by Steve Raney

May 10, 2004

Written for the May 14 Advanced Transit Association Meeting, with selected comments/suggestions from Jerry Schneider and Bob Brodbeck, including some really bad paraphrasing of their input. Please also see Jerry Schneider's recent "PRT Slam Dunk list."

Disclaimer: No one has succeeded in getting the first PRT system built, therefore, the successful strategy has yet to be determined. These "lessons" may be incorrect. Of course, getting systems 2 through 10 built should require much less complicated (and less quantity) advocacy.

1. PRT will not win a Major Investment Study until PRT becomes a proven technology. Advocates keep banging their heads on the wall trying to win MISs. (Note: PRT "won" the SeaTac MIS. If the power structure supports PRT and a willing consultant can be selected, then PRT can win an MIS. But, if you have elected officials behind PRT, there are also many other ways to move forward.)

2. PRT efforts take 2+ years and require more than 100 face-to-face meetings. Proposals end up getting evolved through these meetings. It took Tom Richert two years of effort for his San Diego proposal, with many face-to-face meetings. He's had significant successes obtaining commitment to provide right-of-way to allow PRT systems on private land, and even had hotel owners asking for PRT stations in hotel lobbies. But, it should be noted that Tom wasn't a pure advocate, he was part of a private sector effort that would have taken the lead in building a system - he had more time and professional credibility than most advocates. The Cities21 Palo Alto proposal has taken 3 years to make very moderate progress.

2a. Making a presentation about a specific proposal to many constituents can greatly assist in revising the proposal to be more attractive. There are many hidden issues that arise from presenting to people and obtaining feedback.


3a. PRT can unlock trapped real-estate values. This is a very promising financial model towards implementing PRT. So, if possible, team with real-estate developers and the Urban Land Institute. "One thrust might be to look for combinations of universities, colleges, hospitals, major retail/hotel/convention areas that are beginning to be under land pressure. Where they need to grow, and may face the prospect of cannibalizing their own parking for that growth -- and will never be served internally by any line haul system. They might have the motivation to move parking to the periphery, while linking to it." - BB

3b. Wealthy technologists could fund the first PRT system. An effective advocacy strategy might be to evangelize wealthy individuals. What skills are required to evangelize powerful people? Who is the best person in your organization to make these kinds of contacts and presentations? Do you need to recruit someone with this specialty?

3c. Transportation Demand Management and Bus Shuttle professionals can become PRT allies. An effective approach: "This is a speculative study of futurist transit. We looked at how to take a shuttle service from 2,000 trips per day to 26,000 trips per day. "

3d. Students and professors can conduct high-quality research at zero or no cost.

3e. Where possible, develop empathy for planning staff and transit agency staff. These are uniformly well-intentioned people. They can be very helpful. Many would love to work on an interesting PRT project.

3f. PRT serves some niches that cannot be well served by other transportation means. PRT can provide a network of stations serving the wide variety of airport activities such as remote employee parking lots, off-site car rental facilities, long term parking, airport hotels, maintenance hangers, etc. So, often PRT can serve more airport activities than a sequential APM alignment. However, this is a very hard battle to win, because APMs are entrenched in the decision making process. In addition, many U.S. airports generate 50% of their overall revenue from parking. PRT tends to reduce this parking revenue. Recommendation: partner with airport experts and real-estate experts when advocating for airport applications.

3g. The media and web can help with PRT. Working with talented writers and public relations professionals can really help spread the message. Likewise, a beautiful drawing of PRT in a local city context can be of high value - form alliances with architects, artists, and students.

3h. If you were the local, super powerful lobbying organization of corporations (Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, Bay Area Council, Cincinnati has one), would you back a PRT proposal? Where would you find the time to conduct due diligence? How can you tell whether PRT is a good idea or not? This is a big hurdle to cross. The Sierra Club has the same problem. One strategy is to attract cool, influential co-conspirators: see .

3i. What about advocates who are attempting to make the world a more sustainable place? What if they are proposing charging $10 per day for suburban office park parking spaces or increasing the gas tax? These are innovative proposals that are very hard to advocate. They may see PRT as a stopgap effort that stalls their more important proposal. Tricky!

4. Specific proposals with specific benefits have a higher chance of success. Should all local advocacy groups try to do this? Focus on the benefits, not on the technology.

5. Advocates are proposing both big and small systems. Big system proposals (50+ miles of guideway) hinder proposals for small alignments, because big system proposals attack key constituents (transit agencies, light rail backers, commuter rail backers, transit unions, transit advocates, etc). This isn't making a judgment against big alignments, it just means that big alignments necessarily anger policy decision makers. Do big alignments have a chance of success for a first U.S. system? Or should big alignments be broken down into a starter alignment that is actively advocated, with a vague plan for a larger system. Problem is, the starter systems may have poor economics (but might still be more cost-effective than other alternatives). Hopefully, the proposed 35 mi MN system can be broken down into a financially compelling starter system.

5a. Should PRT advocates pick fights with LRT, commuter rail, and bus advocates? Military strategists suggest that, when coming from a position of extreme weakness (PRT) one should not attack people who can just as easily be turned into your friends. "When I proposed PRT as a last mile solution for LRT/bus line haul systems, I won over a small group of die-hard LRT supporters in a major U.S. city. I told them that PRT line haul level of capacity will take years to prove in the field." - BB

6. To become a more effective advocate, become an expert in real-estate, city planning, and land use (as well as guideway design and engineering issues).

