FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com
(DV) Avidor: Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's Weird Transportation Boondoggle







Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's
Weird Transportation Boondoggle
by Ken Avidor
February 11, 2007

Send this page to a friend! (click here)


“People on the right, people on the left, we have the common goal of moving people with transit, but doing it in the most cost-effective manner, in fact, in a manner that may end up costing no government subsidy, it may end up paying for itself.”

-- Michele Bachmann, in a 2004 Minnesota Public Radio interview. 

You may have seen freshman Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) plant a big kiss on President Bush after his recent State of the Union speech. You may have heard that Bachmann claimed God told her to run for Congress. What many people do not know about Bachmann is that she wrote legislation for and  promoted a bizarre scheme to fleece taxpayers and investors of millions of dollars. The scheme called Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) would have also served as a stalking horse to stop funding for conventional transit. 

PRT is a futuristic transportation concept is supposed to comprise of thousands of little pods on an elevated monorail-like structure with many off-line stations. After thirty years and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on PRT research, there are no true PRT systems in operation anywhere in the world, although there have been many failed attempts. 
The Nixon-era PRT project at West Virginia University in Morgantown is one example. The Morgantown PRT is not true PRT since it uses very heavy vehicles and infrastructure. Originally estimated at $14 million the PRT project in Morgantown ended up costing $126 million (as of 1979) -- about $319 million in 2004 dollars. The Morgantown PRT has been plagued by glitches and breakdowns over the years. A WVU student reported that the breakdowns occur when squirrels stepped on the third rail, shorting out the system, and leaving the fried carcasses of squirrels littering the guideway. 
In the middle to late 1990s, PRT "visionary" Professor J. Edward Anderson,  convinced the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) of Illinois to fund a PRT project for an industrial park in Rosemount, Illinois.  Raytheon, a  military contractor, agreed to build it. The project was discontinued due to cost overruns and technical snafus. Total losses in public and private investment in the Raytheon PRT project are estimated at $67 million. 
J. Edward Anderson's PRT company Taxi 2000 tried to get city after city to fund a PRT testing facility. In Cincinnati, promoters of PRT managed to convince U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky to release $500,000 in federal money for a PRT project they called Skyloop. Skyloop was rejected by a regional planning committee after engineers found the PRT concept to be unsafe and infeasible. 
In recent years, bills and amendments were introduced into the Minnesota legislature by then State Senator Michele Bachmann and others that granted bonding, regulatory and tax advantages to develop a PRT industry in Minnesota. Not one of these bills survived the legislative process, but along the way the PRT bills provided a platform for anti-transit, pro-highway politicians like Senator now Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Rep. Mark Olson and others to denounce conventional transit as too expensive or old-fashioned. 
For over 30 years, PRT had support from anti-transit, pro-highway groups. PRT had no support from traditional grassroots transit advocacy groups such as Transit for Livable Communities and the Sierra Club North Star, both of which have resolutions opposing the public funding of PRT on their web sites. 
Perhaps the high point for PRT promoters at the Minnesota Legislature was the 2004 session when a PRT bonding bill for $4 million was passed by the House only to be extinguished in a conference committee. Things went quickly downhill for PRT promoters after that. 
Late in 2004, PRT "visionary" Professor J. Edward Anderson was prevented from regaining control of the Taxi 2000 Corp. One bitter shareholder wrote in a letter to the Pioneer Press, "I was present at all of the relevant shareholder meetings and can affirm without reservation that this company was taken over by a gang of political opportunists led by one Morrie Anderson" 
In 2005, the Taxi 2000 Corp. filed a lawsuit against J. Edward Anderson and two associates. The lawsuit was settled, but Taxi 2000 has shown few signs of life since. The Taxi 2000 Corp. Web site has not posted any news since the lawsuit. 
Also in 2005, one of PRT's most energetic promoters, Minneapolis Councilman Gary Dean Zimmermann, was investigated and charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office with extorting bribes from a developer. Zimmermann subsequently lost his seat on the council to Robert Lilligren, a supporter of conventional transit. Zimmermann was tried and convicted on three counts of bribery and he is now serving a two and a half year sentence in a Federal Correctional Facility in 
Littleton, Colorado. 
PRT has since lost its support among liberal and moderate Minnesota politicians. An attempt by Rep. Mark Olson to attach a PRT amendment to a bonding bill in the Minnesota House on April 12, 2006 was voted down 26 to 107. Mark Olson was re-elected Nov. 7, but was arrested and jailed for domestic assault five days later. Olson was expelled form the Republican caucus and will likely be expelled from the legislature following his trial. 
Although the Taxi 2000 Corporation lawsuit and the trials of its most prominent promoters, Olson and Zimmermann likely sealed PRT's fate in Minnesota, a far more important factor in the demise of PRT in Minnesota was the phenomenal success of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line which has far exceeded ridership projections. 
With growing public awareness and concern about Global Warming, it's only a matter of time before the PRT "gadgetbahners" ask the Federal Government to fund research into their "green technology". When it happens, I hope public official don't make the same costly mistake other public officials made and instead, invest the taxpayers' money in proven, cost-effective transit systems with long records of safety and reliability.

Ken Avidor is Transportation Editor of the Twin Cities Daily Planet.