Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Loser cruisers?

Looks like Lyle Lanley is back. Today's Wellingtonian carries a front-page article headlined "Space-age travel", featuring the same Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) "pod" system that was promoted in the Dominion Post two months ago. I explained in a previous post why this technology, even if it had been proven to work anywhere in the real world (which it hasn't), offers nothing for Wellington that proven technology like light rail wouldn't do better.

I'll summarise those arguments when I write to the Wellingtonian, but for now I just want to counter the rabid anti-public transport arguments that the promoters trot out. In particular, they claim that:
Wellingtonians have a view that public transport is "for losers" and that will not change by upgrading buses and trains.
Well, we've all heard the term "loser cruiser" used as a term of abuse for buses, even by those who describe some of the passengers as "Lawyer Dude, Bank Girl and Rich Dude", presumably because anyone who could afford a car would be driving. But does it apply to Wellington, with our high rate of public transport ridership? Do only poor people use public transport?

Anecdotal evidence says "bollocks", and so do the stats. Here's a graph showing, for each income band, the percentage of residents who travel to work by bus:

Rate of bus use for Wellington TAs, by income bandFor most parts of the region, there is indeed a decrease in bus use with increasing income, and it certainly seems that few people earning more than the average wage take the bus. But Wellington City stands out, not just for its overall high bus usage, but for the fact that those in the top tax bracket are as likely to be on the "loser cruiser" as those earning $10,000.

But does this mean that well-off people in the outer suburbs all drive to work? No, a lot of them are on the train:

Rate of train use for Wellington TAs, by income bandI didn't expect this result, with rail commuters being predominantly high earners. Perhaps the cost of train travel has something to do with it, or maybe the train lines are aligned with high-income suburbs (though I doubt that). It's more likely to have something to do with where people work: local jobs in the suburbs might be predominantly low-paying manual or service jobs, whereas the high-paying professional jobs are in the Wellington CBD. If you live on the Kapiti Coast and work near the Wellington train station, then the train is a much better travel option than the bus. The effect is much less marked within Wellington itself, probably because only the northern suburbs are served by rail, and there's a range of income levels along the Johnsonville line.

The pod promoters also deny "that modernising the current public transport system will encourage more people to use buses and trains", claiming that "people don't like being stuck in a steel tube with 49 strangers. They prefer to sit in cars." Well, I suppose we'd all prefer privacy and comfort, but I don't think that it's being "stuck with strangers" that people really don't like: it's being stuck with infrequent, unreliable, slow and dirty service that puts people off. When there's a half-decent public transport service, as in Wellington, people of all incomes will use it. If that service gets upgraded to a truly decent one, then even more will choose public transport over private cars or mythical pods.


At 4:59 pm, June 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wellingtonians have a view that public transport is "for losers" ...

Ah, that it would be why more and more are catching the buses and trains - we must be a city of losers. Bollocks. Which Wellingtonians think this anyway and has anyone done a survey?

I can't understand why there is an obsession with monorails and PRT anyway - if there is to be elevated guideway through the city why not use something that actually works and has been proven (eg a Docklands Light Rail like system).

Or just use use plain old street level tram-type light rail like you have suggested.

At 7:39 pm, June 08, 2006, Blogger Unknown said...

I vote Tom for Council.

At 1:13 am, June 09, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

Thanks Tom for exposing the NZ version of the PRT scam.

It really is just a stalking horse for bashing rail transit... and that's all it is. In Minnesota, PRT people have been an effective part of an anti-rail, pro-highway campaign that prevented planning for rail here for twenty years.

ULTra is really FROG-on-a-Stick... a battery-operated, robotic vehicle made by another firm that uses magents as a guide. There is no way that ULTra could be scaled up to provide the high-capacity, speed and reliability that LRT provides.

Also, it's hard to imagine ULTra's wide guideway in an urban setting.

