Posted on Sat, Jun. 18, 2005

Pleasanton to analyze 'personal rapid transit'

By Sam Richards

CONTRA COSTA TIMES


PLEASANTON - In the late 1800s, after the first successful electric trolley-car system established itself in the United States, it wasn't long before streetcars were rolling down Main Streets across the country.

More than a century later, "personal rapid transit" monorail technology awaits a similar breakthrough. And Steve Raney says Pleasanton could be where it happens, helping Hacienda Business Park's 19,500 workers get between their offices and the Dublin-Pleasanton BART station.

"It's kind of like a shuttle bus on steroids, from the BART station to the offices," said Raney, executive director of Cities21, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit group working to improve commutes.

"For a lot of people, working out that last mile or half-mile is a big deal."

A $204,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant will help Cities21 and Hacienda study whether a six- to seven-mile monorail, with three-person cars whisking workers to and from offices at short intervals, is practical and/or doable.

This is only a preliminary study; any system is at least five years away, Raney said.

The idea, he said, is to get office workers out of their cars by making the last segment of the commute easier. That, in turn, could be the deciding factor in getting more Hacienda workers to get out of their cars and use BART, carpools, buses, even bicycles.

The elevated monorail system would feature small three-person cars that would travel a main line with, in essence, a spur to each major office building and many other destinations. As many as 300 of the cars could operate at any given moment, guided by software, zipping along at up to 30 mph.

"The key is the software that keeps the cars from bumping into each other," Raney said.

James Paxson, Hacienda's general manager, was unavailable for comment Thursday or Friday. But Pamela Ott, Pleasanton's economic development director, said the idea is exciting.

"It supports the notion that Hacienda is a first-class business park, and that would help Hacienda attract more businesses to the city," Ott said. "It's also a chance to help employees at the park."

Raney said the Oracle Corp., Hacienda's largest corporate tenant, has agreed to survey 225 employees about whether they would use the monorail.

Only a couple of short test-track sections of such a monorail exist in the United States, Raney said, so there is no working system in place. And with construction costs starting at $10 million per mile, it's not a cheap proposition.

But Raney sees a big market for the technology, if it's successful; there are 200 office parks in the United States, 11 of them in the Silicon Valley, where such an investment could be worthwhile.

San Ramon's Bishop Ranch business park is several miles from the nearest BART line, and is much smaller in area than Hacienda, but a "personal rapid transit" monorail system could still find a place in there.

"Buses could bring employees to a central point in Bishop Ranch, and use PRT to get to any of our 10 office complexes," said Marci McGuire, who heads up the Bishop Ranch Transportation Centre, and its efforts to move employees into, out of and around the park. She is intrigued by the concept, premature as it is.

"Something like this could be very efficient," she said.

Whether it is cost effective in Pleasanton has yet to be determined, Raney said.

"If this one is successful, there will be 200 more systems within five years," he said.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Reach Sam Richards at 925-847-2147 or srichards@cctimes.com.