Friday, September 30, 2011

Cybertran's Strange Political Bedfellows

Self-described "progressive" members of the Richmond, California City Council voted to spend $20,000 to lobby for a federal transportation grant for Cybertran, a PRT concept.

However, Cybertran's supporters are not all progressives.

Allen Payton is CEO, and Vice Chairman of the Board of eTranzUSA , a partner (PDF) and promoter of Cybertran. On April 27, 2010, Payton showed a video to the City Council of Brentwood, California which voted in favor of a resolution "authorizing the Mayor or designee to send a letter to the Chairperson of the U.S. House of Representatives, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in support of a funding application for CyberTran International Inc. light rail transit system" ((PDF)). Allen Payton also left comments about Cybertran on an article about Skytran and an article about PRT in Mountain View, California and another article about PRT. More comments from Payton about Cybertran on this forum.

Besides, being an enthusiastic PRTista, Allen Payton is a staunch, right-wing Republican. Lisa Vorderbrueggen at the Political Blotter in this 2008 post, recounts briefly the colorful political career of Allen Payton. Some highlights:

Payton was the man behind an anonymous hit-piece on Freitas that arrived in Antioch mailboxes just prior to the mayor’s 2004 re-election. Some pointed the finger at Davis but Payton eventually admitted that he was the author.

Payton has political baggage, too.He served on a deeply dysfunctional City Council from 1994-1998 and barely survived a 1996 recall campaign. Payton abandoned plans in 2000 to run for mayor after he was arrested in an domestic dispute involving his wife.

But regardless of his political challenges, Payton faces an even steeper uphill climb as a write-in candidate. As the title suggests, a write-in candidate must persuade voters to physically write down his or her name on the ballot. That takes a lot of motivation.

The post includes a comment from Payton "correcting" the info about the anonymous hit-piece, saying he was not the author. Payton claimed he was the fall guy for the episode.

A September 16, 1998 San Francisco Chronicle article titled "Antioch Councilman Paying Fine / $72,000 penalty stems from false business ads" has more details about Payton:

The district attorneys of Marin and Sonoma counties filed suit earlier this year in Marin County Superior Court against Payton and his wife, Donna, accusing them of making unfounded claims in flyers and radio ads about the benefits of Fatbusters, a weight-loss program that includes herbal supplements. There was no scientific basis for saying that Fatbusters can "curb your appetite" or "literally shrink and melt away the fat," prosecutors alleged.

Payton complains that the decision to fine him for false advertising was an example of over-regulation. More details about Payton's klassy style in campaigning:

Payton faces another lawsuit for flyers he sent out during the 1996 City Council campaign.

Losing candidate Michael Clement's slander suit against Payton accuses him of saying falsely that Clement shirked his taxes and once greeted police who came to his property at gunpoint. Payton says his statements were within the bounds of free speech and has asked a judge to dismiss the case.

Payton, a Republican stumped for John McCain in Florida in 2008. Payton also donated a total of $2,000 to McCain in 2007. Robert Chew, Vice President of eTranzUSA contributed a total of $6,900 to McCain in 2008.

Payton was also part of Meg Whitman's failed effort to win the 2010 gubernatorial election in California.

Like a lot of Republicans, Payton likes to say nasty stuff about gay people - one of his tweets says:

"CA Democrats advance 'lesbians-as-role models' plan - while the state continues to face a $26 billion deficit. VETO!"

and this tweet:

The following photo below from the eTranz Facebook (link) Photo shows Allen Payton and Bob Chew sitting inside a silly Cybertran model.

Previous posts on Cybertran:

Cybertran Defined by Pod Promoters as Personal Rapid Transit

Tragic Waste of Taxpayers' Dollars on Gadgetbahn in Richmond, California

Cybertran Defined by Pod Promoters as Personal Rapid Transit

This is a follow-up of the Cybertran saga I first reported last week (see "Tragic Waste of Taxpayers' Dollars on Gadgetbahn in Richmond, California"). Cybertran is being promoted by Richmond's "progressive" Mayor and city council.

While Cybertran is not strictly a PRT concept, it borrows heavily on the PRT "innovation" jargon (see 2009 Terrain article) and is a co-participant at conferences - most recently at a panel discussion about the "Future Transit" with ULTra's Steve Raney (video here of Steve Raney at this event). Steve Raney himself has worked on Cybertran - this is from Raney's curriculum vitae (PDF): and also mentioned on his Advanced Transit Association (ATRA) bio.