The only difference between FROG and ULTra that I can see is that the ULTra vehicles have wheel covers that hide their dorky, un-futuristic-looking wheels.

At 2:11 am, June 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most of what Avidor says is lies and propaganda. See this site for a thorough debunking of all of Avidor's ridiculous claims.

As for PRT, despite it's 30-year record, it's still a young technology -- it was well ahead of its time in the 1970s and it took 20-odd years for technology to catch up. In 1975, computer capacity was measured in kilobytes and kilohertz, and an automated system like PRT was difficult to implement.

Today, the technology is there for PRT, and several systems are well into development. ULTra has been extensively tested and is targeted for delivery at Heathrow. Sure, it's somewhat of a risk to implement a new technology, but it's also a risk to implement light rail -- just ask the cities where they've spent millions over budget for a light rail system that failed to deliver on promises. The point being, any large public transit system is a risk, and if the PRT model fits a given problem, it's worth looking into despite the unknowns.

Wikipedia has a nice neutral article on PRT, including criticism.

At 8:25 am, June 09, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

Wow, transportation wars!

Claims of consipracy in Minnesota. Claims of propoganda from a "transportation enthusiast" (I'm still not sure what that is yet).

We're through the looking glass here people.

I think the IDEA of the pods is cool, but its current form wouldn't work in downtown Wellington. We need some good transport solutions that are known to work and we will need them pretty soon.

Yes that's dull and safe but I'd rather that than wasted tax money.

At 10:01 am, June 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The big problem I had with the article was the choice of language. The impression that I was given was that in place of providing facts, the proposal was designed to pander to emotions. I'd never expect to see a 'public transport is for losers' comment in an article of substance. Besides, why should economic and ecological sustainability judged by whether the public transportation system looks cool. When considering viability, why not toss around facts such as resources per user required to run the system?

In general, I'm a fan of light rail. I've used the systems in Edmonton and Calgary,
both of which are very effective and highly utilised systems. With the tightly defined transportation corridors, Wellington is a model environment for effective LRT penetration. I don't see how a PRT system would be any more effective than a simple LRT layout.

At 10:50 am, June 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no knowledge of Wellington, so I can't comment on the applicability of any transit system there. LRT may very well be a good fit.

I only commented because I think it's important that people know that Avidor has an agenda and will stop at nothing to achieve that agenda: namely, the eradication of PRT from existence. He spends all his free time seeking out discussions like this so he can post links to his smear campaign. His aim is to discredit PRT out of existence.

What you choose for your city is ultimately your own business. I'm just cautioning you not to make the decision based on the ravings of Avidor. Do your own research, and you might find that PRT is indeed a feasible choice.

At 11:39 am, June 09, 2006, Blogger mikeymike said...

a key concern for me is that kiwis dont generally patronise first floor retail. in my mind this trait will apply to PRT - people will be (at the very least initially) averse to climbing to a platform above street/retail level.

and greg, "why should economic and ecological sustainability judged by whether the public transportation system looks cool[?]" because aesthetics are indeed a key part of urban form - and as a natural concequence, urban sustainability.

the income/public transport use analysis is interesting. in terms of sustainability, local research indicates that propensity to "act sustainably" drops off significantly as income passes approx. $75k p.a. i guess a key question becomes "do wellingtonians consider using the bus to ba an act of sustainably, or simply an act of convenience?"

it may well be that PRT works for wellie, but it will only work with wellie specific thinking/planning. for me, the visual impact is a serious detraction as is its elevated nature. but i'm sure we can design around these issues...

i wonder if they considered PRT when planning sylvia park...!?

At 1:53 pm, June 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding my anonymity:

(1) I am anonymous for the simple reason that Avidor fights dirty. If I reveal who I am, he will dig through my past and attempt to discredit me by taking past quotes and actions out of context. He is known for this. (For a particularly egregious example, see this page in which he attacks a PRT proponent who cannot possibly defend himself -- because he died three years ago!)

