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Editorial: Unfortunately, the pod car never took off

Mountain View residents who may have dreamed of seeing a space-age transportation system of "pod cars" strung along Shoreline Boulevard between downtown and the North Bayshore had to be disappointed when the City Council pulled the plug on a small investment in the experimental system proposed by SkyTran.

Talking about the rush-hour traffic crunch of Google and other high-tech employees trying to get to work in North Bayshore, council member Ronit Bryant perhaps summed up the council majority's hesitancy best: "We do not have any direction from our residents that pods hanging from the sky going to and from downtown is our solution to this problem. This (a city investment) is really premature. The proof of concept should happen at NASA Ames." The SkyTran company is based at NASA-Ames, just a stone's throw from the North Bayshore home of Google.

Championed by council member Mike Kasperzak, the pod cars have not been able to attract any interest from investors to test the true viability of the system. Kasperzak's request to use $75,000 of the Shoreline Fund to back a Department of Transportation-led development program for the technology fell on deaf ears, as council members said the idea needed to have support from North Bayshore businesses as well as more proof the technology would work.

Kasperzak said SkyTran would not be the only company working on the technology funded in part by the city's $75,000 grant. But the company's claims, particularly their ability to carry as many passengers as three freeway lanes, did not seem genuine to some council members. Bryant cited a study of a system proposed to serve San Jose Airport and the Diridon light rail station that concluded the pod cars would not do the job, at least not with current technology.

"They thought the carrying capacity wasn't there to do that, and that was in 2012," Bryant said.

"I am not interested in committing myself to technology that isn't there and has a carrying capacity that I find hard to believe," Bryant told the council.

SkyTran has been trying to get Mountain View interested in pod cars since 2010, when it was estimated that an 8.5-mile pod car system to connect downtown to Moffett Field with 24 stations would cost between $60 million and $130 million. It is difficult to imagine how a very modest $75,000 investment by Mountain View would get the ball rolling on such a costly project.

John McAlister, the vice mayor, said he had been told, "This is not the type of venture people put money into." Instead, he suggest that studying pod cars would be more appropriate for the city's newly minted Transportation Management Association, which is composed of the city's major companies, including Google, and is tasked with the job of managing traffic congestion and sharing employee shuttle services.

It is worth noting that none of the city's top companies have expressed much interest in pod cars. Google is focused on its driverless car technology. Rather than pod cars, a Google representative suggested that the city partner with the company to study a range of options for reducing North Bayshore traffic, including getting more people to bike, join carpools and use transit.

So despite watching this shimmering vision of space-age pod cars disappear in a convincing City Council reality-check, no one can deny that it would be really cool if Mountain View was the first city in the United States to install a system of pod cars whose passengers would glide above the clogged highways and interchanges in comfortable pods, stopping between major destinations along the way. If the system would work as planned, it would take thousands of vehicles off our already stressed local traffic network, shuffling workers between Caltrain and the North Bayshore. Sadly, it was a dream that won't come true, at least until someone antes up a few million dollars to get the pod cars off the ground.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Steven A.
a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Seems kind of expensive. Why not just run a bus shuttle up and down Shoreline Ave.?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Buses and Shuttles get stuck in the same traffic.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmm
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 1, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Instead of the word unfortunately in the title, it should read fortunately. The whole thing would look ugly above ground and way too expensive for the few people it will transport.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by The Bell Tolls
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 1, 2014 at 2:25 pm

A simple solution: (1) Erect tollbooths at Shoreline and Rengstorff north of 101. (2) Charge a $5, $10, or $20 congestion toll anytime traffic is heavy; these are out-of-town googlers and they can afford it. (3) Fund more city parks with the proceeds.

At $20/visit you will see people's car driving behavior change. Just the mere discussion of this will cause GOOG to change. GOOG does not care one bit about traffic; what they care about is money. Threaten to take $20 out of their employee's pockets on a daily basis and they will suddenly seem concerned with MntView traffic.

This works in London, it can work here.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 1, 2014 at 2:26 pm

We need a high-speed link from the Caltrain/Light Rail/bus terminal to Google/Microsoft/LinkedIn/Intuit/NASA. That way, their employees could live anywhere served by Caltrain or Light Rail, and in a couple of years Bart, and take public transportation to work. The alternative is worsening gridlock.

In the long run, driverless cars will be the answer, but that is yaers off.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Greg Coladonato
a resident of Slater
on Apr 1, 2014 at 2:53 pm

Greg Coladonato is a registered user.

