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EDITORIAL: Mass transit's uncertain future

Original post made on Apr 12, 2010

For years the city has been searching for a better way to get people from the downtown transit center — site of Caltrain's busy Mountain View station — to the Shoreline area. Could "personal rapid transit" do the trick?

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, April 12, 2010, 10:15 AM

Comments (17)

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Posted by PRT Strategies
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 11:21 am

For more on Personal Rapid Transit in California (videos, links, studies): Web Link.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 12, 2010 at 12:11 pm

The article didn't explain what's wrong with good, ol' traditional shuttle buses.


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Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm

I think Mountain View should make an all out push to get this system, it's the wave of the future and by the time it's ready to ride Cal Train will be getting better funding due to the inevitable return to normal revenues for the three counties that fund Cal Train. Don't plan for the next year or two plan for the next five years.

I think a system like this will have all kinds of uses beyond to and from Cal Train. People will ride it downtown Mountain View for the restaurants and shopping. Tourists will ride it because it's fun.

I think we should be on the wave of the future with Skytran


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Posted by John
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:08 pm

What does this say about the High Speed rail proposals? If local rail services can't make it financially, needing $30m to survive in the near term, how can the state-wide system be justified? How can we plan for a local transit system when the existing, in place, supposedly low cost CalTrain system is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy? For these sub-systems to work they need a seamless interconnected system or people will not leave their cars.

Getting to & from work is an important test, but what about going shopping, getting to the airport or your kids to school? Even sky-high fuel prices will not change the car habits, especially as auto gas mileage continues to improve.

That's really the competitive market that any fixed rail system has to work in.


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Posted by Peter Muller
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Personal rapid transit (PRT) can certainly supplement other transit systems and help increase their ridership. There are many suppliers offering PRT systems and Mountain View would be wise to undertake a cautious approach to PRT, considering all of the pros and cons to ensure it obtains a system best suited to its needs. www.prtconsulting.com contains much information about PRT including an entire section devoted to "How to Get into PRT".


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Posted by Doug Pearson
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 12, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Time after time, a new transportation concept arises and time after time, whether adopted or not, disadvantages appear. In the case of buses (shuttle, VTA) there are two big disadvantages: they cost a lot more than they earn (fares); and they are not nearly as "clean" as they could be because they are so often empty or nearly empty.

The PRT proposals solve one of the cost problems of buses (no operators--they are like horizontal elevators) but substitute one they share with trains (they have to pay for their right-of-way.)

Could PRT be successful in this area? Maybe, maybe not. But I would not depend on a PRT company's cost analysis to decide.


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Posted by John the Man
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 12, 2010 at 9:34 pm

I'm a big proponent of public transit and actually try to use it when I can. But right now.... we are in SUCH dire straits when it comes to money right now and for the foreseeable future.

We really need to table even the talk about any such projects for the time being and concentration our efforts and money on doing the things we already do and should be doing: schools, road, the public transit system we already have and pay for.

VTA and Caltrain can't even pay to run the systems they already have. We shouldn't be looking at adding more capital expenditures or adding more payroll to our transit systems right now. Let's fix and work with the system we already have.

Besides, talk of any new transit technologies/systems is all moot: we simply cannot afford it right now anyway. Just put it away for now and let's all try to work on the transits systems we already have and need to work right now.


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Posted by Dr Acula
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 12, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Within a short time after it starts operating, the PRT's structure and carriages will be derided as "aging", as this editorial has said about CalTrain. The PRT owner will be unable to make an adequate profit and will cease operation, ask for subsidy, or "donate" their stuff to some public agency.

Without suitable policing and maintenance, the PRT carriages will become famous for their graffiti, their distinctive aromas, the nature of litter they contain, and some of the recorded activities of their users.

Finally, for now, the system seems to be designed to transport out-of-town visitors to businesses, not to convey Mountain View residents to businesses or their homes.


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Posted by Steve Lawless
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2010 at 11:48 pm

In recent discussions of PRT in The "Voice" the objection of unclean or defaced "pods" has been raised several times. Most proposals that I have read have included a provision for a user to reject a vehicle. The vehicle is then automatically routed to a repair station. Also video monitoring is ubiquitous to discourage vandals and other evil doers.


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Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 13, 2010 at 12:43 am

This is a profoundly bad idea. In no way does it look practical or cost effective in any kind of long-term scenario.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2010 at 7:24 am

You've got that right, John the Man. Oddly, on the Caltrain website they have articles boosting the high-speed rail project. It's suicidal for Caltrain to promote high-speed rail and all the distraction and neglect of Caltrain that comes along with it.

Why are they promoting high-speed rail, then? My guess that the directors are toeing the line of some overall political agenda, even if it's not the right thing for the transportation project they are responsible for running.