If I'm anonymous, he can't use personal attacks to derail (no pun intended) the debate.

(2) I have no interest, financial or political, in any PRT company. I just find the technology interesting (I am an enthusiast, after all :-)). I would be willing to reveal my identity to a neutral third party, on the condition that (s)he preserves my anonymity, to prove that I'm "nobody" in the PRT world.

(3) Unlike Avidor, I am not referring you to my own political pages. Avidor bombards you with hard-sell propaganda in an attempt to divert you from investigating PRT. I, on the other hand, ask you to do the research yourself.

As far as "loop" vs "grid", there is no reason why PRT could not start as a loop, then grow incrementally as demand increases. Unlike other forms of transit, PRT performance does not degrade when the system expands (by adding more guideway or stations) so it can scale up arbitrarily.

But, really, I don't want to get into a big PRT debate here. I will likely never see NZ, let alone live there, so I have no interest in what form of transportation you choose. My only motive is to set the record straight whenever Avidor tries to distort the truth.

At 2:09 pm, June 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

PRT is not a "monorail". A Monorail is a Light Rail system. How ironic.

At 2:29 pm, June 09, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

This is intense.

I was kidding aroud with the whole "politcal intrigue" thing. But Transport Enthusiast travelling the globe (or virtual globe as the case may be) staying one step behind the mysterious Avidor.

Both men(?) playing a dangerous game of urban transport chess.

Normally T.E. I would switch off as soon as you said: " I have no knowledge of Wellington, so I can't comment on the applicability of any transit system there".

If you admit it why would I listen? But this cat-and-mouse thing with Avidor has me intrigued.

Basically you'll have to take our word that we will not be swayed by Avidor. This is simply because PRT is not the solution that will work in Wellington, whether he says it is or it isn't. At least you said that you had never been to Wellington, Avidor didn't.

And finally, you should try to get here. It's bloody nice!


At 2:53 pm, June 09, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

I'd been willing to take Ken Avidor's more aggressive claims about PRT proponents with a grain of salt, particularly the suggestions that PRT is a "stalking horse" for the motorway lobby. But then came Mr Boag's ludicrous claims that Wellingtonians think public transport is for losers (which I think I've shown to be false). That's exactly the sort of thing that makes me suspicious of their motives.

I don't want to get into what looks like the Sunni-vs-Shiite of the transport world, but I think that I've shown in my response to PRT's claims for superiority (on the ATN site) that any benefits that it may have apply only to the sort of sprawling American city that Wellington has never been and hopefully will never become. In fact, one of the claimed "benefits" for NZ of this technology is that it promotes sprawl:

"ATN liberates the land around the outskirts of a city for new ATN-based property development"

Umm, no thanks.

Calls for LRT in Wellington are not, as they might be in some American cities, for a brand-new transit system. They simply aim to complete a popular and efficient electric rail system by extending it into the city rather than stopping it just short of the CBD. If the suburban rail lines were extended as at-grade light rail through the Golden Mile to Courtenay Place, they could serve over 70% more workers than they do now, as well as making them much more useful for non-peak travel.

Of all the cities in the world that could be chosen as guineapigs for this unproven technology, Wellington is one of the least suitable.

At 4:20 pm, June 09, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Tom: Mr. Boag's comments (assuming he was not misquoted) are ludicrous and insulting, but they are the comments of a single individual. The words and motivations of a single individual say nothing about the feasibility or applicability of a system he happens to support. To extrapolate the words of a few individuals into some vast anti-transit conspiracy is misguided and unfair (but that doesn't keep Avidor from doing it).

But I can respect the fact that you seem to have put a lot of thought into the issue, even if I don't necessarily agree with all of your conclusions.

To Hadyn: Thanks for the invitation! Maybe I'll get down there someday. I live almost exactly halfway around the globe from there, so it would be quite a long plane ride...

