Sunday, August 13, 2000

New mass transit plan connects river cities,
eliminates traffic jams

Taxi 2000 cars take workers directly to job locations

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The public can get a peek into a possible future for mass transit in the downtowns of the Tristate's river cities.

        This week Forward Quest, a nonprofit group of business and community leaders, will unveil a proposal to build a Sky Loop rail system linking the downtown and riverfront areas of Cincinnati, Covington and Newport with an elevated rail.

[photo] Forward Quest is proposing an elevated rail system called Taxi 2000.
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        The Sky Loop would be a “personal rapid transit system,” meaning it would use individual, electrically powered cars that could carry up to three people and go directly to their desired destinations on the loop.

        The catch is that the specific system Forward Quest is recommending, known as the Taxi 2000, only exists on paper. It hasn't been built or tested by its Minneapolis-based designer/developer.

        Chip Tappan, who chairs Forward Quest's Sky Loop Committee, compares the Taxi 2000 to individual automobiles.

        “Think about who is in all those vehicles on the expressways with an average of 1.2 people per car,” he said. “Sky Loop is the same principle. It is something you call up ... and use. You don't wait for it; it's always there. You take a trip just like you would with your car.”

        A rider would board one of the little cars, which can carry up to 650 pounds, swipes a card through a reader, and it tells the car's computer system where that traveler is bound.

        No extra stops. Delivery to the doorstep.

        Bob Brodbeck, a Web and database developer who is the Sky Loop Committee's chief technology expert, said that the Taxi 2000 system can't be compared to any other form of rapid transit currently operating.

        “For example, we call the Disney World system (in Florida) your father's monorail,” he said with a chuckle.

        “It's a group monorail, like some others in use. Taxi 2000 is in a different world.”

        Forward Quest is a nonprofit Northern Kentucky development group that's trying to plan for growth in the region through 2020. The idea is to develop a vision, Mr. Tappan said, “and then decide how we want to get there.”

        In the case of Sky Loop and Taxi 2000, the path starts with private investors willing to come up with about $10 million to fund a prototype demonstrator system.

        Without a working prototype, there can be no customers.

        “We just met with some of the officials from the (Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International) Airport this week to discuss the possibility of using airport property for the prototype,” Mr. Tappan said.

        “The drawback is that anything on airport property must have a connection or benefit to the airport. What we told the airport people is that if this system is useful for their own circulator, they could probably find a way to use some of the land for the prototype.”

        The Sky Loop system, if funded and eventually built, would exist within the downtown perimeter — bordered by Central Parkway on the north, Interstate 75 to the west, Interstate 471 to the east and Covington's 12th Street and Newport's 11th Street to the south.

        Mr. Brodbeck said a major aerospace firm, which he would not identify, has expressed interest in partnering with Taxi 2000, and with a willing community, to build the prototype. In May this company went to six different cities which had expressed an interest in Taxi 2000.

        Mr. Tappan said the community that is involved in the full-scale prototype and demonstrator will likely be the community where Taxi 2000 moves its home base and manufacturing facility.

        “We'd love to bring it here,” he said. “There is a potential of billions of dollars in sales and the home base of a major industry, which means a lot of new jobs for this area.”

        Currently, Taxi 2000 employs only two people.

        The Sky Loop Committee had invited a total of 50 companies to pitch proposals for circular people movers; nine companies made presentations. The committee chose Taxi 2000.

        The committee also is making the case that the Taxi 2000 system would be a good fit for any rapid transit system being investigated by OKI's Central Area Loop Study.

 WHEN: Tuesday, August 15
 WHERE: No. Kentucky's Chamber of Commerce Eggs 'N Issues Breakfast
  Four Seasons Sports Country Club, Crestview Hills, Ky.
 TIME: buffet begins at 7:15; program ends at 8:45 a.m.
 COST: $15 for prepaid Chamber members, $20 for members at the door; $40 for nonmembers.
 RESERVATIONS: Call Chamber at 578-8800.
 WHEN: Wednesday, August 16
 WHERE: RiverCenterII's Media Room
 50 E. RiverCenter Blvd., Covington
 TIME: 7 TO 8:30 p.m.
 COST: Free
 WHEN: Wednesday, September 20
 WHERE: Public Library's Tower Room
 800 Vine Street, Cincinnati
 TIME: 7 to 8:30 p.m.
 COST: Free
        OKI, or the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, is currently leaning toward a massive light rail system that would eventually run from Kings Island to the airport. The light rail system could cost $1 billion.

        “We have basically told OKI that if light rail goes, if the public supports it, we would want a sky loop station at the light rail point downtown,” Mr. Tappan said.

        “If light rail does not happen, then we think this type of rapid transit (Taxi 2000) can do the same thing that light rail can for less money.”

        The key, he said, would be to bring the cost of the Sky Loop project down to about $10 million per mile — or $190 million for the 19-mile loop.

        But first the committee must attract private investors to get the project off the ground.

        “The prototype investment would range from $5 million to $10 million, depending on what the aerospace company would be willing to put in,” Mr. Brodbeck said. “We're talking about five years until there would be a revenue stream. Depending on how quickly various areas buy into it, it could be 10 years to complete payback.

        “Most investors don't want to wait that long.”

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