Posts Tagged: Coach Slipping



The Paradox Of Established Technologies

How many of you own this? Image by Tom Raftery.

Quick! Hands up if you own an iPad!

(Good, now hold that thought because I’ll get back to it at the end of this post.)

A comment on a recent post over at Human Transit caught my eye:

The post was titled All Aboard The Canadian Hydrogen Overhead Monorail Express and dealt with Canadian Inventor Frank Illguth’s dream of a high speed monorail that doesn’t need to stop for boarding and alighting passengers.

As I discuss here, the concept of vehicles that don’t stop for boarders and alighters is not a new one. The practice dates back to the 1800’s and was called “coach slipping” and there are at least a few people in the world who still think it’s a viable proposition:



So does Mr. Illguth’s coach slipping monorail constitute a genuine invention or is it just the repackaging of an old idea? Doesn’t matter, that’s for the patent lawyers to decide and not the point of this post.

The response on Human Transit to Mr. Illguth’s CHOME was predictably and overwhelmingly negative and sarcastic. Mr. Illguth, meanwhile, didn’t help his cause any. He offered little evidence of his idea’s worth and caught the ire of the group by deriding other commenters and their “crap opinion(s)” – his words, not mine.

The discussion goes on and on and – as is typical of this kind of argument – one individual reiterated the oft-told and sacred rule of transit planning: stick with established technologies and a reputable manufacturer.

Fair enough.

But how does one define an established technology? And more importantly, how does a technology become established? It’s like the recent graduate who can’t get a job due to a lack of experience and is told to remedy the problem by getting a job so as to gain experience.

It’s a paradox and it doesn’t help anybody.

It’s not like we’re talking about fire or gravity here. Trains, buses and streetcars haven’t existed forever. At some point in time someone had to invent from nothing whatever transit technology you currently ride. And by virtue of that act of invention, every single transit technology in history has lived through a period of not being established.

One could argue that every major transit innovation/invention of the last 200 years was a deliberate and revolutionary act against the status quo. Horse drawn omnibuses led to San Francisco style cable cars which led to electrified streetcars which led to diesel-powered buses which led to LRT and BRT.

In other words, innovation and invention was always key. But somewhere along the line we traded that spirit of invention for a policy of establishment. Stick with established technologies and a reputable manufacturer. Good for the reputable manufacturers and established technologies, not so good for everyone else.

It’s nothing more than the No City Wants To Be First Problem: No city wants to be first with a new idea, but should the idea prove successful, every city wants to be second. Our cities have become the world’s largest riders of coattails and those responsible are strangely proud of it.

I know nothing about Mr. Illguth’s monorail and I doubt it will ever see the light of day. But guaranteed, if Mr. Illguth does find a city willing to implement his technology and it proves to be every bit as wonderful as he claims, cities will be clamoring for it. Same thing with the new London Heathrow PRT. Or the Chinese Tunnel Bus™. Or my CableRailGyroCopter (patent and trademarks pending).

Will every new idea pan out in the end? Of course not, but that’s okay. That doesn’t mean the act of innovation and invention is inherently something to avoid and fear. That we have an unwritten rule that is actively hostile towards the new doesn’t make it any easier, but that’s just the way it is right now.

New is hard, long and difficult. But it’s worth it.

Now to get back to that whole iPad question: How many of you ever owned a Newton?

Apple iPad circa 1987. Image by moparx.

Want more? Purchase Cable Car Confidential: The Essential Guide to Cable Cars, Urban Gondolas & Cable Propelled Transit and start learning about the world's fastest growing transportation technologies.