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November 22-28, 2006

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Porter Poddy

During every local election, politicians promise to find new sources of funding to stabilize Santa Cruz's wobbly budget. But once the election hangover wears off, city leaders end up facing the same conundrum: In order to continue providing services to residents, they must expand the tax base, either by attracting new businesses or expanding existing ones. But almost as soon as a proposal is out of the gates, community groups band together to block development. One commonly cited reason is traffic.

Which is where Ed Porter comes in. The Santa Cruz City council's resident Jetson got a chance to promote his pet solution during a two-day conference this weekend on Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). Proponents like Porter claim PRT systems would allow for growth without adding undesired congestion to our city's roads. They also would be safer and cheaper to install, operate and maintain than the current road/car/bus combination that we rely on for our current transit needs, according to advocates.

A PRT system would feature multiple two-to-four-passenger 'pods' propelled along a track toward stations built at popular destination spots, such as the beach, downtown and UCSC. The system would be fully automated and require no station attendants. Ideally, you would just get in, push a button and sit back as you zoomed along to your destination, unhindered by congestion thanks to computer management of the pods.

"It's so low cost," Porter argues. "The energy required to move people around is a tiny fraction of what it costs to drive a car or propel a bus or, certainly, a teeny percentage of the cost of putting in light rail." Porter favors an incremental approach, building a demonstration track close to the tourist-heavy beach district before expanding out to downtown and eventually the East Remote parking lot of UCSC. This would ensure community acceptance before it becomes too late to turn back. Porter, who has served on the council since 2000, understands the challenge of unifying a fragmented public behind this idea, but is confident that, as fuel prices rise and climate change fears continue to grow, this solution will look increasingly attractive.

"The only thing that will slow us down or stop us from doing this," Porter insists, "is our own inertia and lethargy."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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