Madison dodged a monorail grift and barely even noticed

Behold the flying egg car!

Behold the flying egg car!

The air in Wisconsin has been thick with Lyle Lanley references ever since former governor and human-shaped slime formation Scott Walker inked a deal with Foxconn that will bedevil us for decades to come. But we should have held back some of our best monorail material, because it would come in handy right now in Madison. A company called Transit X is trying to sell the city on a system of “flying solar pods” that would apparently zip people to and fro in futuristic capsules suspended from above-ground rails. As the Wisconsin State Journal reports this week, Madison transportation officials are, to put it mildly, not sold on it:

A city Department of Transportation review of Transit X’s proposal, presented by Cechvala at Monday’s meeting, listed a range of barriers for implementing the project, including the feasibility of creating a pod that’s both lightweight and safe. Pods likely would have to become more obtrusive, the review said, similar to the design of a roller coaster, to ensure safety.

Among other concerns: Transit X has overestimated revenue, underestimated the timeline of the project, not certified the pods for safety, not ensured the pods would be wheelchair accessible, not addressed how the fast-traveling pods would function at intersections, and not fully considered the challenges of securing air rights or constructing the railway around street lights.

Also, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution discovered in March that the company’s founder is a convicted sex offender. Dude also had a failed crowdfunding campaign for Transit X in 2017.

The Transit X system, to the extent that it is even feasible, is very much a monorail. That the proposed Transit X pod cars, each holding four or five people, hang down from the rail rather than riding on top of it—or “flying”—is immaterial. So, instead of riding a train-like system, the Transit X passenger gets to look like a fucking idiot inside a poorly drawn egg. Even this matters little to the task of defining the thing as a monorail. In the big picture, the car is suspended from one rail-like unit. Mono = one, rail = rail. Monorail!

As the city staff who prepared a skeptical study of Transit X could likely attest, it’s really hard to understand what such a thing would even look like in Madison. In most of Transit X’s renderings, and a hilariously bad video the company produced, the pods seem to be about 15 feet above ground and improbably tiny, looking more like weird oblong suitcases than passenger cars holding multiple people. The sense of scale here is severely off. City staff, perhaps fearing decapitation by massive black jellybeans, have wisely advised that we stick to the plan to bring bus rapid transit to Madison.

Transportation in Madison is far from perfect, but at least the city isn’t falling for it right now. Transit X’s small cars try to combine the privacy and space of personal automobiles with the convenience of mass transit. But for mass transit to move an actual mass of people around, you have to sacrifice some of the privacy and space of personal automobiles. It seems designed to appeal to people whose understanding of public transit has been hopelessly warped by car-centric infrastructure, and who think cute, tinny half-measures will solve their traffic problems. That may explain why Transit X is trying so hard to make a deal happen in the atrociously sprawling Atlanta exurbs. It all comes off like a Yes Men stunt aimed at warning us about private companies who would co-opt rhetoric about urbanism and environmental sustainability in order to swindle well-meaning liberals.

It is, indeed, more of a Shelbyville idea.

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