Editorial: Will the real PRT please stand up

Somebody wake me up on this please  on this discussion. (See references at end).

1. If we look on the streets of any city in the Global South, we see de facto PRT, personal rapid transport, all over the place.

2. In the form of cheap motorized two wheelers with pretty energy-efficient engines, enough road space to get the trip done, and free parking right next to where you want to go.

3. There is no way that the old mid-20th century PRT Pod folks can even start to compete with that.

4. But if this is the on-street reality, which of course it is, please show me the city or research program that is showing the way in getting the most out of this stubborn reality.

5. Who is making the best things about it better yet?

6. And who is getting some kind of control of the worst?

We need a new policy paradigm for this, let’s call it, the people’s PRT. Of course it’s part of the problem, but it is also clear that it is a major part of the solution, as anyone with even an ounce of experience and common sense can see. And policy makers, advisors and proponents of sustainable cities we will continue to ignore it at our peril.

Take the city of Kaohsiung as just one salient example: 1.5 million people, 1.2 million scooters, and something like three quarters of the modal split. And all this in parallel with an absolutely gorgeous new state of the art six billion dollar metro that started to go out of business on Day 1 of its opening and ever since, because it simply cannot compete in terms of trip time, convenient or price.

Shouldn’t we be working on this – along with the on-street reality options such as BRT, HOV access, parking control, strategic speed control, safe walking and cycling, and all that we know are parts of the solution — instead of wasting our time with these long disproven, whack-a-mole PRT proposals that clearly have no place in our cities

How to get the message across to the policy makers and politicians?

This has been good fun, but Brendan Finn has it right. These PRT enthusiasts are distracting us at a time when we need all our brains and focus for the real stuff. Out they go.

Eric Britton

Some reference points:

· Sustran list comments – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sustran-discuss/message/6637

· World Streets article of 26 April – http://wp.me/psKUY-1A9

· CityFix article of 27 April –  http://thecityfix.com/can-pod-cars-transform-traffic-in-delhi/

· Facebook group – http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_217653324914604

· World Streets Poll – https://worldstreets.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/prt-proposal-for-delhi-convinces-chief-minister-but-does-it-convince-you-see-poll-results/

– Masdar City Abandons Transportation System of the Future – http://singularityhub.com/2011/03/01/masdar-city-abandons-public-transportation-system-of-the-future/

Note on the poll results: Worth noting that the poll has in the last 24 hours been contaminated by no less than 106 visits from a single Comcast Cable site in one identified city in the  United States, with the result that exactly 65 votes have been recorded from the one site in favor of PRT as a solution.  Now that  has to show something. (It’s a bit sad actually. The poll will be properly  cleansed before finalization.  In the meantime we will leave them in, just so it looks like a real horse race.)

8 thoughts on “Editorial: Will the real PRT please stand up

  1. Dave and Eric, you are both on to something here — M2W
    (scooters/motorcycles/mopeds) are gaining share in many emerging
    markets, AND they have some problems too as both of you have pointed

    Compared to a car, a motorcycle or freeway capable scooter can achieve
    much higher efficiencies and load factors (as proven by motorcycles in
    California (where lane splitting is legal) doubles lane capacity
    compared to single occupant cars). Consider a car with an empty weight
    of 1000kg, a 1500cc 5 cylinder engine capable of safely seating 5
    persons. Now consider 5 scooters each with a single cylinder
    (identical to the car’s cylinder of 300cc each). The scooters each
    have two seats of capacity *5 = 10 total seats capacity, and have a
    mass of 150kg * 5 = 750kg (250kg less material).

    At 100% load factor (all seats filled) the car gets 40mpg * 5 =
    200pmpg, the scooters get 100mpg *2 = 200pmpg (no change in energy
    efficiency) BUT the scooters have double the capacity and 5 times the
    granularity. AND it is clear that the emissions would be about the
    same (remember we are using the same cylinder).

    Now add Daves ideas of: fully enclosed road PRT (oops i mean scooters)
    that use electric or hybrid power. Such vehicles (we call them MoPods
    tm (instead of mopeds) can have much better aerodynamics (and less
    weight too) offering further energy and material savings compared to
    cars and scooters. In the rain, the MoPod occupants do not get their
    hair and suit messed up on the way to their up-and-coming professional

    (Stay with me now) — As proven by the California PATH program (of
    automating car lane following / speed / spacing / merge / diverge /
    braking / etc.) lane capacity can be increased by up to 5 times, and
    rush-hour speed doubled by using automation or “intelligent
    transportation” (IT). Applying this to the “MoPods” could yield
    similar benefits.

