’t a clue what should be done” « Network Dispatches

  10. For the record: We are sharing with our readers the full range of views on this topic. Our viewe is: get it all out there and may the better idea win. No problem there.

    For the record, on one discussion group — http://groups.google.com/group/transport-innovators — the following advisory was published yesterday, which I am pleased to share with you. Their network works pretty well and the World Streets poll has been enriched by a heartfelt outpouring of almost one hundred votes from people who have let us know that PRT is either the beest way to go in Delhi or worth careful consideration.

    And so it goes.

    Eric Britton

    Dear Friends,

    Please don’t forget to cast your vote and ask your friends to cast one in support of PRT here. It seems to be a biased discussion here and PRT will need your support.
    http://worldstreets.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/prt-proposal-for-delhi-c

    with warm regards
    Sonal Ahuja , Director International Development,
    CAPITA SYMONDS Technology Transport and Infrastructure
    Level 7, 52 Grosvenor Gardens, Belgravia,
    London, SW1W 0AU, United Kingdom
    Tel: +44 (0) 77 88 666 523
    India Mob: +91 (0) 931030 6484
    UAE : +971 (0) 506 717 566

    Reply
  11. First, deep thanks to Paul Barter for sending out his kindly diplomatic email reminder of the purposes, audience, rules and etiquette of this great list-serve.

    Hopefully we can dispense with the name-calling. The world needs futurists, the world needs realists, etc. – we need diversity (in all its forms), since from diversity comes our only hope of ingenuity and sustainability.

    Personally, and at the risk of violating sustran’s rules myself: I find it ironic that someone with a clear commercial interest in a particular technology accuses others with no explicit commercial interest of being cronies to some industrial interest or another.

    I believe that the value of this debate can best be extracted with an honest intellectual collaboration among the two sides. First, basic empirical fact should be determined: the recent article posted for Bangalore (“Will Bangalore take a call on POD after Gurgaon experiment?”) showed exactly the perpetuation of half-truths (or outright falsehoods- e.g, we know Heathrow’s PRT [all 3.9 km!] is still not working; NYC and “many places in US” have PRT! Please show me where, I’d love to go for a ride; etc.), which one can only logically conclude comes from the industry promoters themselves.

    But, for this forum’s purposes, what I believe really needs to be carried out is a serious, “bi-partisan”, assessment of this technology’s capability to provide a near-term solution to the developing world’s mobility challenge. How, in practice, could PRT (whatever variant one wants to look at) actually serve the complex demands under the complex constraints of a city like Mexico City or Arequipa or Bangalore or Shenzen or Abidjan, or wherever): how many nodes, how much infrastructure, etc. etc. One thing is to lay out a generic vision of ski chair-lift inspired cable PODs running across a city – but, regurgitating a place-less vision will not convince the doubters. The vision NEEDS to be grounded with an actual simulation (need not be sophisticated – show me a convincing spreadsheet model) of the application to a REAL place, with REAL OD flows, with all the REAL constraints (physical, cultural, financial). Naturally, for the PRT side this is a challenge due to the dearth of any successful real-world applications; but, I believe a sketched vision on actual empirics would go a long way towards providing some initial answers.

    Until we see such an analysis, it is, for me anyway, difficult to assess the value of PRT technology for the developing world. And, despite Mr. Oster’s calls for others to get out the “slide rules” to “prove” any other modes are better than “real PRT,” I believe the burden of proof falls squarely on him. The other modes are “real;” I’d like to see revolutionary improvements over the “real” modes, but real improvements are not evidenced in patent filings, web-sites, franchisees and prosaic images of ski lifts across the urban landscapes (oh what a sight it would be – an MRG-inspired single chair spanning Mumbai in the monsoon season!) – but by realistic portraits of practical implementation in real place.

    Personally, I believe the un-tethered digital, real-time, distributed computing, ad-hoc sensored world of the 21st Century will seriously disadvantage any infrastructure-intensive tethered mobility solutions. But, that’s just a hypothesis; I’d be happy to see it rejected.

    And, now Mr. Luddite needs to sign off this computer-thingy and get on my 2-wheeled human-pedal-powered contraption for a nice ride home in a Boston Springtime “monsoon”…

    Kind wishes, Chris Zegras

    Reply
  12. Zegras comes out with the tired “technology will solve it approach.”
    Do a scientific assessment and you will have the answer, he supposes.
    Alas, this does not work. First of all, there is no such thing as a neutral assessment. Assumptions must be made and there is no scientific way to choose them: read the work of Wachs and Dimitriou on this subject if you have any doubt.

    Secondly, technical assessments are rarely of interest to decision makers who have generally made up their minds on the basis of other criteria — in fact, such assessments are more often than not made in support of a particular viewpoint than in an effort at supposed neutrality.

    Thirdly, why should resources be spent on Zegras’s imagined “bi-partisan”
    assessment (even were such a thing possible) when there are so many other pressing demands in the developing world? How can such an expenditure be justified compatred, for example, to a project to assess the potential for non-motorized transport in the developing countries of the future?
    And who is supposed to come up with the money for the project?

    What Zegras will find is that coming up with a “vision” is dangerous in itself. The visual appeal will be taken as a model and the technical results count for little. And why do we want a technological vision put forward by Western academics anyway? Would it not make more sense to adopt a more modest approach and visit cities in question to talk to residents — including the poorest ones, not only the ones that might enjoy a high-tech marvel — and develop a vision based on local understandings and needs?

