I Think I Can, I Think I Can

Tom Anthony has a dream: of lozenge-shaped, four-person vehicles that cruise an elevated rail on demand, delivering passengers around the metro area at 30 mph or taking them up into the mountains and out to Denver International Airport at four times that speed.

Suddenly, cars are unnecessary. Parks bloom where parking lots now sit. The brown cloud dissipates. The metro area stops sprawling and the Central Platte Valley is revitalized, because it's so convenient to visit.

A few impediments stand in the way of this Personal Rapid Transit system, including its own $250 million price tag and a lack of interest. Phase one of the project is already eight months behind schedule for a 1999 completion date.

But Tom Anthony and Fred Hopkins, general manager of Anthony's PRT Associates, refuse to stop believing. Instead, they speak of "breaking paradigms" and "bumping up against old models." Of "life by design" and "living a conversation." Odd talk for serious businessmen, perhaps, but then these two "share a certain training." That training was with the Landmark Education Corporation and The Forum, says Hopkins, adding that Anthony has served as his "coach for the projects I've taken on in life."

Anthony's devotion to his own project began decades ago. "I've been a radical environmentalist since I was eight years old," he explains. "I lived next to Clear Creek near Wadsworth. I used to catch butterflies and frogs. Then they built I-70 and it was gone."

He begins to cry--hand-over-your-eyes weeping that goes on for several minutes. "That's when it became clear to me what's important in life," he manages to spit out.

"Tom demonstrates the enormous cost of trying to fit human beings to the technology rather than designing technology to fit life," Hopkins says helpfully as Anthony wipes his eyes. "It takes that kind of vulnerability to take a stand for the possibilities."

His boss is the father of two children, Hopkins continues, and is unwilling to accept that their future is a world without places to catch butterflies and frogs.

Hopkins has been on board with PRT Associates for a year. "He thought I could bring something to the party," he says of his Landmark coach. Hopkins's background is as a "financial consultant and in communications," he says, adding that although he has no training or experience in transportation, transportation engineers "are easy to find."

By now Anthony has pulled himself together, and he proceeds to describe his vision: There would be a number of PRT stations at various sites around the metro area, such as Mile High Stadium, the 16th Street Mall and the Denver Tech Center. Parking their cars at an outlying station, passengers would use a call box to summon a PRT vehicle, then punch in a destination when it arrived--and off they'd go. The electric cars would ride the rail on air casters at 30 mph. Estimated cost: $1 per mile.

Anthony outlines PRT's pluses over current public transportation: While buses and light rail must follow a schedule whether there are riders to support the cost, PRT cars run on demand. They also bypass intermediary stops, jumping off the main track at the requested station like a race-car driver making a pit stop at Indy. The elevated rails lower construction costs and increase safety. Sixteen feet above the road, they pose no collision potential for automobiles or pedestrians.

And, for that matter, they also would make the world safer for animals. Extending the system to the mountains would "stop the slaughter of wildlife on the roads," Anthony says, and eliminate the hazards of driving in snow.

Cars will continue to exist, Anthony and Hopkins concede. But they'll grow increasingly unpopular as commuters discover the joys of never again having to find a parking spot, never again having to run out and feed a meter.

But before they can discover those joys, there's the small matter of money. Because the Federal Transportation Authority will not fund "experimental" public transportation, funding will have to come from private sources. Anthony envisions 50 percent coming from a public stock offering, the rest from a Business Benefit District composed of businesses and landowners in the Central Platte Valley and downtown "who would benefit from the system." It's a fantastic business deal, Anthony says, because investors will be on the cutting edge of personal rapid-transit systems, and after Denver's is built, every other city will want one.

So far, though, only one businessman has chipped in for the "benefit district": Anthony himself, who owns a few acres near Coors Field and laments that "economic realities" have forced him to pave it for parking. In the meantime, operating funds come from a dozen or so private investors whom Anthony declines to name. And while the stock is not yet available to the public, "we're taking memberships pending approval by the board," he says.

Although the conversation is littered with Landmark rhetoric, it's apparently not necessary for potential investors to buy into that program as well.

Asked about his connection with Landmark, Anthony's verbal tour of PRT sputters to a halt. "Will this be on the record?" he asks.

"Everything is on the record."
"Well, then," he says, "I don't want this to turn into a tabloid conversation...I mean, if my credentials were from MIT, then people wouldn't question them.

"But they're not. So I would prefer not to answer that."