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    History of the Advanced Transit Association (ATRA) Year by Year (6)

    September 8th, 2017


    History of the Advanced Transit Association (ATRA) Year by Year
    by J. Edward Anderson, first ATRA President.

    1981 – The Sixth Year.

    This spring ATRA elected a new slate of officers. Dr. A. M. (Tony) Yen, president of Technology Research and Analysis Corp. of Arlington, VA, was elected President of ATRA. Dr. Catherine Burke, Associate Professor of Public Administration at the University of Southern California was elected Vice President; and Dr. Duncan MacKinnon, Chief of the UMTA Advanced Development Program, was elected Treasurer. At its July 11 meeting, the Board of Directors elected Dr. Jerry Kieffer Chairman.

    Dr Tony Yen

    Dr Tony Yen

    Barriers to Technology Development were discussed at an ATRA session at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) annual meeting on January 14, 1981. Al Sobey of General Motors and formerly of TTI/Otis said that federal R&D by itself inhibits private development. When the federal government preempts private industry by doing the same work and making it available to everybody else, it discourages private initiatives. Moreover, experience has shown that UMTA is reluctant to accept new ideas from the outside; and has mandated designs that freeze technical concepts, inhibit the feedback from field experience, diffuse responsibility for designs, and discourage innovation. Dick Hacker of Boeing stated that the two primary barriers to technology deployment are 1) the lack of common understanding of the need or scope of transit technology that users, operators, industry or the nation will support, and 2) the lack of a long-term national commitment to urban transit technology that transcends short term political and funding cycles.

    UMTA’s Automatic Vehicle Monitoring (AVM) Program was aimed at improving schedule unreliability in large transit systems and on heavily traveled routes where buses often bunch together, creating long headways after the consecutive arrival of several buses at each stop. In an AVM system, elecronic and computer technology was used to automatically monitor the location and progress of the vehicles in a fleet.

    While the newly elected Reagan administration announced that federal funding for DPM projects would be eliminated, funding for the Miami and Detroit DPM projects were sufficient for those projects to proceed. Money in the UMTA budget for innivative techniques and technology introduction was completely eliminated. Funding for AGRT was reduced to $8.6 million. UMTA intended to discoutinue the AGRT development program, but it managed to continue until 1986, and produced valuable information about control that was useful for PRT.


    UMTA’s Paratransit Vehicle Program continued. Its goal was to stimulate the auto-motive industry to manufacture vehicles that would meet the needs of paratransit service at an affordable cost. As shown here, these vehicles would be equipped with a wheelchair access ramp that is deployed by the driver. It was felt that a shift in policy at the Federal level could help spur the widespread introduction of innovative transit technologies for the elderly and handicapped. The new policy could lead many transit cities to opt for providing door-to-door specialized services such as shown here in an UMTA-funded program.

    The ATRA Board held a discussion of the following topics related to the current decline of federal funding for public transit:  1) Can new technologies still play a role?  2) Financial incentitives via deregulation.  3) Free marketplace economics for public transit, and  4) Can low- income citizens still be served by public transportation?

    In his opening message, ATRA President Tony Yen said: “We can fill an important gap left by the decline of federal guidance for transit R&D. Doing this has the advantage that it will help ATRA identify new institutional frameworks through which support for R&D in technology can be obtained.”

    The Regional Plan Association studied household auto use in New York State to help policy makers anticipate auto use under different curcumstances. A principal finding was that neighborhood population density has a greater effect on the number of miles a household drives than a variety of other variables such as the number, age, or fuel economy of cars owned.

    Thanks to a grant of $300,000 from the US DOT, the City of Las Vegas initiated a study of the feasibility of a high-speed (300 mph) passenger train connection to Los Angeles. This was the first study of this type to receive a federal grant.

    ATRA planned a session on New Transit Technologies and Issues to be held at the January 1982 TRB Meeting in Washington, D. C. The technologies to be considered were: 1) Composite Flywheel Energy Storage and Propulson for Bus Applications, 2) Magnetically Levitated Urban Transit, 3) New Transit Systems in Canada, 4) An Acelerating Walkway Application, 5) Future Trends in Technology Deployment, and 6) Methods for Cost Control in Implimentation of Advanced Systems.
    In May 1981 a two-year study of automated transit systems for the downtwon area of the City of Indianapolis was completed. The study found that an automated transit system could be feasible in Indianapolis subject to preliminary engineering studies. Consultants to the city included Barton-Aschman Associates, Inc. as prime contractor with Anderson/MacDonald, Inc. as one of the subcontractors. A range of elevated AGT systems with vehicles accommodating 60, 40, 20, 12, and 3-passengers were considered.


    The 3-passenger vehicle network for Indianapolis

    The 3-passenger vehicle network for Indianapolis

    The result of the Indianapolis study was that the smaller the vehicle the lower was the total cost per passenger-mile, due both to improved service and decreased guideway cost. For reasons of personal security, the League of Woman Voters in particular rejected the larger vehicles in favor of the 3-passenger vehicle in which one would ride only with chosen passengers or alone. They imagined rides in off-peak periods shared with unknown persons and said “No thanks”. At the time, the only 3-passenger vehicle available was the German Cabintaxi. Since that program was terminated in December 1980, attemps were made to find an American company willing to take it over, but no such company was found.

    On November 16, 1981 Jerry Kieffer, as ATRA Chairman, wrote to the ATRA Board Members with concerns of that time. In part, he said “Transportation policy makers have an urgent need to have more options for providing effective service and for developing capital and operating resources. ATRA can play a helpful role in stimulating fresh thinking and in widening the circle of awareness about such thinking. That was what ATRA was first set up to do, and clealy we should be greatly challenged by what needs doing now. In the weeks ahead, we will be asking the ATRA Board to advise on particular themes or ideas that could be adopted for association development and consideration, along with possible formats for presentation of such themes, or specific ideas within themes.”

    For several years since 1976 I had been the U. S. Representative for Cabintaxi. Because of termination of that program, my colleague Ray MacDonald and I began thinking of a new design. Since I was to teach Senior Mechanical Engineering Design during the three quarters of the academic year 1981-82, I assigned to groups of about 15 senior mechanical engineering students each quarter successive aspects of the design of a new PRT system. This enabled me to spend at least half my time working on an improved PRT system. As indicated in the chapter on structures in my book Transit Systems Theory, I had found that the minimum-cost guideway was narrower than the vehicle. The Aerospace Corporation1 had reached the same conclusion and had placed a vertical chassis inside a U-shaped guideway. Cabintaxi had also reached the same conclusion about need for a narrow chassis, but placed chassis components outside a narrow vertically oriented box-beam guideway, which made the merge and diverge sections of the guideway complex and expensive. Thus, for my design classes, I specified a guideway design similar to that propose by The Aerospace Corporation, but to minimize cost my guideway would be a truss structure. The first version of my guideway is illustrated here.

    For reliable, all-weather, maximum throughput in vehicles per hour, both Aerospace and DEMAG+MBB (developers of Cabintaxi) used linear electric motors with system designs initiated in the early 1970s. A serious problem then was solved in the late 1970s by the variable frequency drive, which if used properly markedly increased the efficiency of a linear induction motor. Hence, with the advice and assistance of two Electrical Engineering Professors, I specified the LIM and VFD.

    My first vehicle design

    My first vehicle design


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