Hyperloop vs. the Automobile

There is a really fascinating and totally thought provoking feature on Elon Musk’s visionary hyperloop transportation system at Gizmodo that features artwork and projections from the Suprastudio: Hyperloop at UCLA’s Architecture & Urban Design Program.

Both the story and the UCLA document showcase pictures of what Hyperloop might look and some new details about it. The most fascinating aspect of the feature is research students in the program did comparing the hyperloop to the historical impact of other revolutionary transportation infrastructure including the Silk Road, the Panama Canal and Route 66.


The studio is connected with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc. or HTT a group sourced company not associated with Hyperloop Technologies, an effort organized by venture capitalist Shervin Pishenar. The studio uses UCLA architecture students to research and design its systems. Neither entity is associated with Elon Musk or his companies Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA), SolarCity Corp (NASDAQ: SCTY) or the privately-held SpaceX, although some SpaceX employees are involved with both efforts.

Unlike Hyperloop Technologies which has raised around $8 million in venture capital, HTT’s funds are limited although its creativity is not. Some news reports indicate that HTT is planning to build a Hyperloop test facility in California. Both companies have plans for an initial public offering or IPO in the near future. Those who cannot wait for the IPO can invest in HTT through crowd sourcing effort JumpStartFund.

Los Angeles to New York in less than Three Hours

The document actually appears to be a class project organized by a UCLA Professor named Craig Hodgetts. Despite its roots it is impressive and it gives us truly though provoking insight into what Hyperloop might be like.
The most astounding prediction in the report is that it would take 2 hours and 45 minutes for hyperloop to get you from Los Angeles to New York. If that projection were to come true the airline industry would basically be toast. It currently takes about six hours to fly from New York to LA, if you could shoot from LA to New York in a little under three hours in a tube nobody would fly.

What the inside of the Hyperloop Train might look like.
What the inside of the Hyperloop Train might look like.

It would mean the end of both passenger and freight air traffic and probably turn the nation’s major airports into ghost towns. Only hobbyists and persons flying to other continents would fly. Everybody else would take the tube for long distance travel.

Why Hyperloop would Increase Automobile Use

This got me thinking about Hyperloop’s potential impact on another popular transportation option – the automobile. My prediction is that hyperloop would greatly increase automobile use and driving for a very simple reason: people would need to get from home or the office to the hyperloop station.

The logical means of doing that would be the car. Hyperloop would increase driving by giving people more reason to drive. With hyperloop a person who lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania, could easily commute to Manhattan for work but she would still need to get from the tube station in Scranton to her house. That means she would have to drive.

Possible Hyperloop route connecting Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco
Possible Hyperloop route connecting Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco

So expect more cars on the road in Hyperloop nation not less. Something very similar happened when the railroad came in. It greatly increased the use of horse drawn vehicles because people had more reason than ever to use a horse and buggy or a horse drawn wagon.

The horse population in the United States and the United Kingdom actually peaked right before World War I at the height of the railroad age. Far more horses were needed to haul freight and passengers to and from the train. By greatly increasing the number of people and amount of goods being moved trains vastly multiplied the demand for horse drawn transportation.

Something similar would probably happen to the car after hyperloop came in. The number of cars on the world would greatly increase because the number of travelers would greatly increase. The number of trucks on the road would also increase because the volume of freight being transported would grow substantially. Hyperloop would do this by making transportation of both freight and people faster and cheaper.

One interesting effect of hyperloop’s advent would be the disappearance of long haul driving and long haul trucking. The only people making long-distance drives would be hobbyists and enthusiasts. The few long-haul trucks left would serve areas without the tube and specialized industries like moving household goods. Instead almost all trips would be local which would encourage the adoption of electric powered vehicles.

What Hyperloop Might Look Like

The SupraStudio report also provides us some fascinating figures on Hyperloop’s performance that show how disruptive this technology could be. These numbers show just how game changing this transportation system would be.

  • The Hyperloop’s average speed would be 500 to 550 miles per hour (805 to 885 kilometers an hour). To put that in perspective the average commercial jet liner cruises at around 885 kilometers or 550 miles an hour. Hyperloop would move across the ground at the speed of a jet liner. Long-distance or express hyperloop trains could go faster up to 700 miles an hour on straightaways.
Hyperloop across the desert
Hyperloop across the desert
  • Hyperloop would operate at a frequency of one train every 20 to 30 minutes or about the rate of the average subway or light rail train.


  • The average hyperloop train would carry 840 passengers an hour. The average 737 the world’s most common airliner carries around 200 passengers.

Get the picture folks, Hyperloop would be faster than airliners, carry more people and probably be a lot cheaper. It would also lack the airliner’s greatest weakness no airport would be needed, Hyperloop would cruise right into the middle of the city. Nobody would need to drive or ride the train out to the airport.

What Hyperloop Might Look Like

The Suprastudio’s illustrations show hyperloop running in subway tunnels next to existing subway trains. They also indicate that it could be built over virtually any terrain with a smaller footprint than a highway. The current design calls for two tubes stacked on top of each other. The stacked tubes would allow trains to move in different directions yet it would not take up any more room than a standard railroad track.

Another major advantage to hyperloop would be that it could be easily built on existing transportation routes. It could run in subway tunnels, on existing rail lines and even on the center or side of a freeway without interfering with auto traffic.

Since it could be built on pylons or easily buried in a tunnel hyperloop would eliminate one of the key weaknesses of the modern railroad system – surface level crossings. No motorist would ever have to sit in a car waiting for a freight train to pass and car-train accidents would be a thing of the past. Another advantage would be that there would be no more need for train whistles one of the public’s main objections to railroads.


My guess is the advent of hyperloop would create immense political pressure to eliminate traditional trains and convert all rail lines to the tube. Adding to the pressure would be real estate developers trying to drive up property values at land located near tube stations.

There would probably be a lot of pressure to move air strips out of urban areas as well. Homeowners would want to get rid of the noise of jets and the traffic congestion airports create while developers would want to get their hands on the land airports sit upon. City and county officials would love the idea of converting the land airports sit on to private use to increase the tax base. Airports located in large cities like New York’s La Guardia and JFK and LAX would be the first to go. LAX would probably be replace an airport somewhere in the high desert used only for transoceanic flights.

Another result of hyperloop would be to greatly increase the use of rental cars, taxis and ride sharing or networked transportation vehicles. One possible variation would self-driving vehicles that sit at the station, passengers would rent one and take it to their destination. The vehicle would then return to the station to pick up the next fare. That means Uber, Google and Hertz are well positioned to profit from Hyperloop.

The designs show us that Hyperloop would completely change the landscape of our cities and our nation. It would be the most disruptive change in technology since the advent of the automobile.