silver bullet background info

Monorail pitched to city planners

San Jose Mercury News, Posted on Thu, Jul. 01, 2004


By Dan Stober

Steve Raney is working hard to pitch what he admits is a somewhat outlandish notion of how to cut commute traffic in Palo Alto: a $50 million monorail system that would ferry workers between the 160 companies in the Stanford Research Park and the Caltrain station on California Avenue.

The system that he began dreaming up while working on his graduate degree at the University of California-Berkeley would send riders scooting over the elevated track in 300 small, three-passenger monorail cars at 30 mph. The driverless electric cars would avoid delays by passing by intermediate stations, not stopping until they reached their destination, Raney said.

There are no engineering plans yet for his ``personal rapid transit'' shuttle, and no money, but Wednesday night the 43-year-old software engineer gathered his hundreds of pages of research and a flashy computer animation to present them to the city's Planning and Transportation Commission.

The system lives only in digital graphics and cardboard mock-ups of the vehicles. But Raney -- a former technology evangelist at Microsoft -- and his fellow enthusiasts in an organization called, believe it can deliver great benefits.

A proposed monorail system using 3-person electric vehicles would link the CA Ave. Caltrain station with Stanford Research park

20,000 workers

There are 20,000 workers at the 1,000-acre research park, enough during daylight hours to significantly increase Palo Alto's population. Among the firms there are Hewlett-Packard, Roche Bioscience and Xerox.

Getting more commuters to abandon their cars for the train -- or for a carpool that would drop passengers at a monorail station -- would slash traffic and reduce air pollution, Raney said. Moreover, he adds, it could free up parking lots for other uses.

Raney has held tech jobs at a number of firms in Silicon Valley, including Microsoft, Pinnacle Systems and Videologic, before going back to school to get a master's degree in transportation planning from Berkeley last year. He is currently doing consulting work out of his home in north Palo Alto.

Private funding

Investors, not the government, would pay to build the five-mile system, he said, although he doesn't have any backers yet. ``We are basically trying to fish for wealthy technologists to get behind it,'' he said.

``It's an improbable sort of proposal to pull off, kind of a crazy proposal,'' he said. There is no successful model elsewhere of what he wants to do. A project by Raytheon near Boston failed in recent years. Stanford's Marguerite shuttles already provide free rides between Caltrain and the research park.

But, Raney said, new technology can make it happen in Palo Alto. The cars will be lightweight, drastically cutting the monorail construction costs, he said. Evolving wireless and cell phone technology would allow individual cars to be summoned when needed or timed to meet the train.

The highest technological hurdle is software to keep the cars from running into each other, he said.

Riders would love the system, he said -- it would even attract tourists.

The proposed route

To become a reality, Raney's brainstorm would require a large dose of cooperation from the city and Stanford University.

The word from Bill Phillips, managing director of real estate at the Stanford Management Company, was not promising. He said the technology is unproven and the ridership projections overly optimistic. Even when the technology matures, he said, the project would be better installed as part of a new business park, not Stanford's existing research park.

Raney was familiar with the objections. ``We certainly have a good understanding of how hard it is to pull this off,'' he said.

Contact Dan Stober at or (650) 688-7536.

Spry Reply to Pie in the Sky

6/28/04. Letter to the Palo Alto Weekly Editor:

Dear Weekly,

We would have preferred your June 25 "Pie in the Sky" story avoided the "Cities21 versus Stanford" angle. Stanford is the South Bay's leader in commute trip reduction and a national innovator in the production of workforce-oriented housing. These are two of the main objectives of Cities21. Cities21 has benefited from Stanford Management Company's (SMC) review of the Silver Bullet study. We're grateful that SMC volunteered to undertake significant time and expense.

SMC and the City of Palo Alto have supplied support letters for Cities21 attempts to increase carpooling through wireless technology ( ) and have offered to provide carpoolers to test our software.

The challenge is to get the first personal monorail system built anywhere in the world – creating the first new ground transportation mode in 90 years. In our "mature democracy," cities and universities are justifiably hesitant to host the first system.

At this point, we're the first to admit that SMC should be skeptical about the Silver Bullet proposal. As personal monorail companies make progress over the coming months, we believe this skepticism will decrease. We can't imagine the Silver Bullet becoming a reality without Stanford President John Hennessey taking a test ride and coming away with a positive experience.

As far as moving the proposal forward politically, we've prepared a small step for the City to take: adopt a franchising strategy: We believe this circumvents the inertia of mature democracy, while addressing most constituent concerns. The strategy lays out a large series of hurdles to clear to make the Silver Bullet a reality.

