Tuesday, August 13, 2013


We have to focus and concentrate to not call the Elon Musk "Hyperloop...(Imagine paying $20 and sitting down inside a Space Age capsule in Los Angeles. About half an hour later, you're in sight of the Golden Gate Bridge") idea hyperloopy (sorry!)  For anyone who thought that the California High-Speed Rail (HSR, the one on which they will soon break ground) is loopy, this one is really out there.

My friends at Reason write that the HSR is $50 billion short and counting. But no problem. There will be the inevitable sunk cost argument that is routinely applied to any once-low-balled project ("We can't quit now after all that has been invested ....!").  So if Musk thinks that the HSR money can be diverted his way, he is really throwing the dice.

The two proposals (HSR and Hyperloop) are obviously different. The first uses a very old technology that has been proven many times but that has been made irrelevant by the aluminum capsules we all fly around in quite comfortably. The second one proposes a technology that no one has ever seen in action.

But the two ideas share a fatal flaw. People who see Los Angeles and San Francisco as mere points on a map to be somehow connected overlook the key fact that we all have origins and/or destinations not at these points but scattered over large metropolitan areas.  High-cost ways to make the distant point-to-point part of journey faster make no sense. If LA-SF air flight time is currently about one hour and if I spend at least an extra hour on the ground at either end, then cutting the point-to-point time in half actually shortens my trip by just 17 percent. What is that worth to me? I can already fly business class and also get Global Entry to save marginal amounts of time. In fact, many people are already making these trade-offs.

Until we have beam-me-up technology, we still have to think about how to get to and from airports, train stations and even loop-ports (if that is the name they end up with).