The Fallacy behind Hyperloop August 23rd, 2013
By Noel T. Braymer
The problem with Hyperloop, like most attempts to “reinvent the wheel” is that the promoters of such ideas ignore the fundamentals of how transportation works. The fundamentals are feeders and distribution networks and the travel time from origin to destination.
When looking at any airport you will find lots of flat land and a major highway, usually a freeway nearby. Between an airport and the freeway will be an often congested connector road from the freeway to the airport. Most people get to and from the airport by road. Airports have large parking lots for personal cars while the biggest market for rental cars are at airports. Many people get rides in friend’s cars, or cabs, buses, shuttle vans or limousines to and from the airport. Most major cities outside the United States have passenger and transit rail service to the airport as well. An airport generally serves a metropolitan area and the road network is the feeder and distribution system for the passengers of that airport.
Where are all these people coming from and going too? A freeway has as its feeder and distribution system its on and off ramps. These freeway ramps in turn are attached to arterial roads which connect to secondary roads, streets, lanes and ultimately to people’s driveways at their home. Most people originate their trips from their home.
On a trip people have a final destination. There are almost as many trip destinations as origins. One thing airlines understand is most people are not coming or going to the same place. Airlines today have few non-stop flights. Even flights between major cities usually have connecting flights at both ends. Most airline trips today require a connection at a hub airport to get from your origin to your destination. Hub and Spoke connections at airports are part of the feeder and distribution system of the airlines. Airlines do this because this is the best way to fill up their planes with paying passengers. They need to offer the maximum number of destination using the least number of flights to economically fill up their planes.
By comparison, what is proposed for Hyperloop lacks a local feeder and distribution at the stations or to most of the State of California. With only 2 stations Hyperloop fails to serve the vast majority of California. Stations are the most important element for ridership for surface transportation. Location is everything for a successful station. A station needs to be close to major activities centers and at major junctions of transportation. This is particularly true for people who travel without a car.
The station proposed for Hyperloop in Southern California appears to be next to the I-5 Freeway in Sylmar which is a neighborhood of the City of Los Angeles. But Sylmar is 24 miles from downtown Los Angeles. There could be a connection to the nearby Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line with joint stations for Hyperloop, but that is about it for connections. The planned San Francisco Hyperloop Station appears to be in Oakland. There might be a connection possible with BART to San Francisco for Hyperloop.
Why build stations next to freeways but not near major destinations? The reason is to save money is. But like much in life you get what you pay for. Much is made how Hyperloop costs a fraction High Speed Rail Service. But to extend Hyperloop to Los Angeles Union Station or to the future Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco would greatly increase the cost of Hyperloop. So would adding additional stations and lines in California for this project. But by not doing so Hyperloop serves a much smaller market and will have limited ridership.
What is important in travel for passengers is the time to travel between their origin to their destination, not the speed of the vehicle. Few people travel just between Sylmar and Oakland. The Hyperloop wouldn’t be competitive for most air travel in this State. For most people the time it would take to get to Sylmar and leave Oakland or visa versa to get to or from someplace else would eat up the time saved going over 700 miles an hour. It will take more time to get just from downtown Los Angeles to Sylmar than the time to get from there to Oakland on Hyperloop. For most people coming from or going to San Diego, Orange County, the Inland Empire or West Los Angeles to San Jose, Sacramento or San Francisco, they would get around faster going to and from local airports from their origin to their destination than taking the Hyperloop.
The advantage High Speed Rail has over air travel for trips under 500 miles is it can serve many more places directly than air travel. Getting to and from airports to destinations with waits for security checks, luggage, transportation and missed connections are all part of the total time to fly. Much of the time spent “flying” is spent waiting on the ground. High Speed Rail service with more local stations than there are airports has direct trains that can pick you up closer and drop you off closer from where you are coming from or going. With fewer delays from waiting the total trip time will be faster than by air or Hyperloop as proposed with a good High Speed Rail service. This is why many places around the world High Speed Rail has overtaken local air service. It also helps when rail fares are lower than air fares.
One thing the Hyperloop might do well is as a land ferry for personal cars and small trucks. There are plans to have such service with Hyperloop. This would avoid the need for large parking lots at the Hyperloop Stations or rental car agencies. The cars and trucks would act as their own feeders and distributors. But this would do nothing to reduce traffic congestion in urban areas, it would likely make it worse by adding more cars in congested major urban areas.