Steve Raney is founder of, a nonprofit advanced transportation & smart growth think tank. .... He designed a version of Cybertran's Group Rapid Transit train control system.

There's an article in the Podcar City Conference Newsletter #2 - August 15, 2008 (PDF) titled "Investment converges on CYBER-TRAN automated rail system". in the November 18. 2009 newsletter (PDF) Cybertran is described as a "PRT producer"

Of course, let's not forget some of the PRT producers that are emerging - Taxi2000, Skytran, RUF, Beamways, Cybertran - as all are continually active and some are receiving additional funding and resources this year; a Congratulations is in order!

Cybertran is also part of an ATRA "Technology Evaluation" titled "Personal Automated Transportation: Status and Potential of Personal Rapid Transit" (PDF) The study includes this "warning" as to the confusing inclusion of a seemingly non-prt concept in the PRT category:

Cybertran is marketing their system as a GRT system. However, for the purposes of this report, we are making the assumption that it could operate in PRT mode, in which case the vehicle would pick up only one passenger (or a group wishing to travel together) and make a non-stop trip to his or her destination. Please keep this distinction in mind if you compare the results of this report with Cybertran literature. Cybertran is built for higher speeds than would be necessary for urban PRT.

If the experts on PRT at ATRA define Cybertran as PRT, who am I to argue with them? From now on, I will refer to Cybertran as a PRT concept.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

ULTra President Martin Lowson Revises History of PRT in Cardiff, Wales

In a recent article about the glorified golf carts of Heathrow written by Graham Henry in the South Wales Echo, Martin Lowson, president of ULTra, formerly Advanced Transport Systems Ltd, now called ULTra Global PRT gives a bizarre answer to the question about what happened when the company failed to created a PRT system for Cardiff back in 2003:

Martin Lowson, president of ULTra Global PRT, said the scheme had fallen in Cardiff because of EU competition laws.

He said: “What actually happened was that they got funding to put the system in the Cardiff Bay area, but couldn’t find a way to procure it because of rules from the EU which said we must have competition.

That is not what happened according to the BBC:

Cardiff County Council said it was taking legal advice on the Welsh administration's decision on Friday not to give £8.8m in the coming financial year to help develop the £45m Ultra scheme.

Ministers have told the authority that they are reluctant to support the scheme - which was due to begin next year - without clear agreements on private funding.

And there was opposition:

Friends of the Earth Cymru welcomed the assembly decision, saying Cardiff council had not thought the system through properly.

There's more detail from a Jan 31 2003 article by Rhodri Clark for the The Western Mail (no longer online):

FUNDING for a futurist new transport system has been frozen just a fortnight after it began trials.

Last year the National Assembly announced grants which could exceed £15m for the Ultra system of driverless passenger pods.

The system was to have started carrying passengers at Cardiff Bay in 2005, with the elevated track later being extended into the city centre. Yesterday, however, Transport Minister Sue Essex said the grant for Ultra was being withheld because of uncertainty over its finance.

Transport managers welcomed the decision, saying the priorities for the Assembly's limited budget were proven transport systems.

Unveiling a package of transport grants for Wales, Ms Essex admitted she was disappointed that most of the money announced last year for public transport was not spent.

She promised that the Assembly would continue with rail investments, including money for the Vale of Glamorgan line, despite suggestions from London that up to 35% of services may be cut.

Much of the new money announced yesterday will go on better bus services and facilities for walkers and cyclists. Construction will start on part of the Ammanford distributor road and on the Lly peninsula "Butlin's bypass".

Asked about funding for Ultra, Ms Essex said, "We've held off on the Ultra at the moment.

"There hasn't been a guaranteed private-sector partner coming in. At the moment there isn't a guarantee that that's going to go through."

The scheme is projected to cost £45m, about £30m of which needs to be financed privately. Its promoters say it will not need an operating subsidy.

Ms Essex said the Assembly was keen to support innovation and it was the financial rather than technical aspects which had caused the rethink.

Even the initial loop between the Assembly building and Cardiff County Council's headquarters has been shelved.

"We couldn't do the initial loop unless we had the guarantee that the second stage is going to be forthcoming to link in at the station [Cardiff Central]," said Ms Essex.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport Wales, which represents bus and coach operators, said Ultra had been allocated "a hell of a lot of money". Director John Pockett said, "There's only a limited amount of money going into transport, but this unproven scheme seemed to be taking priority over modes of transport which are proven to provide good solutions. We voiced our concerns about Ultra at our last meeting with the minister. We welcome the fact that she is rethinking the scheme.