“If we can send three men to the moon 200,000 miles away, we should be able to move 200,000 people to work three miles away.” - Richard M. Nixon

Steve Raney, Pitman Avenue, Cities21

Push is on for 'People Mover' type transit project

Palo Alto Daily News, June 23, 2004, Page 1

By Randy Jensen, Daily News Staff Writer

A local transit group is trying to get traction for a five-mile $50 million personal monorail system in the Stanford Research Park that
would link to Caltrain. Cities21, a group of transit professionals, will present their ideas to Palo Alto's Planning and Transportation Commission next Wednesday with the hope of sparking some interest in a project that would be privately funded.

"It is pretty tricky to get the first customer for this," said Cities21 founder and Executive Director Steve Raney. "In today's political climate, it is just so hard to move this thing forward."

Raney said he has given presentation on the Person Rapid Transit system recently at a national transportation conference. He compared the "shuttle" to the first electric trolley that revolutionized urban transportation.

The project, dubbed the "Silver Bullet," would build the five miles of elevated tracks looping through Stanford Research Park to the Caltrain station on California Avenue.

The elevated monorail system -- not unlike the People Mover at Disneyland -- would transport up to three people via a driverless
electric vehicle that runs up to 30 mph.

According to Raney, the technology for the system is currently under development in Minnesota, Texas and Britain. A study by Cities21
shows a reduction in solo commuting from 89 percent to 45 percent with the personal transit system.

Planning and Transportation Director Steve Emslie said the group gave a presentation to the city a few years ago that was a more
preliminary plan. Emslie said the city is in no way involved in the project. He said he does not know of any city in the country that employees such a transportation system.


"(Similar transit systems) have not proven to be economically viable," Emslie said. Cities21 members include Palo Alto's Chief Transportation Officer Joe Kott.

The proposal would be paid for through "franchise agreement," whereby the city contracts with monorail developers who would take on the
investment risk rather than taxpayers. The group believes the commuting system would result in less traffic, less greenhouse gas, fewer cars and would help attract employees.

Palo Alto people mover would require Stanford OK

Published Monday, January 15, 2001, in the Daily News

Stanford could be key in realizing 'people mover'

By Mark Shahinian
Daily News Staff Writer

A new transit group, Cities21, aiming to get 8,000 commuters out of their cars, is proposing a people mover that would run from the California Avenue Caltrain station to the Stanford Research Park.

The proposed $76.5 million, 5-mile long system would consist of individual electric pods moving at 30 mph on overhead railings. Nothing exactly like it has been built, but advocates say the project is both realistic and necessary to tame the area's increasing traffic problems.

"I've studied these things all over, and when I heard this one, it has all the ingredients you want," said Jeral Poskey, a student at Stanford's Graduate School of Business and one of the project's promoters.

Four-person pods

The people mover would use individual four-person pods moving on narrow, overhead tracks. Stations would be near the large companies in Page Mill Road-area research park, including Hewlett-Packard and Xerox.

Those companies, whose employees quit because of horrendous commutes, have a lot to gain from the project, said Steve Raney, another Cities21 member. The companies could save $11.5 million per year if they reduce employee turnover one percent, he said.

Poskey said in a small system like the one Cities21 is proposing, taxpayers would have to finance most of the $76 million cost. Much of the money could come from the federal or state government, though, he said.

The system, however, depends on Caltrain electrification, which is supposed to be funded by Measure A, approved by voters in November. With Caltrain's electrification, higher train frequency and speeds can bring more commuters to Palo Alto from outlying areas, Raney said.

8,000 users

The system would be designed to move 8,000 of the 23,000 workers in the research park to and from Caltrain. But Cities21 also envisions eventual expansion out to Stanford Shopping Center so workers can run errands at lunchtime.

Palo Alto councilman Bern Beecham said the key to the proposed transit system is Stanford University. Under Stanford's permit to build more housing and office space, the university can't generate more car commutes, Beecham said.

"The work they've done shows there are practical solutions that provide good people mover systems," Beecham said. "The question right now is financing. I think they pointed out Palo Alto has a lot on its plate." College Terrace resident John Ciccarelli said the proposal could help Caltrain's ridership. "A process like this is interesting to me because it makes my neighborhood an even better place to live," Ciccarelli said.

A similar proposal has been designed for the Cincinnati area, but has not yet been built, Poskey said.