PRT Niche Options for Minnesota

Nov 17 '09 Rochester PRT Symposium

by Steve Raney: former IBM Rochester employee, research lead: Network Transit for Edina study


Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) held a Nov 17 PRT Symposium with 60 attendees. Mn/DOT is now in the process of soliciting letters of interest from Minnesota cities interested in studying PRT feasibility for their city.


PRT is an electric, 200-mpg-equivalent, elevated personal rapid transit (PRT) system with many four-person vehicles. There are now three PRT customers: BAA for the ATS ULTra system, Masdar Ecocity (Abu Dhabi, UAE) for the 2getthere system, and Suncheon (South Korea) for the Vectus system. First deployment of the ULTra system is scheduled for London Heathrow Airport in 2010, to serve Heathrow's new Terminal 5. Working as circulator transit for office parks, airports, universities, entertainment centers, and other major activity centers, PRT is faster than a car. In these applications, PRT makes carpooling, light rail, commuter rail, and bus more effective, by solving the "last mile problem." PRT also enables longer bike commutes and shopping trips (except when it's zero degrees outside). A three-minute youtube video of ULTra can be viewed here: The latest PRT cost information may be found at:


Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel: "PRT systems are being developed around the world. We need to explore innovative strategies that are efficient and cost-effective and can improve motorists’ commutes. Because transportation is a multimodal endeavor, we need to consider transit options for the traveling public. I think there's a renewed interest in PRT. We owe it to the citizens of our state to keep on the leading edge of technology and present these options to them." He said he's had many discussions about PRT with Governor Tim Pawlenty, who he said supports exploring PRT as a technology. (sources: Mn/DOT, Post Bulletin, and KIMT - see below). Mn/DOT named Mukhtar Thakur, the department’s Director of Technical Support, as the new Director of Personal Rapid Transit.


ATS ULTra's Symposium presentation was entitled: "PRT for Niches." For the presentation content, best efforts were made to be "PRT vendor-neutral," rather than bragging about ULTra. For construction of a MN PRT system that is led by Mn/DOT, such a system will proceed through a public, competitive procurement. Therefore, there is no advantage to bragging about ULTra at this time. At this stage, it makes sense to present generic PRT benefits. A history of ATS was given to provide an idea of the path that early-stage PRT vendors may also follow. PPT: 2.4MB.



PRT Niche Systems Options for Minnesota

small systems that complement existing transit



Arlene McCarthy, Met Council's Director of Transportation Services, was generally favorable towards PRT niche applications and she suggested some specific niche locations at the Symposium. "Determine the right solution for the right place." (M. Beegle's notes - see below).


1. Edina: Southdale Center, The Galleria, Fairview Hospital, and Centennial Lakes


15-stations, 6 miles of one-way guideway. Rough capital cost estimate is $42M to $90M.


Edina PRT Benefits:
• Makes Edina retail more competitive with Mall of America
• Spurs economic development
• Transforms what Joel Garreau characterizes as an "edge city" into a huge transit village
• Complements existing bus transit
• Grows in the future to service other areas such as "South of 494" and Bloomington.


This is a only a rough system concept


For more details:


2. St. Paul: 124-Acre Ford Plant Transit Village connecting to Hiawatha LRT


Five or more PRT stations. Three miles of one-way PRT guideway.


Ford Plant Redevelopment Transit Village Scenario 5 (From St. Paul web). PRT system concept is NOT shown.


The City of St. Paul has an exceptionally green vision for the redevelopment of the Ford auto plant site: "The Mayor, the City, and many in the community will ensure that redevelopment is completed utilizing cutting edge, sustainable strategies. The Ford site has the potential to be a national model of sustainable redevelopment." (City of St. Paul web) Of the five Phase 2 alternatives being studied, PRT fits best with the Scenario 5 Transit Village. This scenario includes more than 4,000 residents/workers with additional retail.


Assuming $1B worth of Transit Village real-estate is created, a roughly $40M capital cost PRT system (about 4% of the value of the real-estate) is "about right" in financial scale, especially if the resulting development is truly a national model for reducing driving and pollution. A PRT system will make this area maximally attractive, accelerating development. On account of PRT, a large transit oriented development land gain windfall will accrue to the Ford plant site. (See Cervero & Duncan's study entitled "Transit's Value Added.")  The Ford plant site will provide a riverfront lifestyle with a view of Minnehaha Falls.