Mr.Lowson doesn't explain why ULTra said it was prepared to build a PRT system in Cardiff back in 2003, but was unable to deliver a working model, albeit a stripped down version with no free-standing stations at Heathrow on until this summer. If they were ready to go in 2003, what was the reason for all the delays?

In other ULTra news, it appears ULTra is downplaying expectations on their much-hyped "pod revolution" in an Air Rail News interview with ULTra's John Hammersley. Here's his response to a question about the future of the pods at Heathrow:

The decision on that rests with BAA, they have always said that first they want to see the system in place before making any extensive plans for the future, and to see how the passengers will respond.... At the moment we’re in the process of going from the launch of the pilot through the assessment of it and then, hopefully, into extension further, if that is the decision taken by BAA.

And finally some honesty about whether ULTra's pods could be a feasible urban transit mode:

Originally the Ultra system was designed to meet the needs of the 21st century city as an urban transport mode. The pods can help free up the roads and congestion and is a good option for the so-called "last mile" journey. Having a PRT network in the city enables the increase of other forms of public transport. However cities are very complicated environments with many authorities and owners of the land, whilst airports or campus environment generally has one major stakeholder.

Exactly, a little something called "right of way" which the PRTistas treat with the same lack of reality they treat everything else having to do with transportation and urban design.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tragic Waste of Taxpayers' Dollars on Gadgetbahn in Richmond, California

The PRT hucksters claim their concepts are "faster, cheaper, better" than reality-based transit modes such as LRT, streetcars or buses. In these tough times, with less dollars in their budgets, cities are more vulnerable to that con-job.

The latest suckers to fall for the gadgetbahn flim-flam is Richmond, California:

The City Council will spend $20,000 to lobby for a federal transportation grant to help light-rail company CyberTran develop 13 ultralight rail stations throughout the city — a transit system, in the words of city leaders and CyberTran’s CEO, that would be clean, efficient, and create 20,000 jobs in the next decade.

And where is the $$$ going?

Ritterman went to Washington D.C. with CyberTran’s team this July to lobby for the federal transportation funding. The $20,000 approved by the city Tuesday will go to the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, which will seek infrastructure funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s Surface Transportation Program.

Cybertran is an infeasible "gadgetbahn" concept. I was interviewed about Cybertran back in 2007 when they attempted to flim-flam Alameda:

The driverless system, using ultra light rail cars would operate on regular routes, but also be capable of delivering passengers directly from their origin to their destination. Dubbed Personal Rapid Transit or PRT, critics say these systems require complicated computer controlled switching, extensive elevated stations and tracks that wildly raise costs and create visual blight.

Ken Avidor, a Minnesota transit advocate and critic of similarly proposed systems, called the project the latest iteration of "gadgetbahn," a play on "autobahn" the German word for freeway. Gadgetbahn refers to highly technological transport systems relying on untried innovations. "All of these gadgetbahn projects always rely on totally unrealistic cost estimates," he said. "A lot of the public officials today are baby boomers. They saw the Jetsons. And it has a lot of appeal," Avidor said. After rattling off a list of failed proposals, including one where proponents claimed to keep costs low by having elevated structures built by machine, Avidor accused PRT supporters of wowing people with technology to block realistic alternatives. "It's a stalking horse for people who don't want light rail," he said

While the Cybertran prototype doesn't look like the typical PRT pod, its promoters use the same PRT lingo:

CyberTran ultralight rail uses small cars carrying 20 passengers. (The same-sized cars could be configured to hold anywhere from six to 30 riders.) Small, light cars run on cheaper tracks. The total capital cost of a CyberTran urban system (including rail and guideways) is about a tenth or less the cost per passenger mile of conventional light rail[2]. That is important -- capital costs dominate rail expenses.

According to this web page on Professor Schneider's gadgetbahn site, Cybertran was used to wangle a chunk of taxpayers' $$$ in New York nearly ten years ago:

By providing a relatively high quality, high speed service, we should be able to attract a relatively large ridership which combined with our low costs will result in unprecedented cost recovery ratios and possibly significant profits.

And finally, I would like to take this opportunity to announce a significant breakthrough in the development of the CyberTran system. The State of New York has recently awarded CyberTran with a grant of $350,000 to perform a feasibility analysis for a demonstration system linking the seat of the NYS government - the Empire State Plaza with the Rensselaer AMTRAK station located approximately 1.25 miles away across the Hudson River. The feasibility study is projected to be followed by the allocation of $4M for a low speed test facility which in turn will be followed by the $30M demonstration project.

