In 2013, uber-entrepreneur Elon Musk open sourced his idea for a Hyperloop transportation system that could cut a six hour car or train trip between cities down to 30 minutes, faster than even most airline flights. But Knut Sauer, an executive for Hyperloop Technologies, Inc., says "The regulatory environment in the U.S. isn't friendly" and "That's why I believe the first Hyperloop will not be in the U.S."
Musk developed the concept of a system that would transport individuals in pods or bullet coaches through tubes resembling the pneumatic tubes used at drive-thru banks. The time, costs, and energy savings of this technology could revolutionize transportation. Since he offered the idea to all comers, companies and university research groups are now competing to develop the best plans for bring such systems from science fiction to future fact.
Meanwhile, at both the state and federal levels, regulatory red tape and bureaucracies tie us to a slower, costlier, and inefficient present.
In an interview with Tech.Mic, Sauer explained that "There's a lot of interest, but no one can override the democratic system you have in the U.S." He added: “We cannot afford having a five-year back-and-forth process.” His company, Hyperloop Technologies, is based in California, where regulators have been delaying a plan for a $70 billion bullet train between LA and San Francisco. That system, which will suck up public financing, is a huge waste of money and cannot be justified in terms of the number passengers it will serve (few) or the speed of transit it will offer (slow). So perhaps delay is a good thing.
But those same regulators are also delaying any private alternative.
And we see Sauer’s prediction coming true. Dirk Ahlborn, the CEO of Sauer’s competition, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, is actively exploring a Hyperloop system for Slovakia.
For much of the twentieth century governments would have citizens believe that transportation is one of those services that can only be offered at scale by governments. But governments more often than not do a poor job of it. Further, politics rather than customer service usually enters into crucial transportation decisions. For example, Federal funds usually promote intercity rail transport when, for the same money, busses would carry more passengers and at a fraction of the cost. Why? Because local politicians can pass out construction contracts for those rail systems to local union and business cronies. And look at the political resistance to Uber. Taxi companies and their drivers want to protect their heavily regulated turf.
Transportation officials in some states actually see the benefits of Hyperloops. But even with some political support, government regulations and bureaucracies will be in the way of this and, no doubt, many other innovative goods and services that entrepreneurs will offer in the future. That’s why, if you want a prosperous future world as it can be and should be, you should make a priority of cutting the chains that bind us.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.