Uploaded: Tue, Mar 18, 2014, 1:16 pm
Make-or-break council decision on pod cars tonight
Tonight City Council members will decide what to do about their longstanding interest in having an automated transit network in Mountain View.
The futuristic idea is being raised as a way to deal with traffic congestion in Google's neighborhood north of Highway 101, where 3.4 million square feet of new offices could be built under a land use plan the council is considering this year. And as anyone who drives along North Shoreline Boulevard during commute hours knows, traffic jams are already quite common.
The concept that will be discussed tonight was proposed in 2009 -- an automated "pod car" system connecting North Bayshore's offices to the downtown train station and transit center.
Such systems aren't entirely unheard of -- there's one that's been functioning at London's Heathrow airport since 2009, a fleet of 21 automated pod cars with rubber tires that ride on a cement guideway. There several other companies with different designs, including a much more futuristic system under development by NASA Ames-based SkyTran which uses electro-magnetics to float and move the pod on an overhead rail that was said to be light enough to allow it to be mounted to utility poles and street lights.
Advocates say such systems are the most efficient and cost-effective transit systems ever devised, and may be the first to turn a profit. But whether Mountain View's vocal neighborhood development opponents would protest such a system remains to be seen. In a 2009 proposal, the route runs through the residential neighborhood on Stierlin Road on its way from downtown to Shoreline Boulevard. It also connected it to Moffett Field and NASA Ames, where development plans have stalled in recent years on a large research park and college campus.
City Council members passed a resolution in support of the concept in 2010 when it was referred to as a "personal rapid transit" system.
Tonight's council meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall at 500 Castro St.
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Posted by James Anderson Merritt
a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2014 at 5:42 pm
We are watching this issue closely from Santa Cruz. My understanding is that Mountain View's interest so far is in providing some seed money to build a proof-of-concept demonstration, in connection with a (Federal) government transportation research grant. Even if that happens, it sounds to me as if the City is a long way from greenlighting (much less investing in or operating) an actual transit system. There appears to be plenty of time for locals to scuttle the project if it later proves to be too expensive or impractical.
To address and/or clarify points raised by others here:
* PRT/ATN vehicles travel in the air, but they do not "fly." They are, effectively, autonomous, low-capacity elevated rail cars. Because the vehicles are small, they need a much lighter, less intrusive guideway than we are used to seeing with elevated trains or light-rail.
* Mountain View would be the "first on the block" in the US to build modern PRT, but not the first in the world. As alluded to in the article, there are already two functioning systems -- at Heathrow Airport in London, and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. A third, in Suncheon, South Korea, recently completed a successful trial run, and should open for general passenger service soon. Other municipalities around the world are seriously considering PRT. Morgantown, West Virginia, is the only US city to date, to build a system that could function as PRT (back in the 1970s). Although very expensive to construct (a flaw that modern systems don't share), Morgantown PRT was "built to last," carrying tens of thousands of passengers a year for the past three decades, while boasting enviable records for safety and performance, and costing only $5.5M (in 2014 dollars) per year to operate. Morgantown was an expensive prototype. The PRT systems of today are considerably less expensive to build, and becoming more so every year.
* I like the idea of running PRT guideway down the El Camino.
* I agree that the high-tech giants who are contributing to the traffic problems should also pony up funding and other resources to contribute to the solutions, of which PRT sounds very promising. But one of the big reasons you haven't yet seen private companies jump to establish PRT is the problem of zoning and other regulation. Private companies need to show useful results (ideally, profits) more quickly than governments do, or will allow. Even something as simple as Uber can get tied up in litigation and regulatory red-tape, and that is only to use the public roads and private vehicles that participants already OWN. In such a business environment, imagine how much more difficult, costly, and risky it is to put up a completely new transit mode and infrastructure. It is NEVER as easy as getting money together, forming a plan, and jumping in to construction. If it were, we'd probably have PRT all over the US today.
* The economics of PRT are very much different from "passenger rail," as we have known it for the past century, and there is every indication that, depending on the coverage area of the system (bigger is better), PRT will need minimal subsidy, and has the potential breaking-even or even generating a revenue surplus, despite charging only fares that rival those charged for city buses. One of the design goals for PRT was to eliminate the need for the massive taxpayer subsidy that traditional public transit (e.g., rail, light rail, and even city bus systems) requires. Data from the actual operation of PRT systems in the field suggest that this goal is realistic.