by Dick Gronning.
In order to figure out why new transportation systems haven’t come into use since the 1970s, when PRT first came on the scene, I developed a list of what I have heard and seen, both in Minnesota and nationally. If we start off with specific reasons for not building the systems, then perhaps we can find solutions and put ATNs into operation here in America.
- It hasn’t been done before. Transportation for urban areas has only developed incrementally. Catherine Burke made the point that disruptive technology has been virtually eliminated.
- The experts don’t buy it. Consultants and transportation experts have been educated to the point of indoctrination in the present modes. With a few notable exceptions, they can’t seem to project their thinking beyond present systems and can’t envision the operation and management of truly disruptive systems.
- Politicians have set their careers on some other existing system. Newer, better systems might interfere with the system that the elected official wants to be built. I have heard about the conflicts raised with this situation.
- Well meaning people are unable to conceive of the use of these proposed systems.
- There is no immediate ROI (Within 6 months). I was told this by a local investor. He told me that he invests $3-5 Million at a time for each investment. He averages a third back on each investment. Whether he profits or not, he is out of the deal in six months.
- It is an unsafe investment because it hasn’t been done before. I was told that there are investment categories. If there isn’t a category for investing, then it is hard to get private investment.
- A corporation (multinational mega-corporation) won’t make $$$.
- There is no existing metro-wide system to look at and/or study. It seems that figures from existing systems have to be obtained before a next system can be either publicly or privately purchased and built.
- People can’t envision it – there is no vision! It certainly isn’t true of the general public. When they see it, they get it. Of course, this attitude leaves America at best as #2 in the world.
What can be done to counteract these items?
We have tried presenting new systems to the public with a great deal of success. The public seems to have no problem understanding what new systems can do. The voices of the people don’t seem to be heard by decision makers. Who makes the decisions on transportation and why can’t we get new systems built?
From what I have heard and seen, the final decision rests in the hands of elected officials. They appoint the committees that administer transportation and such committees must follow the wishes of the elected officials. But the elected officials aren’t educated in engineering as a rule. So, they listen to lobbyists, hire consultants, and follow party lines. There is a circle that goes around, because consultants can only give out figures on existing systems. Therefore, nothing new in transportation can be built, at least within the public circle.
Even if a system could be privately financed, there seems to be opposition, at least to a public location. But how do we even get private finances? What is needed is qualified experts that are in a position to educate and influence people who make decisions.
We need trustworthy developers. What I mean by that is that the developers must be able to show the investors that they have a track record, that they have the insurance, and that they have the finances to complete the job of development and rectify any possible mistakes. But how can a developer show all of these qualifications?
Developers need to align themselves with providers that have a track record. In the past large, multinational corporations have indeed been interested. Raytheon is an example. But the engineers at Raytheon didn’t produce a system that could be sold. Their system seemed to be overdeveloped and therefore too expensive. So, if some large corporation were to be part of this development, the question remains, how does the main developer steer the corporation towards an acceptable system that can be sold? How could any developer keep a large corporation from simply shelving any development? I don’t have an answer to these questions.
Another possibility is to form an alliance with a number of mid-sized corporations who are experts in a particular field and have a track record. Such corporations have the reserves to correct any errors and have insurance. But what kind of an alliance? Should such corporations be passive providers? How would they work together in order to produce the final system? The concept of a developer working with subcontractors hasn’t provided us with any systems yet. I think that some sort of new business model might be in order, a model of partners that are active participants in the development of the final system. Each part of such an arrangement would have to interact with the rest for a satisfactory result.
With the reserves of each partner in such a partnership, investors might be attracted to the project. Each member would have a track record of development in their respected field and a history of satisfactory projects. Working together as a team, this well might overcome the reservations of investors. Each member already has a background of successful business deals, finances, and insurance. They already are worth something. There would be a substance that investors could lay their hands on.
Of course, this is speculation. Until a system is up and running, we won’t know what it will take, what will attract investors. There are many types of investors, such as legacy investors that want to leave their name on a project, realtors that can see a profit in investing in transportation, charitable branches of for-profit corporations, and probably more.
For this group, can we add to this picture of types of organizations, approaches to investors, and visions of how to get systems built?