At 4:18 am, June 10, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

Here's a recent TC Daily Planet article I wrote about PRT. You can judge for yourself whether I'm a raving lunatic.

My anonymous accuser A.T.E. has cleaned up his act a little bit since he got banned and his posts erased from the Seattle P.I. web board for stuff like this.

Here is another amazing A.T.E. outburst on Wikipedia.

Isn't the internet wonderful?

At 4:33 am, June 10, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

Sorry, here's a better link to the TC Daily Planet about PRT.

At 4:54 am, June 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Follow that link, and notice that Avidor is still attacking Sheffer Lang, three years after the man succumbed to a long battle with cancer.

Jeez, Ken, do you have an ounce of decency? Why don't you let the man rest in peace?

Is it any wonder why I remain anonymous? This tactless idealogue will stop at nothing in his crusade against PRT.

This will be my last comment on this forum. I will not further clutter this blog with reponses to Avidor's ruthless attacks.

At 2:50 pm, June 10, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

Public Purpose is Wendell Cox's anti-LRT web site.

Read about Wendell Cox here:

One of the most notorious "hired guns" for the roadway industry and anti-transit, anti-rail zealots is the nationally known, self-styled "consultant", Wendell Cox. Cox has established a reputation for himself both as a roadway industry publicist and, particularly, as a "professional expert" opposing light rail transit (LRT) projects.

These PRTistas always reveal their true intent when they cite professional road warriors like Wendell Cox.

At 7:59 am, June 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to Richard Boag's comments, I don't understand why it's considered unacceptable if public transport is 'subsidised' when the road network and many other public services are not held to that standard. Motorway building is considered an 'investment' while public transport improvement is considered a 'subsidy'. That way of thinking is fundamentally flawed. Public transport is a valuable service that deserves public funds, just as schools and libraries do.

By the way, a better article about Wendell Cox (more substantive, less rhetorical) is 'Responding to Wendell Cox: A Report by G.B. Arrington, Parsons Brinkerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc.': http://www.cfte.org/images/response_cox.pdf
(You will notice that New Zealand is mentioned in the first sentence.)

At 3:06 am, June 12, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

Mr. Boag, PRT has been investigated in America for 30 years and dismissed over and over.

The simple fact is, no neighborhood is going to cut down half the trees on their street for a hideous monorail structure with a clear view into their bedroom windows.

No business association will approve removing potential customers from the street-level.

PRT's only purpose is to confuse citizens about the real transportation issues facing communities like Wellington and wasting the time of transit activists like myself.

You also need to stop saying that ULTra (FROG) is a "viable alternative". It is not. ULTra runs on batteries. It has an huge, expensive and ugly guideway. It cannot be operated in high winds, extreme temperatures or snow... and if you watch the video on the UTLra website, you can see for yourself it is anything but rapid.

At 8:28 am, June 12, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

Hi Avidor,

Is this "high winds" thing proven? If so where? A quick Google doesn't help much.

A link to a GOOD NON-BIASED* report on the effect of high winds on PRT would be great if you have one.

*I read reports for a living and can rip the s--- out of a bad one.

At 11:10 am, June 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...


For what it's worth, the ULTra site has a status report (PDF) from a few years back, that indicates that it's been tested in high winds, torrential rain, and sun. ULTra's site also indicates that they have solutions for ice and snow conditions.

I've seen no evidence to counter any of this, but I may have missed something. So I'd also be interested in what evidence Avidor has.

At 4:20 pm, June 12, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

We get 50 mph straight-line gusts all time here in Minnesota. The winds blow cars and big rigs off the road. It's one thing to end up in a ditch... it's another to be blown off an elevated guideway.