    Now, hopefully you are all still with me — now things can get real
    interesting. Instead of competing with non IT vehicles on roads, what
    if we borrow from what is proven technology in the for-profit ski

    1st some BACKGROUND INFO:
    In the early days of down-hill ski areas in the EU and USA, a road was
    built to the top of the mountain and a bus would haul the skiers to
    the top of the hill. Then it was discovered that a couple of cables
    with a bunch glorified lawn chairs tied on could do a much faster and
    more convenient job of moving people to the top of the hill at much
    less cost than a road, bus, and driver. Ski areas adopting cable
    suspended automated people movers made a lot more money, and soon that
    was all that survived. Skiers were happy (no waiting for another 29
    skiers to fill the bus, much faster, cheaper ticket cost, and they did
    not have to risk catching the flu from the one sick guy on the hill).

    What if such “ski lift” cables could be suspended across cities, on
    existing buildings, electric poles, bridges, and light poles? What if
    such cable suspended systems had means for automatically attaching to
    the top of a MoPod such that the MoPod could be carried several km
    across the city — above all the cars and buses competing for space of
    the streets below? What if the MoPods could be released from the
    cable on to a ramp at any bus stop along the cable route without
    disrupting the trip of 29 other users? What if they could be “picked
    up” in like manner from any “bus stop”? What if the cable would
    charge your batteries as it carried you in your own MoPod? What if
    this could be built for less than a tenth of the cost of building a
    special bus lane?

    Some of the many cost advantages compared to buses and trains are:
    less labor, less energy, less infrastructure, less maintenance, less
    cost per seat (and the user pays this cost — not the tax payer who
    may not be able to use the system). From the users perspective, they
    use their own MoPod vehicle for the entire trip — only using the
    system when it makes sense for them (energy cost, lower per-mile cost,
    and time savings are the main reasons to use the cable suspended
    public part). Parking is much less of a problem than with cars
    (MoPods are so light weight they can be stood up vertical for minimal
    parking footprint for not much more space needs than a bike).

    This is NOT rocket science (but rocket science can be applied too —
    see our ET3 system), aPRT is NOT what it was 30 years ago. You all
    owe it to your selves as transportation professionals to FULLY
    understand what many of you are unreasonably opposed to — you might
    even get to keep or improve your jobs (unless you are secretly on the
    payroll of outmoded train or bus manufactures)!

    Now what if your MoPod could drive into an empty ET3 capsule and be
    automatically routed to any major city on earth in 4 hours or less
    (while using less than 1/50th as much electrical energy per passenger
    as the most efficient electric train or electric car)? THE “REAL” aPRT
    STANDS UP! Don’t just blast it with emotion based arguments — get
    out you calculators (or slide rules if i have some of you pegged
    right), and prove that trains, buses, and bikes are better than the
    real PRT.

    Best regards,

    Daryl Oster
    (c) 2011 all rights reserved. ETT, et3, MoPod, “space travel on earth”,
    e-tube, e-tubes, & the logos thereof are trademarks & service marks of
    et3.com Inc. For licensing contact:POB 1423 Crystal River FL 34423-1423
    cell:(352)257-1310 Skype:daryl.oster et3@et3.com http://www.et3.com et3.net
    All information included or attached is intended only for the recipient
    and is confidential unless otherwise noted.

  2. Scooters and the like may be “personal” and “rapid” but they are hardly

    I believe that the following are essential requirements for an adequate
    transport system.

    1. No dependence on individual vehicle ownership.

    2. No dependence on travellers being able to drive safely.

    3. Vehicles must not obtrude on the use of public space to more than a limited

    4. The system must be energy efficient and not too polluting.

    5. The system must cater for people’s travel needs, though possibly not as well
    as they might like (which is probably impossible).

    A car based system is based on the principle of prioritising 5 over all the
    others. It does not seem to me that a scooter based system would score much
    better. Bicycles are much better — they don’t serve 5 so well, but serve 3 and
    4 much better, and a Velib type system can satisfy 1 as well. But 2 seems to me
    to be much harder.

