Aspen conference speakers envision future single/dualmode, electric PRT systems

(Reprinted with permission of Alexander Communications Group,
Publisher of Electric Vehicle Progress Newsletter, Nov. 15, 2000 issue)

Aspen conference speakers envision future
single/dual mode, electric PRT systems

by Vicki P. McConnell, Contributing Editor

Personal rapid transit (PRT) systems were highlighted at the "New Visions in Transportation 2000" conference held Oct. 18-20 in Aspen, Colo. Participants included international system inventors from Denmark, The Netherlands, the UK and the U.S., as well as city planners, OEMs, government policy makers and fund-raising advisors. Nine vehicles were available for test driving: Toyota's Prius HEV, Honda's Insight HEV, Ford's Th!nk Mobility Neighbor and City EVs (as well as several Th!nk electric bikes), U.S. Electrica's (now Enova Systems) electric bus, two Sparrow "personal transit module" EVs (built by Corbin Motors), and two GEM EVs made available by Rocky Mountain Electric Vehicles LLC in Aspen.

Wide ranging perspectives were reflected on the future of transportation in electric single- and dual-mode mass transit systems, individual EVs/HEVs and magnetic levitation or "maglev."  Mike Gage, President and CEO of WestStart/Calstart, stated enthusiastically, "just when you thought EVs were going away, they're back with a vengeance." His company has been assessing trends in the transportation industry for the U.S. Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and DARPA for the past eight years.

The EV options Gage cited will range from short-distance, city driven car-share programs employing smaller electric vehicles to rubber-tired electric buses on guided railways to heavy trucks replacing diesel with electric, hybrid electric and natural gas powered propulsion. Gage described an effort by four California grocery chains converting from diesel fuel to natural gas in 150 trucks, "proving that a small number of vehicles can have a significant, positive effect on health and environment." He added the more far-ranging observation, "never again will be we captive to a single fuel option."

Gage pointed out that CARB is committed to enacting the 10% ZEV mandate for new vehicles sold in California, starting 2003 (with 4% pure EVs and 6% partial ZEVs), even though some OEMs may be in denial regarding this time line. "Mandates are never a cure-all, but can provide positive impetus for technology development," Gage concluded.

Rob Stevens, President of Ford Motor Companyıs Th!nk Mobility Group,  discussed the company's emphasis on consumer emotional ties to transportation products in the design of EVs that are fun to drive and environmentally friendly. The "open" design of the Neighbor vehicle (with boosted safety features, top speed of 25 mph, base price $6,000) is aimed at planned communities, national parks, military bases, airports, and industrial/commercial facilities. The two-seater plastic-bodied Th!nk City, powered by 530 lbs of water-cooled NiCd batteries "represents a way to combine mass transit and personal mobility," Stevens said. A U.S. model will be available in 2002. He added that the Th!nk Mobility Group "serves as a technology and customer interface incubator for the rest of Ford," and reported that the EV technology engineers work closely with Th!nk Technologies, Ford's FCEV development group.   

Dr. James R. Guadagno of Cimarron Technology Ltd., looked at the future of transportation by drawing upon the two laws of thermodynamics, as related to the Earth's overall energy economy. By these laws, the longevity of the Age of Petroleum will only extend hydrocarbon resources (raw feedstock for gasoline or natural gas) for another 20 to 50 years. Of the many alternative fuels suggested to date, he believes the only "non-fantasy" solution that would be clean, abundant and cost effective is solar photovoltaics, including fuel cells deriving hydrogen from water via hydrolysis.

Amory Lovins, co-CEO of Research at Rocky Mountain Institute in nearby Snowmass, reported that Hypercar Inc., a commercial effort spun off last year from RMI's Hypercar Center, now has a staff of 50 and expects to complete a virtual hypercar design within several weeks. These carbon fiber composite, hybrid vehicles (readily adaptable to fuel cell operation on H2) represent a simultaneous leap frog in multiple technologies that will " provide more opportunities to get orders of magnitude better performance," said Lovins.   

Personal but public: PRTs

Palle Jensen, Danish inventor of the RUF (Rapid, Urban, Flexible) transit system, reported that ­ according to official sources ­- some $12.4 billion/year in work time is wasted by employees sitting in congested, passenger-vehicle traffic. A dual mode PRT could make a dent in that wasted time by converting the car into a rolling office. According to the FTA's Lee Waddleton, "we need technology that bridges the gap between traditional transport and light rail now being proposed, which can be quite expensive." He was calling on the right crowd. Among the electric-powered personal rapid transit systems discussed in Aspen: RUF, CyberTran, InTranSys, ULTra, Taxi 2000, the Higherway, MegaRail, and two magnetic levitation systems: SkyTran using Inductrak technology and HiLoMag

[see emails/websites listed at the end of this story for more detailed information on each system]

Common elements among some of the PRT systems discussed in Aspen:

Access the conference website, or co-organizers Bill. Flanigan/Kathy Mueller at Markusson Design, Carbondale, CO, (970) 963-6824, fax (970) 704-9577, email; Palle Jensen, RUF, Copenhagen, Denmark, (45) 3324-7033, fax (45) 3324-7044, email PRJ@RUF.DK,; Jake Vickery, Rocky Mountain Electric Vehicles LLC, Aspen, CO, (970) 925-3660, email; Michael Gage, WestStart/Calstart, Pasadena, CA, (626) 744-5600, fax (626) 744-5610, email,; Dr. John A. Dearien, CyberTran, Alameda, CA, (510) 864-3221, fax (510) 864-3010,; Amory Lovins, RMI, Snowmass, CO, (970) 927-3807, fax (970) 927-4510, email,; Martin Lowson, ULTra, Bristol, UK, (44) 117-974-4733, fax (44) 117-973-6497, email, ,; Ed Anderson, Taxi 2000 Corp., Minneapolis, MN (612) 586-0878, email,; Kirston Henderson, MegaRail Transportation Systems Inc., Ft. Worth, TX, (817) 738-9507, fax (817) 367-2373,,; Robert Stevens, Th!nk Mobility LLC, Dearborn, MI, (313) 594-0543, fax (313) 390-4911,,; Dr. J.R. Guadagno, Cimarron Technologies (InTranSys), Paonia, CO, (303) 527-4563, email; Tad Winiecki of The Higherway System, Vancouver, WA, (360) 574-8724, email,; Francis Reynolds, HiLoMag, Bellevue, WA, (425) 885-2647, email; Douglas Malewicki, SkyTran Corp., Irvine, CA, (949) 559-7113, email,; Tom Corbin, Corbin Motors, Hollister, CA, (831) 634-1100, (831) 635-1026,    

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Last modified: May 27, 2001