It may take a lot of baby steps before public transit technology can take a huge leap forward.
CyberTran International, the Richmond-based “ultra-light rail” start-up that secured a public-private partnership with the city back in September, landed its second public-private partnership this week.
I-Gate, a state sponsponed business incubator, invited the “ultra-light rail” company to join their network of green transportation and clean-energy technologies. Together larger facilities like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and UC Berkeley can provide “young entrepreneurial green transportation” access to more advanced technology and industry connections I-Gate’s website says.
“There’s a certain marketing value there, and there is value of technical resources,” said CyberTran CEO Neil Sinclair. “These places have very strong teams of consultants and engineers who have their own lab capabilities to assist us in problem solving—which is very attractive.”
CyberTran is on the brink of completing what amounts to now 30 years of work on their new transit technology. CyberTran plans to create computer automated, solar-powered “trans”– that’s what they call the passenger cars — to ship up to 20 passengers at a time between stations. Among other advantages, the small vehicle size will create significantly lower material and construction costs compared to other existing forms of transit.
The partnership with I-Gate is just one of a long list of endorsements for CyberTran. The company is in initial phases of securing additional city-based partnerships in Northern California. In the last several months it has also garnered public affirmation from politicians like Senator Barbara Boxer, Congressmen George Miller and a growing number of transit experts.
CyberTran made it into world-renowned environmental scientist and author Amory Lovins’ most recent book, “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era.” The green energy guru called CyberTran’s light-weight, solar-powered vehicle design “ingenious.”
“A new category of ultra-light rail, like the CyberTran … shows promise of many fold reductions in light-rail system costs, with easier installations and greater versatility,” Lovins wrote.
But the accolades only go so far. Before the idea can become a reality, Cybertran needs to nail down approximately $25 million worth of funding so the compay can build a test track. Even though the price is a fraction of the cost it would take to build an equivalent stretch of BART rail, it’s a lot to conjure.
CyberTran is waiting on a new transportation reauthorization bill to pass in Washington that could fund public transit projects like Sinclair. But, Neil Sinclair said that even if it does pass, there’s no guarantee CyberTran will get a piece of the prize.
“I’d say the odds are about 50/50,” Sinclair said. “We have contingencies and we are prepared to do it without these federal dollars. There have been private funding interests but those are also bets. As little as I like it, we kind of have to take a shotgun approach—we have to try more than one thing.”
According to Sinclair, with the progress of the last few months and this most recent partnership with I-Gate, CyberTran is about half-way toward gathering the funds it needs to build a track.
“The other half kind of looks like a long slog,” Sinclair said. “What we are focused on is trying to create the type of program that would help develop new transit technology—trying to get a program going that has been abandoned for 30 years. That’s an ongoing process.”