Maglev Comes To Phoenix

Don't get too excited, commuters. It's only a license plate--so far.

The People Mover is a showcase for Bivens' company, which wants to prove that its West Berlin maglev system can work--and make a profit--in this country. And Las Vegas is now in the catbird seat--Magnetic Transit and a Japanese company are wooing the gambling capital for the rights to spend millions more on an expanded maglev system to serve the Strip.

Bivens, an urban-transit veteran who used to work for the Arizona Department of Transportation and was the first project manager for Atlanta's mass-transit system, hasn't given up on Phoenix.

"There's a crying need for mass transit here," he says, voicing the common opinion that the voters' rejection of ValTrans was a vote against that massive transit plan, not a vote against mass transit.

Bivens has refused to move to the Los Angeles headquarters of his company because he says he loves the Valley. And fellow commuters in north Phoenix do double takes when they see his Mercedes with the "MAGLEV" plate.

It's no coincidence that Bivens drives a Mercedes-Benz. Magnetic Transit of America is owned by AEG, the West German equivalent of General Electric. AEG, in turn, is bankrolled by German auto giant and Mercedes builder Daimler-Benz.

Maglev really is an idea straight from the comic strip Dick Tracy. After all, it was Dick Tracy's wealthy industrialist Diet Smith who used to say, "The nation that controls magnetism controls the universe." But the system in Vegas may prove that it's more than science fiction.

Meanwhile, Phoenicians stew in traffic and smog, and Bivens is studying aerial maps of Phoenix to try to come up with a workable proposal he can take to municipal officials.

And while most Phoenix commuters slog through traffic, John Bivens still has the quietest ride in town. "But I'd rather really be on a maglev," he adds.

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