we enter the 21st Century, long distance travel remains dominated
by the transport modes developed in the early decades of the 20th
Century. In the United States, virtually all intercity passenger
travel is by private autos or commercial airlines. Trains and buses
carry only a small percentage of intercity passengers. The fractional
split between air and auto modes depends on distance - for trips
less than approximately 1000 miles, most travelers choose to drive,
while for longer trips, most choose airplanes.
Intercity passenger travel is big business in the US. While autos
and airplanes have served us well in the past, their limitations
are becoming ever more apparent. Unit costs, whether cents per passenger
mile for air travel, or cents for vehicle mile for autos, are high,
and will go higher as the world's petroleum becomes scarcer and
Moreover, the already congested airways and highways are rapidly
becoming worse. It is no longer unusual to experience airline cancellations
or delays due to weather or heavy traffic. The average speeds on
major highways, both urban and suburban are dropping, and travel
times are increasing sharply.
Major advances in US auto and air travel capabilities are unlikely.
Aircraft technology is essentially mature - fuel energy and unit
costs will probably improve, but only marginally. No new airports
have been started in the US for over a decade, and many have reached
their saturation point. Similarly, the construction of major new
highways has become very difficult due to increasing costs and opposition
from environmental and local planning groups.
Our present auto and air transport modes have essentially reached
a dead end. We need a new mode of transport - maglev - if the problems
of congestion, delays, pollution, rising costs, and increasing fuel
scarcity are to be effectively addressed.