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Posted by Howie Goodell
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2010 at 4:46 pm

I grew up in Menlo Park in the 60's and 70's. We got haircuts and groceries at Moffett Field because we were military, and I commuted down Bayshore and took the Southern Pacific RR to SJ State. I love the Bay area, but each time I come back, traffic seems to be a bigger problem. The Valley is the world capital of tech -- what's with the traffic reports 24x7???

I'm a big fan of PRT and especially the SkyTran system. One post above says SkyTran needs a right of way like a train. It doesn't. The inventor Doug Malewicki is an aerospace engineer with a very different philosophy. His 2-passenger cars weigh 200 pounds and ride overhead tracks light enough to be supported by utility poles or attached to the side of buildings. These "micro-freeways" are 20-30' overhead; so no interference with cars or danger to pedestrians like a train track. They are small and streamlined and ride on magnets instead of wheels; so at ground level the sound should be like a bicycle going by, not a train or bus. They're electric so no belching diesel smoke. There's not even much pollution at the power plant; since SkyTran gets about 200 MPG equivalent -- all-renewable energy is on the roadmap.

Even stations won't need a right of way (tracks and stations need an easement like power lines). Because the computer-driven vehicles wait for you, not the reverse, a station is just a platform 8' above the sidewalk big enough for 2 people at a time. (Stations that include a handicap elevator will be slightly larger, but that can be built into the station over the sidewalk and not interfere with pedestrians except when it's in use).)

SkyTran stations every few blocks will be less disruption than a bus stop or taxi stand; nothing like a CalTran station. No line of riders blocking the sidewalk, because as soon as you get there, you walk up the steps and get into the next vehicle. The computer "driver" merges you up onto the high-speed line, and you're outta there.


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Posted by A Sundman
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2010 at 5:12 pm

It is fantastic to see a community begin to look at a new way to do transportation. I just wish the SkyTran test track at Moffett Field was visible on Google Maps. Is it all Indoors?

Two interesting recent links on the subject of mass transportation:

Recent study on Rail:
Web Link

Skytran Inventor in his own words:
Web Link


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Posted by Ben
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 14, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Ridership: Do new rail lines significantly
increase transit ridership?

Table 3
Year Rail Commute Opened - (OPENED)
System of Population Commute Prior (PRIOR)
Prior to Rail Opened (Percent of Population)
Share 2008 (Percent of Population)

City OPENED % PRIOR % OF Population.
Albuquerque 2006 1.4 2.2
Charlotte 2007 5.5 3.6
Dallas-Ft. Worth 1996 2.7 2.2
Denver 1994 4.7 5.8
Houston 2004 3.8 3.2
Los Angeles 1988 5.9 6.7
Phoenix 2008 2.2 3.3
Portland 1986 9.8 8
Sacramento 1987 4.1 3.3
Salt Lake City 1999 3.5 3.6
San Diego 1981 3.5 3.8
San Francisco 1972** 16.8 15.5
San Jose 1988 3.1 4
San Juan 2004 5.8 4.1
Seattle 1999 7.1 9.1
St. Louis 1994 3.5 3.6

83.4 82.0
Div.by 16 to get Avg. 16 16

Avg. of Western Cities 5.2 5.13
Prior to Rail / 2008

(Web Link)

Delusional Transit Supporters - Dream On.
The data does not support claims that we
need more transit to solve our congestion
and overpopulation problems with
SMART GROWTH!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ben
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 14, 2010 at 2:47 pm

The above table did not copy well into the commnets window.

Example Albuquerque 2006
1.4 (1.4 Prior)

2.2 ( 2.2 percent ridership in 2008)

Western Cities 5 percent ridership went down Slightly.


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Posted by John
a resident of another community
on May 4, 2010 at 10:05 pm

I'm all for going green and public transportation, but I'd rather see the money go into fundamentals: education, city maintenance, and growth. Things that attract people to move into the city.

Unless I'm scraping the bottom or gas is $10 a gallon (which it eventually might get to), I'm not giving up my car. My time is worth much more.

And did anyone consider what happens if one breaks down in the middle of the line? Do you want to be stuck hanging in the sky in a plastic, non-air conditioned box? And has anyone been frustrated before waiting in line for the ski lift? This isn't much different.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by charms
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Sep 9, 2010 at 8:29 pm

I think Mountain View should make an all out push to get this system, it's the wave of the future and by the time it's ready to ride Cal Train will be getting better funding due to the inevitable return to normal revenues for the three counties that fund Cal Train. Don't plan for the next year or two plan for the next five years.

I think a system like this will have all kinds of uses beyond to and from Cal Train. People will ride it downtown Mountain View for the restaurants and shopping. Tourists will ride it because it's fun.


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