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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 17:58 GMT
Green transport system dealt blow
People sitting in an Ultra car
The Ultra system is said to be the first of its kind
An ambitious plan to create a system of futuristic driverless taxis round Cardiff has been dealt a blow by the Welsh Assembly.

Cardiff County Council said it was taking legal advice on the Welsh administration's decision on Friday not to give 8.8m in the coming financial year to help develop the 45m Ultra scheme.

Ultra car above a road
The scheme would link the city centre with the Bay

Ministers have told the authority that they are reluctant to support the scheme - which was due to begin next year - without clear agreements on private funding.

The Ultra cabs proposed, made of glass fibre pods, were envisaged running through the city centre and into Cardiff Bay on an elevated track system.

Ultra (Urban Light Transport) is now likely to be put back a year after missing out on inclusion in the assembly's 2003-2004 transport budget.

To run the track into and out of Cardiff Bay would cost 15m and millions more is needed to extend the project into the city's streets.

Friends of the Earth Cymru welcomed the assembly decision, saying Cardiff council had not thought the system through properly.

"We felt the council would be taking a big chance on this...there were a lot of question marks over it," said the spokesperson.

Wales Environment Minister Sue Essex launched the project in a fanfare of publicity last year.

Sue Essex, Minister for Environment
Sue Essex, Minister for Environment

Ultra's developers Advanced Transport Systems Ltd (ATS) have declined to comment on the assembly's decision.

The system has been trialled in Cardiff on a test track and the company said the pods have been met with a positive reaction.

ATS says it will continue to conduct the trials

The company says Ultra is more cost efficient than a tram system and it has created interest from the United States and Europe.

The pods would travel at speeds of up to 25mph, with passengers using smart cards to select their destination, paying 1 per ride.

Operated without the use of a driver, the pods would be fitted with closed circuit television to counter vandalism.

A letter from the assembly administration highlighted its concerns over funding.

'Disjointed thinking'

It stated: "For this innovative approach to provide a real transport alternative the assembly government is of the view that agreement in principle to private sector funding of later stages should be in place from the outset."

The administration also expressed reservations about Ultra not linking up with public transport in the city.

Cllr Rodney Berman, leader of Lib Dems group on Cardiff council, said: ""I think this show's the council's transport policy is in tatters.

"They had put so much store by the Ultra scheme. We have never been convinced it is the answer to Cardiff's problems.

"We think we should really looking at something which is a mass transport system. "Who wants to be taking that sort of risk with public money?"

Cllr Phil Robinson said the decision reflected "disjointed thinking".

"For the Welsh Assembly government to make an about-face on this without advance information beggars belief," he said.

"I am afraid this is yet another example of disjointed thinking and a lack of vision and commitment to the introduction of innovation."

The news of the assembly's decision on Ultra funding is the second blow for Cardiff council in a week.

The authority's annual funding was cut after census figures revealed the city's population was less than at first believed.

The authority had also bid to the assembly for millions of pounds for an eastern link road into Cardiff Bay.

Lib Dem Cllr Rodney Berman
"I think this show's the council's transport policy is in tatters"

More from south east Wales
See also:

17 Jan 02 | Wales
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19 May 01 | Scotland
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11 Jan 02 | England
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