From SkyBus to Metro Mover: A Revolutionary Twist in Public Transport
Discover the futuristic yet failed PAAC SkyBus, Pittsburgh’s attempt at revolutionizing public transit in the 60s. Learn about its legacy in modern transit systems.
Journey back to 1967 and discover the rise and fall of the PAAC SkyBus, the shiny and futuristic transit line that aimed to revolutionise Pittsburgh’s public transport. From political battles to its daring attempt to bridge a gap between buses and subways, tune in for a deep dive into its fascinating history.
- SkyBus Concept
- Gadgetbahn Explained
- Tradeoffs in Transport
- Conventional Rail
- Interoperability Issues
- Wrong Problem
- Cut Car Use
- Build a Train
Today, we’re delving into a fascinating time-travel episode!
Picture this: The year is 1967. In Pittsburgh, the PAAC SkyBus, fondly referred to as the
Transit Expressway Revenue Line, is about to change public transit as we know it. It is futuristic, fully automated, and separates commuters from the traffic below with elevated tracks. Yes, that sounds promising, especially for the late 60s!
You might be wondering, though: Isn’t that a train?
Well, and rightly so, the SkyBus did mirror traditional train functions but on a much-speckled canvas.
SkyBus: A Glimpse from the Past
Smaller than a standard bus and categorised as ‘pods’, these automated buses had 28 seats powered by electric motors, reaching maximum speeds of 80 km/h.
“These automated pods were seen as bridging the gap between buses & subways in a time when trams were non-existent.”
However, despite being supported by the PAAC (Port Authority of Allegheny County), the SkyBus was opposed by the mayor and the governor, who instead favoured a blend of heavy and light rail. Furthermore, after a decade of political battles and depleting support, the SkyBus Project was dismantled completely in 1980.
What Makes Gadgetbahns?
Gadgetbahns boldly go beyond being regular trains, mostly implanting seemingly redundant twists.
Here’s why: It turns out that these twirls proved effective in captivating public support and drawing in funding. Gadgetbahns are precisely metal boxes running between stations, but with the need for gentle curves and fewer elevation changes.
Just imagine! You’re currently serving as the mayor of a city, and Elon Musk proposes his epic Bacon 420 pickle-rick pod shuttle as opposed to a light rail line. Undoubtedly, you’ll likely be more inclined to consider this tech-quirk proposal. However, like conventional trains, gadgetbahns have similar operational constraints and challenges. These include speed, energy, cost, comfort, capacity, accessibility, and safety. Balancing all these seven aspects is a monumental task. Let’s take a look:
- High speed is desirable but immensely escalates energy usage and requires straighter tracks, which increases land costs.
- Energy efficiency often means compromising on speed or capacity or building costly energy infrastructure.
- Low construction costs often mean following existing paths, leading to lower speeds and a compromise on safety, etc.
The Gadgetbahn Dilemma
Even if your gadgetbahn excels in six of these aspects, failing just one aspect can lead to its downfall.
Here’s why: Our benchmark is conventional rail. Trains have been solving all seven challenges reasonably well for centuries!
For instance, the SkyBus could have been faster, but that would raise energy costs, increase maintenance expenses, and potentially face capacity issues. Indeed, a gap filler, but a highly expensive one. When compared to a conventional light rail system, the latter proves to be energy-efficient, reasonably fast, safe, and comfortable. Not to mention, it can also adequately manage capacity.
But if gadgetbahns like the SkyBus are viable, why not bring a complete system to the table, addressing all concerns beforehand? Private funding wouldn’t be an issue if the idea was indeed promising. After all, Juicero and Theranos managed to attract staggering investments in their rather unsuccessful ventures.
Interoperability: A Core Issue with Gadgetbahn
Another problem with systems like Gadgetbahns is interoperability. Take, for instance, the task of connecting an airport with the city center. With a Gadgetbahn like a monorail, it’s possible, but again, it exists separately from other transit modes, thereby limiting its integration advantage. On the contrary, conventional rail can be neatly integrated into existing systems and you can have trains of all kinds stop by the airport with seamlessly integrated connections to the city centre, commercial district, or suburbs. This is a game-changer for overall travel convenience.
Addressing the Core Problem
Gadgetbahns do hold their promise. Be it the SkyBus, the Loop, the Miami Metro mover, or monorails, they aim to facilitate rapid transit above congested streets. But are congested streets the real issue to solve? Think about it! The streets are congested because they’ve been taken over by cars and what if we could cut back on car usage? It isn’t unheard of.
Several cities, including London and Paris, have successfully managed to reduce traffic by favouring public transit over cars. The best part? This makes extravagant investment in elevated-track systems unnecessary. We can simply designate lanes for public transit in place of car lanes.
Contrary to just a band-aid to the bullet-wound problem that shiny, technological gadgetbahn systems like the SkyBus attempt to solve, the real solution lies in the attitude towards public transportation. We need a drastic cutback on car use and the comprehensive development of efficient public transit systems.
‘Simple Light Rails’ might seem less fascinating, but in the end, that’s what Pittsburgh did! They decided against the SkyBus and built successful light rails instead. Kudos to them! Every other solution is just dressing up a wound that requires surgery. It’s high time we cease traffic and test-drive mass transit for a change!
Thanks for joining this trip back in time. Don’t forget to like and follow our blog for more fascinating stories from the past, present, and future! Until next time, keep re-thinking transit!
Image concept developed by the author
In 1967, the PAAC SkyBus, an automated transit system, was anticipated to revolutionize public transit in Pittsburgh. However, a variety of factors contributed to its ultimate failure. Despite its initial popularity, political opposition and the withdrawal of funding led to its eventual dismantling by 1980. The SkyBus and similar systems, referred to as “gadgetbahn,” face similar operational constraints such as speed, energy, cost, comfort, capacity, accessibility, and safety as regular trains, but often perform poorly in at least one aspect. The SkyBus was fast and safe, but very costly and offered low capacity.
Unlike conventional light rail systems, which are reasonably good in all attributes, these gadgetbahn offerings are often underdeveloped. Unresolved issues and a lack of interoperability make them less attractive and in addition, they often attempt to solve traffic congestion problems created by excessive car usage by implementing over-engineered solutions rather than addressing the root issue. The author advocates for reducing car use and investing in proven and efficient transit systems like conventional rail, suggesting that anything else is just a temporary fix to a larger problem.
Image concept developed by the author
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