Steven A said: "Seems kind of expensive. Why not just run a bus shuttle up and down Shoreline Ave?"
Garrett said: "Buses and Shuttles get stuck in the same traffic."

I have been proposing a very simple potential solution to the problem of rush hour traffic on on Shoreline for a couple of years now during public comment time at City Council study sessions and council meetings.

The City should paint rhombuses in the left hand lanes of Shoreline, and on the NB side, put up a sign that says, 7 AM - 10 AM, vehicles with N or more riders only, and on the SB side, put up a sign that says, 4 PM - 7 PM, vehicles with N or more riders only. Have strict enforcement until people realize they need to follow the rule.

If N isn't high enough to enable the shuttles from Caltrain to make it along the left hand lane unimpeded, increase N until they can.

What's wrong with this? If the whole experiment doesn't work, we can paint over the rhombuses and go back to pod cars and drones, or whatever. But we should stop dilly-dallying and try a simple solution like this one first.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Here in the land of venture capital and visionary thinking... the fact that nobody with money is willing to waive a measely $75K at this idea speaks volumes: It's a joke. It's a con. It's a scam. A band of merry pranksters trying to get rich off mismanaged silicon valley tax dollars.
Sky Tran must be disheartened. After all, didn't we just pay some even-more-absurd bicycle sharing plan about 50 times that?
It isn't unfortunate. Surprising, for sure, nut not unfortunate.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mike H
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 1, 2014 at 5:14 pm

Many communities with similar congestion problems are considering "Bus Rapid Transit" or BRT. Sometimes called Surface Subway, it basically combines the best traits of light-rail (off-board fare collection, platform loading, intersection stoplight priority, dedicated center lane alignment) with the best traits of buses (lower initial expense, flexibility). Seems like this could work for the Shoreline corridor. Check the Wikipedia entry for Bus Rapid Transit to learn more.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2014 at 5:23 pm

The Silicon Valley has infrastructure that is so last century and it is amazing since there are so many innovative residents. I think it must be the politicians who are adamant about preventing the Bay Area from getting ahead when it comes to traffic, public transit and out of the box thinking.

Google and other companies have engineers who can imagine great solutions to real life problems. Unfortunately the powers that be won't let them.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2014 at 6:35 pm

BRT to work it needs full or partial dedicated right away to avoid traffic, congestion and avoid delay.

It is cheaper then a subway but yes the roads need to be redesign, this seems to be easier then trying to secure funding for a El Camino Real subway.

Why not study the idea of turning Central Expressway into a BRT route system with bus lines feeding on and off to other points. High Density, Office Parks other street connectors, Central areas and San Jose Airport right at the end. Yes the Airport Express Bus, The Levi Shuttle.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Other People's Money
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 1, 2014 at 7:07 pm

If the editor is so thoroughly convinced, perhaps he'd like to invest 75K in a for profit version?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 2, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Converting a lane of Shoreline Boulevard or Central Expressway to BRT will decrease automobile throughput by 50. That is O.K. if you reduce the number of Cars by 50%, or more. However, I anticipate a reduction of only 10%, or so, thus exacerbating an already bad situation.

Does anyone have any data from cities that converted lanes to BRT?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Jackson Park
on Apr 3, 2014 at 6:48 am

Very fortunate our council exercised clear thinking this time (wish they'd do likewise with all the excessive development issues). My hometown is Mountain View, not Disney's Tomorrowland.

Set up experimental tracks somewhere else out of the people's way for testing, find and fix all the bugs in the tech and operations to mature the idea, THEN offer it to a city. Don't use M.V. as a lab rat, please. Last thing we need here is a sky full of abandoned monorail tracks due to poor planning.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Garrett83
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2014 at 11:12 am

Garrett83 is a registered user.

How else do we move people around? The idea of building more roads won't help and won't be cheap.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Henny Penny
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 3, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Don't worry, Garrett83: between Fukushima and the TCE contamination, synergistically interacting with the chloramine in the tap water, there'll be nobody around but cancer patients and juiced raw hemp franchises.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Greg Coladonato
a resident of Slater
on Apr 3, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Greg Coladonato is a registered user.

For anyone who's interested in looking at the Shoreline studies that have been done, they are all available here:

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by @Garrett83
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 4, 2014 at 2:57 pm

It's not about building new roads, just making the existing ones wider. Have better monitoring of street lights, to accommodate for the heavy traffic areas. Just like internet traffic, it's all manageable in a nice way, just needs to be done.


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