The story of how Denver came very close to having a Personal Rapid Transit system implemented during the 1970s begins with a grant.
In October 1972, Denver was selected (out of a pool of 30 cities) as the site of an $11 million federally financed Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) project. The grant was provided by the Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA). United States Secretary of Transportation John Volpe described PRT as "a kind of horizontal elevator." He elaborated:
“When you enter the PRT station you push a button—the same way you summon an elevator. When the small, personalized passenger cab arrives—they are usually designed to accommodate about a dozen people—you enter and push another button indicating your destination, and off you go.”
In February 1973, the RTD board of directors adopted a nearly $1.6 billion transit plan in a 15-1 vote. The plan combined 100 miles of PRT with local and regional bus service.
A special election held on September 7, 1973, resulted in voters authorizing RTD to issue $425 million in bonds and raise another $95 million in pay-as-you-go funds to cover the costs of the transit plan (federally raised revenues were expected to cover the additional costs). Before PRT could be built in Denver, however, it would have to undergo extensive testing at a yet-to-be-built Broomfield test site.
In December 1973, RTD held its first in a series public forums throughout the metropolitan area. In Denver, citizens began voicing their concerns about PRT causing the relocation of businesses and homes, the esthetics of 16-foot, elevated PRT guideways and the lack of citizen input in planning. By January 1974, 13 citizen action committees had been formed throughout communities serviced by RTD.
The future of Denver's PRT federal funding began to darken in April 1974, when UMTA Administrator Frank Herringer testified before the transportation subcommittee of the House Appropriation Committee saying that he believed RTD hadn't adequately analyzed alternatives to its PRT program. RTD was ordered to submit a cost-benefit analysis of all its types of transportation.
On June 13, 1974, the House Appropriations Committee voted to eliminate $10.6 million in funding to RTD to continue their PRT system research and planning during the 1975 fiscal year. Colorado Senators Peter Dominick and Floyd Haskell wrote Senator Robert C. Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations transportation subcommittee, urging Byrd to restore funding. Ultimately, the funds were never restored, and RTD was forced to reconsider its PRT-heavy mass transit plan.
On August 20, 1974, Colorado Governor John Vanderhoof voiced his skepticism of PRT:
"I'm not all that sold on personal rapid transit. It doesn't strike me as the approach for the city and metropolitan area of Denver."
Although RTD remained hopeful about funding for its PRT system, by April 1975, it recommended the abandonment of PRT for more fixed-schedule transit options. PRT didn't take off in the U.S., but the once-controversial, UMTA-funded PRT system in Morgantown, West Virginia, is still in operation today.
Want to learn more about the history of PRT in Denver?
- Published materials on PRT available in the Western History and Genealogy Department
- Clipping files (DENVER. TRANSPORTATION. REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION DISTRICT. 1971- 1979)
- Newspaper articles (available on microfilm in the Western History and Genealogy Department)
- Rocky Mountain News Clipping Collection (envelopes "PERSONAL RAPID TRANSIT")
- Rocky Mountain News Photograph Collection (Box 406, "Mass Transit - X Monorail Trains")
I was a young engineer fresh out of CU when I was hired by Transportation Tech later to be Ottis-TTD. What a first trip for a newbie!! Working with so many skilled people all bent on a mission. The hours were long; from Jan2 1972 until the end of May I had no days off and an 8 hour day was getting off early but it was an energized environment. The story closed for me as I happened to be on the first public run from the airport a few years ago. I took a few pictures along the way including our old building at Smith road and Quebec and sent them to a few old workmates.
How exciting to have been on this project, Ron! Sounds like it was hard work, but fulfilling. Thanks for sharing your memories!
On a very hot August day in 1972, about 60 legislators waited in school busses at the TTI (Transportation Technology Inc.) test track just north of where Hwy 225 intersects US70. I had invited them to witness the maiden voyage of the PRT air-levitated vehicle designed and built by my client, Otis Elevator Co., owner of TTI. The first test pod was occupied by Governor and Mrs. John Love, and it made a grand swooping into the straightaway, breaking the paper banner held on one side by my secretary, Ms. Charly Faimon, and on the other by the local TTI Mgr. The vehicle made a successful docking at the door leading into the modular office. An interlocking arrangement prevented the vehicle cover (plastic bubble) from opening until the building entrance, a regular Otis Elevator door, was opened. Oh, oh; no sesame! The door was jammed; the Loves were cooking in the pod; the legislators were steaming in the busses. The Adams City Fire Dept. eventually showed up to free the elevator door and the sweat-soaked Loves. Ice in the lemonade melted. Governor Love was soon appointed the first Energy Czar by Pres. Nixon; his successor, John Vanderhoof -- citing his time in a yellow bus -- announced that a PRT was not appropriate for Denver.