Mayor: Keep open mind about Jpods


I want to begin by thanking Ben Nelms for the nice article on Jpods in the 2/13/13 issue of The Citizen. I write this letter in hopes of providing more background information to the readers and clearing up any confusion about the PRT/JPods concept.

Let me stress that no promise or commitment of building a Jpod system in Fayetteville or Fayette County has been made either in writing or verbally.

Nor do I have at this time, and, nor have I been offered, any financial interest in the venture. All efforts on my part to promote Jpods are motivated by my desire to faithfully execute my oath of office … ”I will to the utmost of my skill and ability endeavor to promote the interest and property of said City [Fayetteville]”…

Though I will admit that the “Jetsonian” aspect is appealing, since I grew up watching The Jetsons cartoon show. I have also been an avid reader of Popular Science since my teen years and have made my living in the personal computer business since 1989. I enjoy learning about new technologies.

Before any decisions are made, citizens will be given ample opportunities to express their opinions. I intend to form a study committee soon to investigate and to hold townhall meetings to discuss Jpods.

Mr. James will put up a (Survey Monkey) web survey to obtain feedback. Furthermore, should a Jpods network ever be built here, a performance bond would be required to cover demolition costs so that we would not be left with a derelict eyesore if the venture were to fail.

I respectfully ask that you take the time to become informed before you make a decision.

Without a doubt, we’ve got it good in Fayette. We’re the healthiest county in the state. We have one of the top 100 hospitals in the country. We’re among the highest income counties in the state. We have the only school system in the state in which every school made Adequate Yearly Progress under QBE. We have among the highest percentage of residents with advanced degrees of any county in Georgia.

However, it was not always so and we cannot assume that it will “just always be so.”

My family’s first home in the county was a three-room log cabin equipped with running water that we ran across Ga. Highway 54 to fetch from a neighbor’s well and an outhouse.

Fayette did not come from there to where we now are without a lot of change and we cannot maintain the superlatives we now enjoy without changing with the times.

The challenge is to maintain the good things we have while not rejecting the new things that the future technology brings. Does anybody want to go back to “bag phones” or are you happier with your iPhones and Androids? Will you not agree that some disruptive changes can be good? Even if you won’t, I’m sure your kids will.

Not so many years ago, Clayton County had a pretty good school system and about 30-40 years ago DeKalb County had the best school system in the state. Clayton County schools lost accreditation some years back and DeKalb County is in danger of losing its accreditation now. The prolonged recession and some bad decisions in the past have placed our school system in a very tight spot financially.

Don’t delude yourself into thinking that “it can’t happen here.”

In my opinion, maintaining the status quo, long-term, is essentially impossible and trying to do so will ultimately lead us into decline.

So in this letter, I ask you to consider the fact that “the mind, like a parachute, only works when open.” So rather than close your mind to the concept of PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) by assuming that it is just another form of mass transit, let me take this opportunity to explain how Jpods are different and what I have in mind for Fayetteville.

Please understand that PRT is emphatically not mass transit. In fact, PRT is quite different and to my mind vastly superior to traditional mass transit. Here are a few significant differences:

1. Privately funded vs. funded by taxpayers.

2. Private enterprise vs. government control with the attendant corruption and graft.

3. Small 4-6 passenger (car sized) “pods” vs. massive trains or buses.

4. The elevated rail system used by Jpods is far cheaper to erect than any surface rail system.

5. On demand availability, much like hailing a cab, vs. waiting on scheduled bus or train service.

6. The ability to select a route with no stops between boarding and your destination.

7. The use of lightweight “pod” vehicles, elimination of unnecessary stops, and solar power collectors above the rails combine to allow Jpods to operate at an incredibly low cost of only $0.06 per mile.

Can anybody tell me how much it costs to ride MARTA these days (and don’t forget that they lose money on each rider)?

8. The potential to provide power to the electric grid during periods of the highest solar gain, when cooling demand is greatest. This could help electric companies meet peak demand without investing in additional costly power generation facilities.

9. Large-scale deployment of Jpods could also provide a stable demand for solar panels, potentially helping that green industry become profitable without additional government subsidy.

10. Safe, economical transportation for those too young or too old to drive without concerns about getting off at the wrong station.

Thinking long-term, imagine if kids in rural areas were picked up by bus and taken to a “pod station” for a longer ride to school. This might result in substantial savings to the school system by reducing the miles driven and also a reduction in commute times for the kids.

Whether a JPod network could ever be a profitable business enterprise based solely on passenger revenues in Fayetteville/Fayette County is an open question.

However, if a Fayette installation only served as a demonstrator system that, due to our proximity to Hartsfield-Jackson airport, brought people from around the world to see the system in operation, it could result in many benefits to Fayetteville and the county.

Jpods system sales from Fayetteville to more profitable locations would provide many skilled jobs such as engineers, electricians, electronics technicians, robotics technicians, welders, etc., to Fayette residents.

In addition to direct jobs, there would be increased demand in the hospitality industry for visitors and training of out of town customers.

All of this would make Jpods an excellent tie-in to the Fayette College and Career Academy, should it become a reality.

In short, I see the primary value of Jpods to our community more as a job program than a transportation system.

Should the Jpod industry locate in Fayetteville/Fayette County, we could reap tremendous benefits. It would provide Fayette another “unique feather in our leadership cap” as the home of “life at 15 mph” and also the home of solar-powered transportation.

Not only would it provide a great many jobs, but it could also increase tourism and might fit in well with the movie tourism that is bound to grow out of the Pinewood Atlanta Studios presence here.

The early years of the 20th century brought us the automobile and powered flight. In less than 100 years we had men on the moon, supersonic aircraft and interstate highways.

Like it or not, change is coming in the 21st century with regards to our transportation options. How many of us will want to commute to work in the 45 mpg average fuel efficiency automobiles mandated for 2025 by the Obama Administration? I have ridden in a “smart car,” and I don’t think it smart to drive one of those on an interstate highway.

It is a fact that on the order of 76 percent of Fayette County residents commute out of the county for employment. Gas at $15 per gallon would have a devastating impact on our county. Should Mr. James’ projections be correct regarding oil depletion and unrest in the Mideast increasing the likelihood of a significant oil shock within 10 years, or less, I fear that Fayette County would not fare well.

Proverbs 22:3 tells us that “the prudent man foresees evil and hides himself [makes preparation for it] but the simple pass on [continue with the status quo] and are punished [suffer the consequences].” Therefore, it seems prudent to at least investigate alternative modes of transportation.

If the worst should ever happen so that a time comes that we can no longer afford to drive our cars as we do now and if we had at least a rudimentary Jpod network here, it could be extended fairly quickly to provide critical transportation of goods as well as people.

Therefore, with an eye towards the future, I remain supportive of efforts to end dependence on foreign oil and to bring about a paradigm shift in transportation through the private sector rather than via governmental mandate.

Greg Clifton, mayor

Fayetteville, Ga.