Council reverses course on pod car idea


Mountain View officials may like the pod car concept, but don't mistake them for angel investors. After several years of not getting off the ground on its own, Mountain View's City Council decided not to help fund a pod car system that council members endorsed in 2010 as a potential cure for traffic congestion.

Council members at the March 18 meeting made strong comments against potentially allowing Mountain View's streets -- in a route between the downtown train station and Google headquarters -- to be a test site for SkyTran, the NASA Ames-based company developing a system to float automated pods on electro-magnetic overhead rails. It's a technology that has yet to be proven but whose advocates claim has the capacity of several freeway lanes and would cost much less than a light rail system.

"It's an R&D project," said council member Jac Siegel. "I've participated in too many (research and development) projects that went nowhere. I've been talking to them 3 to 4 years. They haven't sold a project and that makes me nervous. If it were viable, people would be beating their doors down."

Council member Ronit Bryant said she didn't want Mountain View to serve as a test case.

"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 (traffic) problem," said Bryant. "This is really premature. The proof of concept should happen at NASA Ames."

Self-described "pod car guy" and council member Mike Kasperzak was the last member still advocating for pod cars by the end of the meeting. He had called on the council to approve $75,000 from the city's Shoreline Fund to go towards a U.S. Department of Transportation-led development program for the technology. Kasperzak said DOT officials wanted to see that businesses and cities were interested in the concept.

"There's a feeling the city manager needs to be there to negotiate with the secretary (of transportation), understanding that they're going to be asking for something" in terms of funding, Kasperzak said. "All you got to do is look at DARPA and others like that to see the government does do R&D."

Kasperzak said SkyTran would not be the only company involved in the program but council members zeroed in on it, as the company has made big claims.

"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 said.

Other pod car companies (also known as automated transit networks and personal rapid transit) exist and have technology that is proven, such as ULTra,with a system that has been operating at Heathrow Airport since 2009 or the Morgantown, West Virginia, operating since 1975. But the carrying capacity appears to be much less than what SkyTran promises.

Bryant said she went online to find concrete examples of such systems and found a report written by the city of San Jose for a system serving San Jose Airport and Diridon Caltrain station. "They thought the carrying capacity wasn't there to do just that, and that was in 2012," Bryant said.

"If we send our city manager to Washington D.C. it looks like we've bought into it," Bryant said. In effect, the city would be saying, "'Yes, we will be the test case.' I am not interested in being the test case."

In 2010 it was estimated by city officials that an 8.5-mile-long pod car system connecting downtown to Google and Moffett Field with 24 stations would cost between $60 million and $130 million.

Several council members said they would be for such a system if several major Mountain View companies were interested in it.

Vice Mayor John McAlister said he had been told, "This is not the type of venture people put money into." He suggested it would be an ideal task for the city's Transportation Management Association -- a newly created group of major Mountain View companies that includes Google -- dedicated to managing traffic congestion and sharing employee shuttle services. "That would be an excellent group of people to put into it," McAlister said.

No companies have come forward to offer support for pod cars since 2010, not even Google, whose founder Larry Page said in 2009 that he once wanted to build such a system for the University of Michigan.

"I'm not willing to support something that doesn't have support from corporations out there," said Mayor Chris Clark.

A Google representative suggested Tuesday night that the city partner with Google to study a range of alternatives for reducing North Bayshore traffic "to get people biking, carpooling and using transit today."

Google has touted its self-driving car technology as a way to solve traffic problems.

Council members have already taken a position that Google must come up with ways to sharply decrease the percentage of its employees who drive to work if it is to be allowed to develop new office buildings in North Bayshore. Council members are considering zoning to allow 3.4 million square feet of additional office space north of Highway 101 -- space that would accommodate 15,000 to 20,000 new employees who would have to commute, as no significant housing development is planned within walking distance.


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 19, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I think MV should invest in Pneumatic Transport Tubes ( Web Link )

Like this comment
Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 19, 2014 at 2:38 pm

The good news is that more jobs are coming to Mountain View.
The bad news is that will result in more traffic.