So, what happened to that N.Y. Cybertran study?

UPDATE: Found the following mention of it in this article and this article from 2002:

UPDATE 2: The fate of Cybertran in NY:

UPDATE 2: "The latest offering, a relatively affordable $30 million link between the Rensselaer train station and Empire State Plaza - known as CyberTran - died a quiet death in 2004 for want of federal funding."

But not before lobbyists got a chunk of the $$$.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

ULTra's Glorified Golf Carts at Heathrow Not "Faster, Better, Cheaper"

For many years, I've had to listen to the PRTistas claim Personal Rapid Transit was "faster, better cheaper" compared to conventional modes of transit. The so-called Heathrow PRT project was supposed to be the proof of those claims... and it has failed miserably.

After many years, delays and enormous piles of hype, the pods of Heathrow are now "officially unveiled"(Reuters):

Traveling at speeds up to 40 km/hour (25 mph), after an average wait of just 34 seconds, the system looks like something straight from a science fiction film.

25 mph? Not exactly "rapid". And the 34 second wait? That pretty much dooms their oft-repeated claim that you never have to wait for PRT. Also, a 34 second wait eliminates the possibility that PRT could operate at "nano-second headways" in order to match the capacity of conventional transit. With those pathetic stats, the ULTra pods cannot be seriously considered a viable transit mode for urban areas.

According to ULTra, the company behind the technology, the 30 million pound ($47 million) development could transport up to 500,000 passengers each year and replace 50,000 shuttle bus journeys.

First of all, ULTra is not the first company to debut a fleet of unmanned peoplemovers in an airport parking lot. That was first accomplished by FROG/2getthere at Schiphol Airport 3 years before the turn of the last century. Frog/2getthere provided platforms including the guidance technology to ATS in 2001.

ULTra is essentially FROG/2getthere with its dorky wheels covered up to give it a futuristic look:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And even with their awesome automated "CyberCabs" FROG/2getthere went bankrupt in 2007.

The cost of the Heathrow pod project proves that the infrastructure is expensive to build. There are no real-life figures on what it will cost to operate and maintain the pods of Heathrow for a year. There is a control room and presumably people who have to monitor the pods. How much that all costs - 3 or 4 million dollars a year for a simple two mile stretch, it's certainly not "cheaper" than taxis or jitneys. With deep pockets, BAA will likely continue to fund the pods until the flimsy fleet of battery-powered pods need to be replaced. It cannot be claimed as presidential candidate Michele Bachmann stated in 2004 that PRT could possibly "pay for itself".

It could be argued that the Heathrow pod "system" is not a true PRT system at all. It has a heavy "bi-directional guideway" that would not fit on the average city street. The Heathrow pod system do not have the elevated stations that are pictured in countless visuals on the web- for example, the enormous, hideous station festooned with advertisements on this webpage. The Heathrow pods have rubber tires and do not circulate like taxis, but instead must be berthed separately so they can charge their batteries. The pods must also back out of their berths - requiring plenty of room.

The glorified golf carts of Heathrow only prove that Professor Vukan Vuchic was right all along about PRT:

The PRT concept is imagined to capture the advantages of personal service by private car with the high efficiency of rapid transit. Actually, the PRT concept combines two mutually incompatible elements of these two systems: very small vehicles with complicated guideways and stations. Thus, in central cities, where heavy travel volumes could justify investment in guideways, vehicles would be far too small to meet the demand. In suburbs, where small vehicles would be ideal, the extensive infrastructure would be economically unfeasible and environmentally unacceptable.

The PRT concept is thus a totally unrealistic "Buck Rogers" concept for which there are no applications where it would be operated efficiently and economically.

Not "faster, not cheaper, not better"... just a lot of hype.

More About ULTra: ULTra President Martin Lowson Revises History of PRT in Cardiff, Wales.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Another FAIL for Personal Rapid Transit - SW Corridor LRT Approved by FTA

The Strib:

The Federal Transit Administration said Friday that it has approved preliminary engineering work on a new light-rail line that, if built, would become the third in the Twin Cities.

The 15-mile Southwest Corridor line would connect downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. If the project continues to clear FTA hurdles and wins federal funding, construction would begin in 2014, with an aim of making the rail line operational by 2017 or 2018.

I remember when the PRT hucksters proposed their idiotic pod concept for the SW Corridor - how many chances do these crackpots and con artists get?

Here's the page that used to be on a PDF available on the SW corridor website (click to make it bigger):

Read about recent Personal Rapid Transit flops and fiascos HERE.