As for the snow and ice, the Taxi 2000 Corporation prospectus said this:

"This technology [Ultra] is different in many respects from the Taxi 2000 technology and has some distinct disadvantages. It uses a larger and heavier guideway that we believe will be more obtrusive and more expensive. It uses larger cars that we believe will be more expensive. Because it uses rotary propulsion and braking, it cannot operate in ice and snow conditions and cannot run at the close headways planned for the Taxi 2000 system. Because it uses battery power, it is speed limited. At this point it lacks a complete control system, as well as other vital features of a commercial product."

At 5:07 pm, June 12, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

Got a link to this ARUP report?

At 5:14 pm, June 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, Ken, your evidence against ULTra is:

(1) Your personal observation that 50mph winds blow cars off the road, and that this happens "all the time" in Minnesota.

Well, in my personal experience, I've driven a van in 60mph winds and had no problems, so maybe you just have a lot of bad drivers in Minnesota.

On one hand we have British regulatory agencies' approval of ULTra based on extensive testing in all different kinds of weather conditions; and on the other hand, we have an artist from Minnesota who watched a web video of ULTra and thinks it won't work.

(2) The prospectus of a competing company that is touting the benefits of its product over its competitor's.

Now, call me crazy, but do you think that maybe, just maybe, the prospectus of a competing company might not be most reliable source of information on a product?

Are you really presenting, as evidence, Taxi 2000's assertion that they believe that Taxi 2000 is superior to ULTra?

At 1:04 am, June 13, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

So, Taxi 2000 lied to potential investors about ULTra in its prospectus?

I think that's a pretty big violation of SEC law.

People go to jail for lying to investors.

At 1:22 am, June 13, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

Our research with the New Zealand Property Council...

I'd like to see this research on line, also.

At 1:44 am, June 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't be ridiculous Ken. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Taxi 2000 saying they believe their technology is better than ULTra's, especially back a few years ago when there was much less public information about ULTra.

Think about it: Taxi 2000 chose their design because they viewed it as superior, and they viewed the ULTra approach as inferior. Of course they're going to tout the benefits of their own design. Do you really believe this is a deception?

In any event, I assume this is the extent of your "evidence" that ULTra is not viable? Seems pretty flimsy to me, especially when British regulatory authorities have reached a completely different conclusion.

At 2:00 am, June 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's cut to the chase. Mr. Boag, why don't just you post a picture of yourself, so Ken can Photoshop you into a ridiculous distortion and post it on his blog, like he does for anyone who supports PRT.

This is what passes for skepticism in Minnesota.

At 2:27 am, June 13, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

Lot's of folks enjoy my satirical artwork, A.T.E.... like these good folks who opposed the monorail in Seattle (a good website that shows what a monorail structure would look like in an urban setting).

What sort of work do you do, A.T.E.? I mean besides getting yourself banned for posting ranting messages on message boards.

At 5:09 am, June 13, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

People ask me all the time whether PRT is for real and I tell them to just go to the PRT Yahoo sites and read the PRTistas discussing wacky stuff like moving people in "evacuated tubes"...as in this hilarious post.

Incidentally, Bob Dunning is President of ATRA.

At 8:39 am, June 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So far, Ken, you've posted several messages attempting to discredit:
(a) monorails
(b) me
(c) PRT proponents who had the nerve to discuss evacuated tubes.

And yet, we're still waiting for some piece of evidence that discredits ULTra. That's something you refuse to supply.

Could it be that your claims against ULTra are baseless, and that you've gone into attack mode to hide that fact?

At 10:27 am, June 13, 2006, Blogger Avidor said...

Oh, I wouldn't say ULTra is going to be a complete flop... I think ULTra will prove to be slightly better than Higherway PRT and maybe a tiny bit worse than Interstate Traveller... however, I'd hardly compare ULTra to MISTER PRT... there are just too many of these fun PRT systems to pick from!!!

Here's a unique PRT concept-Hallitubes! This article says Hallitubes has Terrorist-resistant Features (For fun click on the www.generaltransit.com link on the bottom of the page).

At 1:01 pm, June 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As usual, when asked to provide proof of your outrageous claims, you change the subject.


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