Traffic can be mitigated, but not eliminated, by connecting Caltrain/Light Rail with North Bayshore. That way, commuters from San Francisco to Gilroy could take public transportation. When Bart to Milpitas is completed, East Bay commuters could also take public transportation.

However two problems remain. First, which technology should be used? I suggest that we go to the experts in moving a great deal of people smoothly and timely using a variety of technologies. Yes, I mean Disney.

Who will pay for it? Mountain View residents will benefit by mitigation of traffic on North Shoreline Boulevard, Rengstorff Avenue, and route 101. Therefore, the City should pay for a share of the costs. However, the biggest users will be Google employees and Google will receive the largest benefit. Therefore, Google should absorb the majority of the costs.

Like this comment
Posted by Ben Baumgartner
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 19, 2014 at 2:53 pm

It looks like some of the council member are thinking the this may not be a good idea!

This is a repeat of a previous post:
The pod car concept is a small cramped space and engineering wise a very stupid idea with too many drawbacks to list here and no real advantages. It is even dumber than the failed dial-a-ride concepts.

Transit has never solved transportation problems. It only feeds the overpopulation problem that most city leaders fail to face up to.

It is like feeding an overweight person because they are hungry instead of restricting there calorie intake and making them exercise.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 19, 2014 at 3:37 pm

"by connecting Caltrain/Light Rail with North Bayshore"

There are already shuttles

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Rex Manor
on Mar 19, 2014 at 4:19 pm

The pod car is nothing but a fancy, enclosed ski lift, which is proven technology. Maybe the mag-lev technology isn't nesessary. We just need to move people, and encourage them to take mass transit to M.V. Anything would be better than the traffic we have now on Shoreline, Rengstorff, etc. And if we don't do something, it's going to get worse.

Like this comment
Posted by Traffic light sync
a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 19, 2014 at 4:22 pm

One thing that would greatly improve traffic is synchronizing all the lights. I see a lot problem areas, that do not let enough traffic through or some side street light comes on as soon as one person gets there. Lot of improvements can be made.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Mar 19, 2014 at 4:36 pm

Very sad to hear this.

Don't know what it is, but at the heart of Silicon Valley with all the innovative ideas spawned here, it seems to run on infrastructure that is so last millennium.

We are lagging behind third world countries when it comes to basic stuff like public transportation.

Ever tried getting from downtown Mountain View to SFO by anything other than a car on 101?

Like this comment
Posted by ken
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 19, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Sounded like a good thing to put some money into. City spends amazing amount on road and parking lots. Seemed like a small price to pay for the future, even if a long-shot.

Like this comment
Posted by Rossta
a resident of Waverly Park
on Mar 19, 2014 at 5:17 pm

Rossta is a registered user.

Thanks Mr. Kasperzak, for continuing to have vision for a possible solution to our traffic troubles. Disappointed that none of the other council members can see to put a trifling amount of money behind the idea.

Like this comment
Posted by UC Davis Grad
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Mar 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Sanity breaks out at a City Council session? Has the world turned upside down?

And for those who think this boondoggle is a great idea: put up your own money for it. Otherwise, zip it.

Like this comment
Posted by Desmond
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 19, 2014 at 5:40 pm

I think a pedestrian/bicycle friendly tunnel/bridge that connects Castro St to Moffet Blvd (over Evelyn Ave and Central Expy) would do much more for traffic than "pod cars".

Half of the journey to North Bayshore by bike is waiting at those damn lights!

It would serve to connect the downtown to Moffat Blvd, too.

Like this comment
Posted by Greg Perry
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 19, 2014 at 6:11 pm

PA resident asks if we have ever tried to get to SFO by something other than a car.

I have, by two different systems.

20 years ago, there was a great free shuttle from Caltrain to SFO. It met the train, and dropped you off at the terminal. It was cheap, simple, and really efficient.

Then, some politicians sold us on building a train. It cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build, and is considerably slower. It now takes 3 trains just to get to the wrong terminal. And the operating costs have crippled San Mateo County's bus system.

This doesn't make me want to get rid of our shuttle system and trade it for someone's pod car promises.

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Park
a resident of Jackson Park
on Mar 19, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Greg Perry's comments are correct, but only if you live on the Peninsula and are taking Caltrain as part of your journey on a weekday.

The BART extension to SFO/Millbrae comes primarily from federal funding if I understand correctly. The extension itself is geared toward where the vast majority of riders are from: SF and the East Bay. BART trains run directly to SFO.

The problem are northbound BART trains from Millbrae. There simply isn't enough weekday SFO traffic to justify full service from Millbrae to SFO, then onward to the rest of the BART system.

Let's look at the situation from a different perspective: that of an SF/Oakland BART rider. You take BART to Daly City, then sit on a SamTrans bus to SFO. Not terribly efficient.

Note that arriving SFO passengers/visitors/tourists can take a quick free AirTrain to the SFO BART terminal, then get on BART up to the City, and disembark at stations that are better located to popular tourist centers (Moscone, Market Street hotels, Financial District, Embarcadero).

From a visitor's perspective, the SFO BART connector is brilliant. You don't need to get on SamTrans to go to the Daly City BART, nor do you need to take a shuttle bus to Caltrain (which dumps you off at 4th & King) .

Anyhow, there are cabs at the Millbrae station if you don't want to do the whole Millbrae-San Bruno-SFO BART dance on a weekday. On weekends and after evening rush hour, the northbound BART trains departing from Millbrae stop by SFO anyhow.

Like this comment
Posted by SyncTheLights
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Mar 20, 2014 at 7:54 am

"One thing that would greatly improve traffic is synchronizing all the lights. I see a lot problem areas, that do not let enough traffic through or some side street light comes on as soon as one person gets there. Lot of improvements can be made."

I second this!

Like this comment
Posted by fred
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 20, 2014 at 9:04 am

Our city council has been pretty good at saying no for many years. Such cautious timidity is understandable. Its hard to make errors if we dig in and just say no.
While working with the Mountain View transportation awareness group some years ago members were shown a concept proposed by Google. The plan included mixed housing and business, a monorail and one would assume much better traffic management. The council concluded that allowing this project would lock the city into a precarious situation if Google whent belly up all of a sudden. So the council said no. Fast forward and Google has not yet bitten the dust. Google has instead grown much stronger and has added many more people. Yet our city council continues to puff themselves up for protecting us all from the likes of Google. And naturally the council blames Google for a traffic situation Google foresaw and wanted to remedy.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 20, 2014 at 10:37 am

"Ever tried getting from downtown Mountain View to SFO by anything other than a car on 101?"

This has nothing to do with getting from MV to SFO.

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Something has to be done, PRT, Light Rail system, BART, Rapid Bus Transit or shuttles, each has its pro and con, each one with a set amount of costs. We might need more then just one or two to get us moving.

Face it is cheaper then building a new 6 lanes freeway, we will take less amount of time.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2014 at 12:31 pm


This has everything to do with backward thinking public transit. For anyone who wants to get to Google from Mountain View or from Mountain View to SFO or SJC, the first thought is get in the car. Public transit needs to be a better option for all types of trips - whether it be a solo driver to work or dropping someone to the airport. Most people drive to the airport (or get a ride) because the alternative is a nightmare. At present, there are no viable alternatives for either.

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2014 at 1:10 pm

We have a few options if you don't drive to the airport. The crazy transfer system into or from SFO can work if you know the system. Taking a taxi, limo or hiring a driver will cost you money.

Or you can drive yourself to the airport, parking can be high.

Each option takes time and effort.

The pod car will most likely not get you to the airport but designed right will get you to the train station, a place that rents cars or some other means of getting to the airport.

Like this comment
Posted by Bruno
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 20, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I know that as a Mountain View resident that works in S.F. my number one concern is making it easier for Google employees to get to downtown M.V. When will they catch a break?!

And down with HSR! That only goes from S.F. to L.A. It doesn't even include a Google stop!

Like this comment
Posted by James Anderson Merritt
a resident of another community
on Mar 20, 2014 at 5:42 pm

I doubt that any amount of cajolery, re-branding, bribery, or outright arm-twisting will get people to use public transit, as it currently exists and is likely to exist in the near future, in great numbers, as compared with the personal automobile. Simply put: people's time and convenience are too valuable, and all too readily wasted by traditional transit modes. A promising thing about PRT is that it really can (meaning, has been shown in real life to) shorten and/or make the passenger's trip more convenient than alternatives, at a fare cost that is competitive with traditional transit. PRT doesn't have to replace the personal automobile. It just has to attract enough riders at the prevailing fare-rate to pay for its own construction, operation and maintenance. Existing transit is very unattractive to many for several reasons, which are not issues with PRT. As attractive as they are, automobiles have drawbacks that PRT lacks. PRT's mix of features and advantages combine to create a transit offering that is reliable, convenient, and inexpensive enough to be a credible alternative to using one's own automobile or a cab on many occasions. This is the kind of thing that public transit needs to be competitive -- to lure people out of their cars because, many times, the public transit option will be more attractive than owning, maintaining, driving, and parking one's own car. This "sweet spot" can be achieved by traditional transit in some special circumstances, or on occasion, but a well-designed PRT system would hit that target every day for thousands of riders. Someone in the US will finally do it; they and the PRT concept will be vindicated. But at the moment, it doesn't look like Mountain View will be the one, or at least, anytime soon, despite the council's "embrace" and "endorsement" of the idea.

Like this comment
Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of North Bayshore
on Aug 5, 2014 at 11:39 pm

Interesting to read what is considered too out of the box in MV is already being done in Bolivia. Can you imagine how this might be used to connect North Bayshore with Caltrains downtown?

World's highest urban cable car proves 'a success'
BBC Article Link:
Web Link

World's highest urban cable car proves 'a success'
Passengers inside the cable-car that links the city centre of La Paz with its neighbour El Alto, Bolivia, on 2 June 2014 The cabins can hold up to 10 people and reach a height of more than 4,000m above sea level

The state-run company operating the world's highest urban cable car in Bolivia says its first two months in operation have been a success.

Mi Teleferico's chief executive said it had exceeded its goal of making eight million bolivianos ($1.2m; £685,000) in the first 60 days.

The cable car connects the capital, La Paz, with the nearby city of El Alto, high in the Andes mountains.

More than two million people have used it since its inauguration on 30 May.

"We've already surpassed our most optimistic financial forecast," chief executive Cesar Dockweiler said.

The cable car was built by an Austrian company at a cost of $234m and financed by the government of President Evo Morales.
President Evo Morales waves from inside the cable car on the right, during the inauguration ceremony in La Paz President Evo Morales tried out the new cable car on the day it was inaugurated
A passenger leaves a cable car decorated to look like a football on 24 June 2014. During the World Cup, some of the cabins were painted to look like footballs
Cable cars decorated to look like soccer balls are pictured over La Paz on 24 June, 2014. Once finished the cable car line will be 10km (6.2 miles) long

Mr Dockweiler said that in light of the surprisingly good figures it would now take 25 years rather than 40 originally estimated to pay for itself.

The line has made it easy for thousands of people to commute between the two cities in less than 10 minutes.

Two more lines are still under construction. It is hoped they will cut down road congestion.

Each car can carry up to 10 passengers, and according to official projections, once the two additional lines are finished, up to 18,000 people an hour will be able to board the system.

Tickets cost three bolivianos ($0.45; £0.25).

Last month, there was a hitch when passengers were stuck in the cabins in mid-air for 25 minutes during a signal failure.

But Mr Dockweiler assured travellers there had been in no danger at any time.

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