6a. Recommended Reading list:

7. What should an advocate's objective be? Quick breakeven analysis / "pencil out" study? Convince a university to undertake a study as part of coursework? $200-300K public sector funded planning study? Ballot measure? Franchise agreement statement?

8. Should advocates attempt to conduct their own PRT feasibility study or travel demand forecast? It's not clear what the impact of the Cities21 silver bullet study is. Says Dr. Shaheen who endured much professional derision promoting carsharing for 6 years before it became an accepted in the states, "collect better data than anyone else has. That way, you have more credibility than your detractors."

9. Most non-U.S. countries present a more favorable policy context to advance PRT than the U.S. What can be done?

10. Advocates find themselves making claims about PRT technology, often getting out ahead of the plans of PRT developers. It's a very fine line to walk. Advocates need to be enthusiastic about PRT benefits, but advocates can quickly lose credibility by over-promising.

Be wary of wave-offs (PRT performance grows exponentially worse as ridership nears capacity); brick wall stopping issues / safety certification; unknown annual operating costs; having the switch fail once every 2,000,000 times (this is really bad! - that's once every ~50 days for some systems); the liability insurance cost for the first PRT system; each PRT developer has a different approach to assuring personal security (a somewhat similar problem to preventing assaults in elevators); etc. "There's no need to hype at all. People in our over-hyped society have grown very sensitive hype antennae. Besides, by hyping you've put your stake at the top of the hill, and then as you begin to have to get into the details, there's only one way to go from there --- down hill. (e.g.: Don't say things like 'No waiting!' when 'Little or no waiting' will do." - BB

"In conclusion, it behooves the advocate to spend much time up front strategizing, thinking, and learning the lay of the land. Think of potential [non-competitive] applications, research the involved institutions or organizations, and if you don't have key contacts, try making them. Start at the bottom of the organization if necessary." - BB

Cities21 "Policy Theorems"
For Historical Reference: from January 2001, after only 34 advocacy meetings.
i.e. these some of these theorems are wrong.

1. New transit technology and major zoning/planning code changes are best advanced via ballot measures. These can't be forced on the public.

2. To increase the chances for a controversial ballot measures to succeed, early outreach needs to be made to interested parties who will typically support or oppose such a measure: corporate, elected government, government agencies, transit companies, media, citizen groups, & theorists. [Mineta] [Coalition Building]

3. No U.S. transit project with budget > $10MM was ever awarded to an unknown firm. Companies like Taxi2000 will need to partner with a company like Bombardier or Bechtel. Reasons include: staying power, liability, financing ability.

4. A proposed PRT system must not compete with commuter transit that it connects to.

5. Nonprofit advocacy organizations cannot get major public smart growth / transit projects approved. Politicians get major public projects approved.

6. Nonprofit organizations cannot pick a technology vendor for a major public project. Public sector experts or a public/private committee select technology for public projects. Technology selection is made via a structured, open process with multiple inputs. In addition, a major project that is wedded to a single technology vendor will be lambasted by losing vendors in a devastating way.

7. (Is a private sector franchise a better approach?) Public institutions take ownership of major public projects. Private sector should build, operate, and maintain projects deploying new transit technology.

8. A proposal must have a thorough understanding of the client commuter. The commuter profile generates numerous implementation features, provides 50%+ ridership improvement over technology-driven proposals, assists in converting "not in my backyard (NIMBYs)", and drives public relations/marketing communications.

9. High stature public persons cannot publicly advance a technology until sufficient, credible backing is gathered. Politics unmercifully attacks risk takers. Public persons advancing unproven technology may be permanently tattooed.

10. Local press plays a crucial role in the adoption of controversial new technologies. In addition, complex technical issues need repetitive coverage. Public literacy and familiarity is very important. Debate with competing, controversial approaches accelerates retention. Press especially likes to cover feuding between different factions and will sometimes instigate feuds.

11. Proposals need political champions. The allies and enemies of the champion are very important.

12. Some transit-only proposals have been "technology in search of a solution". A top down approach where citizen problems are first identified, then solved is required. Land use patterns are just as important as transit systems. A holistic approach leads to tremendous synergies.

13. Selecting the institution to run a transit system is a crucial decision and is a political minefield. For instance, new transit institutions cannot be allowed to form in the Bay Area because there are too many already.

14. When new transit technology is introduced into a region, a small segment of the complete plan should be implemented first. Contractor must meet budget and schedule in order to proceed with full plan. In addition, quality of service and ridership goals must be met before the full plan may proceed. [Conservative]

[Coalition Building] American Public Transportation Association: Local Coalition Building Handbook,

[Mineta] Mineta Transportation Institute Report 00-1, Why Campaigns for Local Transportation Funding Initiatives Succeed or Fail: An Analysis of Four Communities and National Data, Peter J. Haas, Ph.D. (Principal Investigator) Kristen Sullivan Massey, M.P.P., Linda O. Valenty, Ph.D., Richard Werbel, Ph.D., June 2000,

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Last modified: August 18, 2004