Alex Duner

The Hyperloop is a Terrible Idea

Jared Sinclair explains that all of the non-technical problems facing Elon Musk’s hyperloop—including land rights, political support, cost, and location—make the proposal a fantasy. Here’s why that might be a bad thing:

The goal isn’t to build a better system. It’s to destroy the process by presenting a false choice.

To me, this seems to be the mother of all false choices.

A remarkably attractive headline by a wildly respected man. What better way to pull support from HSR than by creating an alternative proposal that is better in every way? That’s the thing about fiction though, it can be anything you want it to be.

Technical issues aside, I think the Hyperloop is a terrible idea. It is a waste of resources and does not solve any pressing problems. If we, as a society, really want to invest in transportation, we should be fixing roads and bridges, expanding mass transit, and building high-speed rail lines.

Elon Musk doesn’t like having to fly from San Francisco to Los Angeles every few days to run his two businesses. Most people don’t have that problem; most people have trouble getting to work or traveling to different job opportunities.

A 2010 report found that “if we’d spent as much federal stimulus money on public transportation as we spent on highways, we would have created twice as much work and put a bigger dent in the unemployment rate.”

Streetsblog Capitol Hill editor Tanya Snider has another compelling reason why

But you know what does exist? A magical capsule that speeds along a subterranean route to effortlessly transplant me from my neighborhood to any of 80 locations in and around my city. I don’t have to pay for gas, I don’t have to park when I get there, and I can sleep or read the paper the whole time. It’s called the metro, and it’s dramatically under-resourced.

Forgive me. But the whole futurism fetish feels like an echo of how our more short-sighted transportation officials look at the world. We have these incredibly important assets but we don’t even maintain them.

America’s roads and bridges are crumbling. Our mass-transit system is extremely underfunded. The most recent data from the American Society of Civil Engineers found that America found that the United States needs to spend $2.75 trillion on infrastructure by 2020, 66% more than what is currently allocated, to keep our infrastructure in a competitive shape. If we don’t invest in infrastructure the United States could lose 3.5 million jobs and of $3.1 trillion in economic output.

People who say that the Hyperloop represents the next mode of transportation are misguided and not looking at the rest of the economy. Driverless cars and drones represent the future of physical infrastructure but the internet will eventually disrupt transportation the same way it has publishing and advertising.

I think that Walter Russel Mead explained this well when he wrote that:

The challenge isn’t to move more meat; it is to move more information more effectively, and to re-engineer business practices and social organization to take full advantage of the extraordinary efficiencies that the Internet affords. The rush-hour rituals of the 20th century aren’t destined to continue to the end of time. Telecommuting, flextime and mini-commutes to satellite offices will change the way we work.

The Hyperloop is not the solution to our transportation problems. Pretending like it is only contributes to them.