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NA: SkyTran’s ‘isolation pods’ assume people abhor company
Sunday 6 Jan 2008, 09:39
Filed under: Railroad

Problem with this is we already have our isolation pods. They are called cars. Most of the time, there isn’t but one or two people in them. One has to wonder at what price per gallon at the pump, will people demand in large droves, public transportation?

By Lionel Gambill
Wednesday, January 2, 2008 2:35 PM PST

While I appreciate Supervisor Arnold’s interest in new technologies, I’m put off by Unimodal’s determination to tout SkyTran by maligning all public transportation: “The public overwhelmingly rejects light rail, monorails, buses, and carpool lanes. ‘Mass’ transit systems all over the world are not working.”

They call trains and buses “collective vehicles.” They criticize trains and buses for moving many commuters together (italics mine).

A major advantage of trains is their ability to move many people with one driver. Unimodal frames that as a flaw, done only to “amortize the wages of drivers over many fare-paying passengers.” They’re attacking rail for its efficiency.

Public transportation is enjoying a huge resurgence, in Europe and Asia, and increasingly in America. Have Unimodal’s founders never been to Amsterdam or even Beijing?

Their strategy is consistent with their claims: “No more concerns about unsavory types riding along with you.” What unsavory types? Is that bias racial? Ethnic? Socioeconomic? Also, “You never have to share your vehicle with anyone.” They emphasize that they’re interested in one market: the die-hard, drive-alone-or-die, single-occupant-vehicle commuter. Their Web site calls the personal automobile “the best transportation concept ever devised by man.”

Why then, do they want to replace it?

They make extravagant claims: “zero carbon,” “no active electrical input,” no need for “government subsidies.”

They propose substituting SkyTran for high-speed rail. I’ve traveled on Eurostar and TGV trains in Europe, including Paris to Marseille, 400 miles in three hours flat. If I’m going to Los Angeles, I don’t want solitary confinement. Where’s the restroom? Where’s the food? Where’s the bar car?

Their 150-mph isolation pods will make Los Angeles in two hours, 30 minutes, they say. I did the arithmetic and suggest they also do it. California high-speed rail will run at 220 mph.

If a 2009 trial run were made, where would the right of way be? Who would pay for infrastructure and vehicles? Unimodal said they’d construct a system by 2010. They don’t even have a working prototype. By comparison, Altamont Commuter Express ordered its equipment in March 1987 and began revenue service Oct. 19 1998: tried-and-true technology that was long ago debugged.

Single-occupant vehicles (SOVs) spawned urban sprawl, generating much global warming. What are the land-use implications of Unimodal’s single-occupant pods?

Their new technology claims include LIMs — linear induction motors. How new? Charles Wheatstone patented the LIM in the 1840s. It’s used on standard-gauge railroads in five countries. (The one in Vancouver B.C. is called Skytrain.)

Finally, I question the assumption that people abhor company. The 1950s are over. Many Americans want to escape cookie-cutter sprawl and freeway madness. Disillusionment with that alienation sparks the New Urbanism, plus a growing hunger for family and community.

When asked, “What about people who enjoy the social benefits of trains?” Unimodal replied that if a family wanted to go for a SkyTran jaunt, mom and pop could sit in one pod and the rest of the family in other pods and they’d be together because they’d have audio, video, and Internet connections.

That’s a brave new world I’d rather not live in.

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