    Conventional public transport can satisfy all 5 requirements — even if no 5 is
    served less well than by a car based system. So can PRT in theory, but it is
    unproven technology and belongs with multi-modal vehicles (road railers,
    amphibious buses etc.) and airships in the realm of ideas that should be filed
    away for possible future use when their practical problems have been ironed out.

    I have encountered PRT advocates who seem to think that there is no need to
    consider any other solution to our transport problems. I believe that they are
    being completely unrealistic, but I don’t think that means that PRT itself
    should be dismissed as something that can never work.

    Simon Norton

    • 3. Vehicles must not obtrude on the use of public space to more than a limited

      4. The system must be energy efficient and not too polluting.

      5. The system must cater for people’s travel needs, though possibly not as well
      as they might like (which is probably impossible).

      Conventional public transport does very poorly on these three requirements

      Regarding (3): Railway lines brutally divide cities. There’s one near where I live, and it cuts off two potentially convenient short cuts I would be able to take if it were not there. Its noise adversely affects property values on nearby streets. Trains and their catenaries are visually very obtrusive. Buses are not much better. They’re big, noisy and smelly. They require roads, of course, but so do cars.

      Regarding (4): Most mass transit is barely more efficient than private cars, if at all. There are a few exceptions which are efficient because of very high load factors. Most systems, especially away from the largest cities, cannot achieve the load factors that would make them efficient.

      Regarding (5): This is the worst aspect of mass transit. Instead of taking people directly where they want to go when they want to go there, mass transit takes people wherever is convenient for the transit system, at whatever time is convenient for the transit system, by whatever devious route happens to be convenient for the transit system. In the best cases, the mismatch between what the passenger wants and what the transport system wants add 30-50% to journey times, relative to private transport (including the bicycle for fairly short journeys). More often it doubles the journey time, or worse. If one’s destination is out of the way, of if one wishes to travel at night or at the weekend, there may be no available service at all. Apart from getting people where they want when they want to go there, there are also the problems of comfort (generally very poor), and privacy (usually nonexistent).

  3. 5. Who is making the best things about it better yet?

    Peraves. An electric version of their streamlined, enclosed motorbike design, which they’ve been manufacturing since the mid-80s, was a successful finalist in the automotive X-Prize, winning $2.5 million. It is simultaneously one of the greenest and one of the coolest ways to move around (see http://peraves.wordpress.com/)

    6. And who is getting some kind of control of the worst?

    Google. The biggest problem with scooters is that they’re very dangerous to ride. If the job of driving can be taken over by a computer, it can potentially be made a great deal safer.

    One problem that no-one is currently solving is that of crossings and intersections. Crossings are the main cause of collisions and fatalities in all transport systems, and even without the accidents, they slow traffic down enormously. If every crossing were turned into an overpass/underpass, traffic flow would be much smoother and much safer.

    These PRT enthusiasts are distracting us at a time when we need all our brains and focus for the real stuff. Out they go.

    Who are they distracting? Scarcely anyone notices PRT. By far the worst distraction in transport is mass transit, especially urban railway systems. Railway enthusiasts are encouraging governments and municipalities to install boondoggle transit systems that waste many billions around the world every year, while barely making a dent, if even that, in our transport and energy problems. The Kaohsiung MRT system that you mention is just one of many examples.

    • I take your point Bruce about the dangers and system problems associated with intersections. In today’s transport mode. Yes, something really should be done – and there are many ways to tackle it.

      That said, to go from there to ” overpass/underpass” solutions, is a big jump. Sure, let’s have a look at them as one possible option, but let’s not neglect the others. We look closely and may the best solution win.

      • Roundabouts help to a degree. The obvious problem with overpasses and underpasses is expense. They’d be quite cheap if only scooters were going to use them, but they usually have to be built for trucks and buses, too.

        • Investment costs, which can be very high. As you rightly mention.

          And also the enormous costs incurred during the constrution period.

          To my mind we really have to check out all the options, and there are many. I wish I had time to run down the list. But one of them — that I happen too like very much — is to get rid of at least half of all the traffic signals, some minor shifts in the approach, slowing the traffic, and getting people to use direct eye contact (only possible at lower speeds). THere is a whole structure behind that, and if I can find a couple of references (unlikely given my work load today) I will try to post them.

        • That removing signage and markings has safety benefits is as yet unsubstantiated by any robust research. If it has benefits at all, the benefits are small. Anyway, it’s not a solution to the world’s traffic problems by any stretch. It’s just tinkering.

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