By Jonathan Mao • UC Davis 2014
When Elon Musk, innovator and co-founder of ventures such as Tesla Motors and SpaceX, revealed his idea of a transportation system running from San Francisco to Los Angeles within a tube of air on August 12, news reporters sought out ITS-Davis director Dan Sperling for his opinion.
Musk said Hyperloop would be a more affordable and energy-efficient alternative to the California High-Speed Rail project, and would allow people to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 30 minutes for under $20. It would work “like a puck flying across an air-hockey table,” with the passenger capsule propelled by electromagnetic pulses through the pipes.
Sperling expressed doubt as to whether California voters would allow such a large-scale project to be built. Aside from the engineering and design obstacles, he said, getting policymakers and California voters to approve such a large-scale, novel transportation project would be challenging.
“We have difficulty building solar collectors in the desert, for heaven’s sake, so any major infrastructure project is going to be difficult,” Sperling told the San Francisco Chronicle.
In an interview with KQED-FM, the public radio station in San Francisco, Sperling pointed out alternative, more efficient, and less polarizing means of travel.
“We can do personal mobility in a far more efficient way… Such as very lightweight vehicles on a track… We don’t need [big tech innovation, like Hyperloop] to be far more efficient and still have personal mobility,” he said. But there must be more government and industry support for those solutions. “Right now, we’re basically suffocating the baby in the crib,” he said.
Speaking with Al-Jazeera America’s Joseph Brownstein, Sperling said “there’s no way the [Hyperloop] economics would ever work out” and “if it was such a good idea, there’d be competition… there’d be parallel lines because everyone would be making money out of it.” That comment was repeated in the New York Times Bits blog.