For the past 48 years I have been an active, alas seldom-successful participant in the Houston rail debate. Several times over the years I was able to propose the usage of Monorail as a viable alternative. This time I will not point to hidden deals, insider agendas, conspiracies and other negative aspects of proposals and counter proposals now being debated. Instead I will demonstrate that an obvious solution is being ignored by all concerned. This solution is now known and is being considered, and adopted in other locations. It is the FAT Corridor concept that is perfect for the Katy Freeway and other freeways with HOV lines.
FAT or Free Transit And Tolled Highway concept is simple. Charge anyone who wants to drive the tollway and use the money to provide free transit for those who ride the train. This is the highest and best use of the transit corridor by utilizing the airspace, reducing vehicle traffic and promoting train ridership. Financing could be provided by the private sector with some Federal Highway Administration assistance. After all, transit is now recognized as an amenity because there is NO TRANSIT SYTEM IN EXISTENCE IN THE US THAT CAN OPERATE WITHOUT TAXPAYER ASSISTANCE.
A typical 8 lane congested highway now carries 20,240 people/hour. A FAT corridor of eight lanes and a double elevated guideway would carry 60,240 people/hour. This concept will attract riders because it is free; it is economically sound, environmentally desirable and politically achievable. It would put an end to the present disingenuous policy of “attracting” riders while increasing their fares, as if any fare increase would have a meaningful reduction in the necessity of taxpayer assistance.
The FAT concept has been introduced to the United States by Thomas H. Hopkins, an Australian who believes that a nationwide high-speed Monorail grid could replace our congested highways and airways at minimum cost, by using air space over our highways.
High speed Monorail has been designed here in Houston 47 years ago. It does not copy the coach design of heavy railway cars as other Monorail systems do, but it is designed as the body of an airplane. Since it does not depend on gravity for safety it can be light. Being light it does not need long breaking distances and can be operated on tight headways even at the higher speeds it travels compared to “light” rail. The most important aspect, however, is that being light, it does not require the atrocious costs necessary to lift “light” or heavy rail above ground level. “Light” rail is heavier than “heavy” rail. It is called “light” to dupe people into believing it is somehow more wholesome than “heavy” rail.
The solution is therefore obvious. Allow METRO, or the private sector to use the air space above the toll lanes. Allow the private sector to bid on a combined solution of free transit and toll road. Allow the toll revenues to support the transit rides and combination toll and transit bonds would be best sellers. For those who want to learn more about this ingenious plan I recommend that you read Mr. Hopkins’ paper at http://highspeedmonorail.com/G4paper121301.pdf. Unlike others, I do not expect to profit by this proposal. The Monorail System I represented for more than 40 years has run out of soldiers to fight for it. We lost our battles but hopefully Mr. Hopkins and others will carry on until we can finally dismount from riding the dead horse of 19th Century rail.