    –Jonathan

    Reply
  13. Chris

    PRT has been studied. We don’t need more calculations. It is just that some people haven’t looked at the studies, don’t understand the studies, or don’t want to understand the studies.

    Have a look at Vuchic’s book “Urban Transit: Systems and Technology”, for starters. The capacity performance is very poor at any kind of reasonable speed. Then there is the problem of interchanges.

    Eric Bruun

    Reply
  14. Jonathan,

    Are technical assessments often distorted? Sure. Even if they are accurate, are technical assessments often manipulated? Routinely.

    But to draw from this the position that we should abandon empirical data on how the real world operates is a dangerous cynicism. There may have been a brief moment (think 1980s) when some academics were attracted to this path, but looking out the window this seems irresponsible. We live in a different world.

    It remains the central task of any intellectual community (guided by a more humble culture of “expertise” focused on empowering others) to train its light on the strengths and weaknesses of technical assessments to correct the half-truths. Then, as a further step, to critically evaluate interpretations of the empirical evidence and challenge the distortions. To abandon our commitment to the facts because they are often not-quite-factual or because they are so easily manipulated is to abandon society to the ravages of the whomever-shouts-the-loudest political processes we see in cable news punditry. Oligopoly arrangements operating behind a mask of “free” markets thrives on this.

    Taking some cues from historiography, it takes the hard work of a community, often building on the work of those who came before, to establish useful empirical evidence. The separate task of interpreting that evidence to draw useful conclusions is contextual: every situation, every time and place, requires a fresh look.

    More than ever, there is no good alternative to the hard work of collective decision making at large and small scales. If not for recourse to facts on the ground, many of us will choose instead to just stay in bed.

    Robert Cowherd

    Reply
  15. Dr. Richmond,

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the real disagreement between you and Prof. Zegras is not about the role of deliberative processes but rather about the importance of “comprehensiveness” in project assessment.
    Your approach – which you borrow from Don Schon’s experiential learning model – is cyclical in nature. Communities might consensually agree on sub-optimal options – and you will allow these sub-optimal options to proceed. Hopefully, communities will learn from their previous experience the next time round to make better choices.

    Prof. Zegras’ approach is different, but no less based on community values.
    He will first ask communities to spell out their goals in detail. He would then anticipate the consequences of all the feasible options available to him (the “technical analysis” step), and by comparing their performance in light of the goals drawn up by the community, he would choose the optimal solution. His method is equally transparent as the community makes the value judgments – perhaps more transparent because of the explicitness required.
    But it does require greater effort and technical expertise because of the comprehensiveness demanded the technical analysis step. It is also more of a linear model, designed to produce the most optimal outcome in a single attempt. (Prof. Zegras, do correct me if I misrepresent your views)

    Personally, I think I prefer Prof. Zegras’ approach. Transportation projects are too big to experiment with constantly. We need to get them right in a few attempts, and that’s not likely to happen if we replace comprehensive analysis with a cyclical model of experiential learning. For all its inherent flaws, there is a reason why the rational comprehensive approach continues to hold sway in the profession of transportation planning (more so than in other planning disciplines).

    I derive my own theoretical framework for decision-making from what I understand of Amartya Sen’s theory of justice. Friedrich Hayek has argued that all planning will eventually fail because of unintended consequences not taken into account. In *Development as Freedom*, Amartya Sen responds to this by saying that *unintended* consequences need not be *unanticipated*consequences. It follows that one of the prerequisites of reasoned progress (that communicative rationality hopes for) is that consequences can be anticipated with some degree of precision. This often requires “technical analysis” with some level of comprehensiveness.

    I hope I do not sound too confused. I look forward to your comments and criticism.

    Regards,
    karthik

    Reply
  16. Karthik, thank you for a very well reasoned approach and thoughts.

    There are several roles we undertake as knowledgeable people in in issues related to transport infrastructure: as teachers, as participants in a civil society and as consultants providing advice. The constraints change drastically depending upon what role you are assigned and where. Not only the there are constraints placed by the condition of employment but also on the state of civil society. These constraints are real and quite serious.
    In addition, not all advice is or can be public because of the advice is private and takes place in discussions and arguments preceding decisions.

    First, we as experts or knowledgeable people do not make policy. We are just advisers, paid or not! Citizens and citizen organizations can influence policy and so do foreign money lenders and senior staff in various countries who work closely with politicians. These politicians may or may not represent citizen needs or citizen view points.

    This environment varies greatly from country to country. So there is no single magic formula that I have heard of which I can pull of the the bottle (genie!!) and use it with comfort.

    After having worked in about 30 countries over the last 40 years, I am convinced that progress made, if any, is always in modest increments. Yes, there are many mistakes made on the way to rational and poor friendly decisions. There are occasional quantum jumps which change the process and the product for years to come; both good and bad decisions.

    To close, I am finding that the only people or groups who can make quantum positive changes are the local citizens, even in countries where voices are dimmed. Foreigners can bring knowledge but only the locals can make the necessary changes to produce poor friendly policies. My own experience in India, Bangladesh, China, Brazil and Thailand indicate that there progress being made when the countries themselves are ready to make those changes.

    Best wishes; Setty

    Dr. V. Setty Pendakur
    Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia Honorary Professor, China National Academy of Sciences Senior Counselor, The State Council of the PRC President, Round House Community Arts and Recreation Association President, Pacific Policy & Planning Associates
    1099 Marinaside Crescent, Vancouver, BC
    Canada V6Z 2Z3
    T: 1-604-263-3576; M:1-604-374-3575
    Fax: 1-604-263-6493

    Reply

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