Ford Site Redevelopment details:


3. Rochester: St. Mary's Hospital, Mayo Clinic, Downtown


In 2005, Taxi 2000 presented the following system concept to the City of Rochester as "a way for Rochester to maintain a viable downtown, to improve air quality, and to strengthen the public transportation system:"





Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede expressed interest in PRT, saying it could draw tourism to Rochester. "I think there is great potential for this mode of transportation and how it can supplement other modes of transportation. It's been ten years since I first saw PRT and I thought gee, we could have some great application for that here in Rochester. With the cost of parking ramps and all that, we really need to look at these alternatives that could obviously be more efficient, and certainly less costly.” He thinks the Mayo Medical Center's staff and patients could potentially be a major user of PRT. (Post Bulletin and KIMT - see below).


Mayo Clinic had representation at the Symposium, but has yet to formally support a Rochester PRT feasibility study. 


Other PRT niche ideas:

  • 494 Edina - Bloomington Corridor. Suggested by UMN's Ferrol Robinson and Arlene McCarthy. 

  • PRT feeder for the planned Central Corridor LRT line or the new Northstar Commuter Rail line.

  • Maple Grove Gravel Mining Development Area (to connect to the new BRT route). Suggested by Robinson and McCarthy. 

  • 394 Corridor. Suggested by McCarthy

  • Duluth? St. Cloud? Mankato? Brainstormed by Robinson.


Taxi2000's $25M Winona Test Track Proposal


Kudos to Taxi2000 for its bold move in convincing the City of Winona (population 30,000) and Winona's RTP Plastics to partner on a proposal to build a PRT technology development test track in Winona. (Attendee comments: "A bombshell." "I was stunned.")  Whereas Mn/DOT had been thinking of a small budget feasibility study, Taxi2000 brought in an unexpected idea: use $25M state funds for PRT technology development.  Taxi2000 CEO Mike Lester said that the test track project was shovel-ready. A point was then immediately raised by others that there are not one, but four small Minnesota PRT firms, all simultaneously seeking money for technology development and a test track. By "small" it is guessed that each company has less than 2.0 FTE (full time equivalent salaried employees). It is not clear if Mn/DOT could award state funding directly to Taxi2000/RTP without going through a competitive tender. IE MN's JPods might end up winning a Winona test track from a public competition, benefiting from laborious Taxi2000 business development work in Winona. City of Winona and Taxi2000 put together a very slick 11-page sales brochure (see below). 


It is interesting to consider how MN should best spend taxpayer dollars. One option might be a feasibility study followed by the construction of a niche system in Edina, St. Paul, or Rochester. For system construction, a feasibility study would analyze how much, if any, state subsidy would be required. Such a system could be bid upon by any PRT vendor with proven technology, and it seems likely that there will be three or more proven vendors for such an eventual procurement. Because all PRT vendors will build stations and guideway in MN, 75% of content will be local to MN. In addition, building a system will provide real transportation benefits. This option provides MN jobs and transportation benefits, with low-risk.


A second option might be the funding of a technology development test track. Taking ATS's experience as an example, the timeline from test track groundbreaking to installing a first commercial system is roughly 10 years (see the PPT deck above). ATS's Cardiff test track effort featured the development of four test vehicles. A similar experience in Winona would provide RTP with the opportunity to build four plastic vehicle shells. ATS's employment level during test track / technology development phase was small compared to staffing necessary to build the system at Heathrow. PRT technology development is "risky," in that these efforts fail more often than succeed. Raytheon's PRT2000 effort was initially based on MN PRT technology, but, although significant technical milestones were achieved, the system never attracted a customer. (PRT2000 - see below)


MN Rep. Frank Hornstein and MN Sen. Scott Dibble, who head the transit subcommittees in each chamber, said the Winona proposal has no chance of state funding. "They're not going to get nickel one of public money while I'm around," Dibble said. Said Hornstein: "If people in the private sector want to pursue it, fine. But even a penny spent on it in these tough budget times is problematic." (Minnesota 2020)



More Symposium Coverage / Resources: