Automobile use as measured by miles traveled per capita peaked in 2005 and has been falling since. It is had to explain by a single variable, gas prices have been both up and down, not continuously up. We went through the worst recession since the great depression, but the economy is now improving, albeit slowly. Vehicles are becoming smaller so less accommodating for passengers but more efficient thus cheaper to operate.
Regardless of the reason, we are moving around less; and, there has not been a concomitant increase in mass transit. Is it time for us here in the US to consider an emphasis on mass transit to the degree that is available in Europe or the far east? Travel by train there is easy and frequent. You want to go from Edinburgh, Scotland to Bucharest, Romania, 1700 miles? There are trains for that, and daily I might add.
Not only can one travel long distances between large cities, but also short distances to small towns as well. There are nine different departure times daily from Chepstow, Wales to London, England (Chepstow is a town about the size of Clarksville, AR.) This would be equivalent to a train, nine times a day from Clarksville to Little Rock.
But we’re all about speed, right; and trains are too slow. Well they’re not so slow in Europe or the far East. Speeds between one and two hundred miles per hour are common.And unlike the USA; Japan, Korea, and China are all investing in infrastructure which will allow for faster, more efficient trains.
China currently operates a fourteen hundred mile rail at over two hundred miles an hour, and is expanding rail service faster than highways or airlines. When a high speed rail became available in Taiwan most passengers switched from the comparable air route, and highway congestion decreased.
Technological advances in Japan involve a Maglev train. Maglev is short for magnetic levitation, where levitation of the train above the rails means a near frictionless and therefore faster, quieter and more efficient rail line. The train has been successfully tested on a short track at over three hundred miles an hour and expects to be in service by 2015.
What about American Exceptionalism? Is anything unique going on here? One bright spot is California which has proposed a high speed rail line between Los Angles and San Francisco. The voters in California have approved close to ten billion dollars to develop the line, which at two hundred miles an hour would complete the trip in two to three hours. Current driving time for the trip is seven or eight hours.
A real game changer has been proposed by entrepreneur Elon Musk, who designed and sells the Tesla, a successful all-electric car. He wants to build a Hyperloop, basically an evacuated tube,to transport people at eight hundred miles per hour. The technology is the same as that used to move money and checks from the remote teller to your car at the bank. The trip from Los Angles to San Francisco would be about a half an hour and if similar technology existed locally one could go from Little Rock to Dallas in about twenty minutes. Now that would be both exceptional and American.