Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for October 10th, 2007

Welcome to the transport of tomorrow

with 10 comments

| Technology | The Guardian

The last time I wrote about Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) I got all sorts of raspberries from people unimpressed with an old prototype in the US. This piece is about the new Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport, which looks like it will be a significant step forward to the sort of PRT that is going to be needed all over the place.


It seems to me that we need new kinds of transportation. Owning cars, and keeping them standing around doing nothing most of the time, is clearly very wasteful. The automotive industry for most of its existence has not been about mobility or accessibility – it has been about selling a dream – an illusion – of personal freedom. That has very nearly cost us the planet. Automotive dependence is bad for us. It ruins our health, and our sense of community. It kills and maims more of us than our current, plentiful, global conflicts. It has very nearly destroyed one of mankind’s most significant achievements – the city. We seem to have turned back – if the straws in the wind in more civilised places than this are any indication. Congestion charges: woonerfen: rental bikes: car sharing: car free days: pedestrian precincts: no through roads for cars in the city centre: shared ride taxis: light rail.

The biggest issue that we face is making the alternative to the car attractive enough. A mode which comes when you want it and takes you where you want to go, but then goes off somewhere else – so you don’t have to worry about parking. In fact, its bad enough that all those wonderful machines sit idle nearly all the time, but the space they occupy is ridiculous. PRT is the mode whose hour is nearly here. At long last we have the sort of computing power to cope with the huge number of routing algorithms that are needed to make it work. We are nearly at the point where the vehicles can drive themselves. And we may even be able to come up with a drive train that does not need huge amounts of fossil fuel – that will be essential since we will not have that for much longer.

PRT is better than a bus but cheaper than a taxi – which is pretty much the market niche that needs to be filled if we are to shift away from the current mode share. There will be those reluctant to give up their cars – and there will still be significant markets for mass transit – but PRT can drive up the middle.

I think the next time I go to LHR I will be flying BA,  if only so I can check out the PRT at T5.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 10, 2007 at 9:04 pm

Posted in transit

TransLink surplus $17 million higher than forecast

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Frank Luba, The Province

Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2007

TransLink is on track for a surplus $17 million higher than the transportation authority forecast for 2007.

The second-quarter report going to the TransLink board meeting today shows the 2007 surplus was supposed to be $48.2 million but is now forecast to be $65.2 million, which would push the organization’s cumulative surplus to a whopping $386.1 million.

The surplus is needed, said TransLink board chairman Malcolm Brodie, to address long-range plans, particularly because the annual surplus is expected to end after 2008 due to rising costs.

This is the organization that recently hiked fares. The same organization that cannot cope with current demand and has little in the way of current plans to deal with that. But will be landed with huge bills because of its “long-range plans”.

I see a real issue of credibility here. How on earth does this Board live with the knowledge that the daily experience of its customers is overcrowding and pass-ups while it sits on a cushion on nearly $400 million! I thought that the prospect of being hanged in the morning was supposed to concentrate the mind wonderfully but I see no sign of it here. Small wonder there is no outcry when Kevin Falcon decides to replace the elected Mayors and Councillors with a Board of hand picked government cronies and toadies. There is certainly no experience of them doing an outstanding job for their constituents – or even a barely adequate one. So perhaps in the popular mind the prospect of the new Board is that they could hardly be worse than the present crowd.

I wonder if anyone at Translink thought that perhaps they might actually spend some of this “found money” on improving service?

And how come this story is not on the CBC or in the Sun? Well done Frank!

Written by Stephen Rees

October 10, 2007 at 11:56 am

Posted in transit