Collaboration among mutually dependent players is required to achieve
large scale change in a ground transport system

by Jim Longbottom, CEETI, Texas A&M University

I do not believe an individual entrepreneur is going to get
his system implemented to any significant degree unless the transition
to a new architecture is institutionalized.  A networked system change
requires mutually dependent players to move together. Private
rationality rather than collective good determines market outcome and
unless the interdependent players have a common belief  in "the future
vision" they will individually make decisions that incrementally move
the status quo rather than shift the equilibrium of the system to a
new architecture.

The question then becomes how we can encourage a collaborative shift
to a new architecture.  There are examples such as Sematech which
works on semiconductor fab technology.  In that consortium you have
some companies that are arch-competitors - TI, Intel, Motorola, AMD,
.... They have agreed on what is competitive and what is pre-competitive
and they have a sense of where their real market opportunities lie.
They collaborate on the pre-competitive definition of next
architecture for fabs.  Another example is the SNP consortium for
defining the human genome. Pharmaceutical companies contributed their
proprietary R&D efforts to the collective because they recognized that
their competitive arena was in developing drugs using the genome info
and they could get to the market potential faster by working
together.  I absolutely believe the market must make the decisions and
capitalists will need to benefit from their investments but if there
is not collaboration, then patents will be long expired before anyone
makes any money.

So what is the pre-competitive realm in the dual mode / PRT
transportation world?  I do not have the answer but I think it may be
in defining the shared resource on which all will need to rely - this
is likely the infrastructure component but could be the competitive
process leading to the infrastructure definition.  This will need to
be institutionalized - standards developed, certification processes in
place, transportation planning tools developed to incorporate the new
mode, education/training in place for implementation and maintenance
of new vehicles and infrastructure, etc.

This will require a benefits coalition or consortium which I submit
needs to include electric utilities, auto manufacturers,
infrastructure construction companies, communications companies,
electrical equipment manufacturers, primary fuel suppliers, logistics/
transportation service providers, major shippers, etc.  This group can
coordinate any lobbying effort but could also fund the research to
remove the highest risks to further investment in the technology
development.  Investment in this consortium could be equity investment
with a return to be derived from licensing fees per mile of
infrastructure built. Competition would still rule in the contracting
for any segment built and vehicles to access the system could be
sourced from any manufacturer certified as compatible with the
published standard interface.  Consumer choice is just as broad as it
is today and the value proposition to consumers and shippers is an
"Auto-Plus" solution with all the benefits of private automobiles + +
+ +  faster travel, less congestion, safer high speed mobility,
automated stress free travel in a private space with fellow travelers
of their own choosing, reduced volatility in energy costs and
availability, etc.

I do not believe the population density in the US supports
conventional mass transit solutions or even PRT except perhaps in very
limited cases.  The path forward is therefore niche markets and
amusement "future" rides or a systems level top down shift supported
by a critical-mass market.

At CEETI we have studied dual mode /  PRT / other new concepts
ultimately reducing down to a few systems for further study. We
identified the critical technology elements in these systems and
evaluated their technology readiness on a 1-9 scale as per NASA or
military scheme (1 is an idea and 9 is commercially available).
Bottom line - none of the systems viewed as meeting minimum criteria
are ready for commercial pilots.  The question then shifts to how the
maturing process can be accelerated and the conversation above follows
- a need for collaborative critical mass shift in the equilibrium.

We are making some progress on institutionalizing the process
forward.  We have worked with Oak Ridge National Lab - they have
evaluated the dual mode pathway to beat the current DOE/DOT technology
pathways forward on 9 of 12 quality of life variables and 3 of 4
technical variables.  Efforts are moving forward to hold federal level
workshops of federal governmentt agencies / National Academy to evaluate path
forward.  This will ideally lead to a program that can follow the
systems engineering process outlined in a previous post by Walt. In
parallel I am also investigating the formation of a consortium to see
if this can all be done privately with reasonable returns for what is
now a very risky venture - investing in a non-conventional new
transportation mode requiring new infrastructure.

I would encourage all to review the article at this link
- see article by Andreas Schafer to get a sense of where we need to be
in 50 years. It will take architectural level change in my opinion to
achieve the needed 250% increase in VMT/capita predicted if historical
trends hold. People on average worldwide only expect to travel about
1.2 - 1.5 hours per day. If that holds and we rack up more VMT/capita
then we will need to move faster. If the money spent on transportation
holds at about 16% of GDP/capita then we will need to reduce the
functional unit cost of mobility. Right now the functional unit cost
of mobility is going up not down - it needs to be reversed to avoid
harm to global economic growth.  Global economic growth, jobs,
improved standard of living are important to our national security.
Some countries might leap frog us on highway infrastructure like they
did on wireless versus wired phones - achieving networked hybrid
electric highways and improving their international competitiveness.
It is hard to imagine a more important national interest than this
issue which affects energy, emissions, congestion, safety, economic
development, national security, etc.

A second article by Zielinski in the link above makes reference to
something that looks like a systems dynamic model graphic see figure 2
of Susan's article on New Mobility. It makes the point that there are
many variables being weighed simultaneously in transportation
decisions. We cannot optimize on energy and ignore the impact on
technology adoption or focus on speed and ignore safety, satisfy
single commuters and ignore families, etc. A balanced systems view
that delivers more than the auto or conventional mass transit is

A key factor I think many entrepreneurs miss is the buying process of
DOTs. As a matter of policy DOTs have adopted the NEPA (National
Environmental Policy Act) process for project development and this is
where needs and purpose of new infrastructure are documented and an
alternatives analysis is performed.  In the needs and purpose
development, one of the questions to be answered is whether the
project is in the relevant statewide transportation plan.  To get in
the statewide transportation plans you need to be proven to the
technology readiness level (TRL) 8 or you are written out of
consideration early. Examples such as Morgantown are systems that made
it to controlled  environment (TRL7) operation only. They never made
it to real commercial environment stress testing (TRL8) or
commerciality (TRL9).  From a systems engineering point of view I do
not think these systems will ever get significant market until they
are institutionalized and in my mind that will require some
collaboration for the collective good and healthy competition after
achieving pre-competitive momentum toward a new design.

Comments are welcome. - Jim Longbottom, CEETI, Texas A&M

Last modified: June 27, 2007