By Delft Hyperloop, April 2018
Hyperloop will not only have an impact on the transport industry and the environment but also on society. In this article, three aspects of the societal impact of Hyperloop transport are briefly discussed. First, the altered perception of distances which individuals will experience due to high-speed travel will be discussed. After that, we elaborate on potential positive and negative socioeconomic effects of Hyperloop transport.
Perception of distance
A high-speed transportation system such as Hyperloop will alter the way in which individuals perceive distance. At the moment, our perception of distance is linearly bound to physical displacement. For example, if a place is located at a distance of 100 km, it is (in most situations) perceived as a factor ten further away than a place which is located at a distance of 10 km, in accordance with the respective geographical locations. With the promise of accessible, frequent and reliable transport via Hyperloop, this may change. For example, a place which is 100 km away and accessible by a Hyperloop ride of approximately seven minutes, may be perceived as far closer than a place which is 10 km away, and only accessible by means of an infrequent bus service which takes 30 minutes. If one were to construct a map of a region, based upon perceived distances, the result would be that places connected by Hyperloop or other high-speed transportation modes would be at the center of the map, and places which are connected by conventional modes of transportation at the periphery.
It is at this moment still difficult to understand what impact this will have on human behavior.
The gain from Hyperloop is expected to be large for individuals living in large cities. However, negative effects may be experienced by individuals who reside at a considerable distance from a Hyperloop station, in this article defined as >50 km away from a Hyperloop station. The inhabitants of regions which are not close to Hyperloop stations would be contributing to the network through taxes, but will not profit from the investment. The construction of a Hyperloop system may actually negatively impact for this group, as large cities, industrial sites and transport hubs are most likely to be fitted into the Hyperloop network, these places will attract more business, tourism, and inhabitants than places which are not connected to a Hyperloop network. Also, noise and vibrations from the drilling in the case of an underground tube or construction of the pillars and tube in the case of an overground tube, may cause nuisance.
In this way, inequality is created or amplified between urban and rural communities.
This negative effect could be (partially) overcome by extending fast modes of transport to a larger radius around a Hyperloop station. In addition to that, the station location could be optimized in such a way that it might be located in between various larger cities, which are relatively close together. In this way the total travel time for a large part of the population is minimized, and so various cities will be able to profit from the development of Hyperloop. The station location could also contribute to the real estate development in an area and in this way positively impact economic growth.
At this point in time, Hyperloop is a promising idea, which is not yet being tested on a large scale. This chapter covers the transition of Hyperloop from dream to reality, by describing the current situation of Hyperloop in the Netherlands, the parties which must come together to implement Hyperloop, a timeline for Hyperloop implementation and the social acceptance of Hyperloop.
Hyperloop in the Netherlands
In the previous two years, public interest for Hyperloop has increased in the Netherlands. The concept gained popularity and publicity through the victory of the previous Delft Hyperloop team in the first SpaceX Pod Competition. Another event covered by many national media, was the opening of a short full-scale Hyperloop test tube (30 meters in length, with a 3.2 meter diameter). This tube was installed at the Green village at Delft University of Technology in June 2017. It was built by Delft Hyperloop spinoff Hardt, with financing from various parties such as the publicly owned Dutch Railway Company NS, is the first European test location for Hyperloop. The Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, Melanie Schultz van Haegen, opened this test facility and delivered a speech in which she expresses her enthusiasm for Hyperloop and states that the potential of Hyperloop for the Netherlands was being researched.
In autumn 2017, a report from the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment on Hyperloop for the Netherlands was made public. The outcome if this report is that the Netherlands could strengthen their position in the future by becoming a leader in Smart Mobility, through developing the Hyperloop technology. As a first action, the report advises the government to construct a partly publicly financed 3 km test tube in the Netherlands, preferably in a location where it could be integrated into a commercial track in the future.
There is an increasing interest for Hyperloop outside the ministry as well. Member of Parliament Rob Jetten (political party: Democrats 66) also delivered a speech in October 2017 in parliament, wherein he encourages the government to invest in Hyperloop technology in order to make the Netherlands the leading player for Hyperloop in Europe.
The endeavors of these political figures to encourage investments in Hyperloop, shows that at least this technology is being discussed in public debate. This is already a positive beginning for the implementation of Hyperloop. Of course, these are also plenty of skeptics, which have expressed doubts concerning whether the Netherlands would profit from the investment in a Hyperloop transportation system. Main concerns are: whether the Hyperloop would truly be an addition to Dutch or European forms of transportation, passenger comfort, transportation of disabled passengers, keeping the tube under pressure, safety and capacity. Research on safety, networks and track technology must be conducted, in order to address these issues. In our opinion, this research should be done in a well-planned cooperation between the government, corporate parties and universities. This will be discussed in the following subchapters.
Hyperloop can only be implemented in the Netherlands if shared objectives are set, investments are made, research is conducted and the concept is publicly supported. Therefore, we envision a structured and constructive Hyperloop collective of government institutions, corporate parties and universities.
The government has the task of coordinating and leading the development of Hyperloop. Therefore, leading figures such as ministers and secretaries of state must take an active role in bringing parties together, setting shared objectives and advocating the development of Hyperloop. The authority to commence the construction of a test track or network also lies with government institutions, as well as the international connections to set up a European network. Government parties in the Netherlands which have already expressed interested in Hyperloop and with whom Delft Hyperloop is already in contact, are: the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, StartUp Delta (a government-funded initiative to enhance the entrepreneurship climate in the Netherlands) and TNO, a research institution which is closely tied to the government.
Besides endorsement from the government, it is essential that companies are also actively involved in the development of Hyperloop. In order to justify public investments, it is important that corporate investments are done, to show that there is a substantial interest in and commitment to Hyperloop within the private sector. The investments are also necessary for their monetary value; a test track would not be purely publicly funded. Many companies also have relevant technical expertise and experience with similar large projects, which is of great value to the development of Hyperloop. There is a large list of companies wishing to be part of the development of Hyperloop. A selection of these are our partners, and in the process of designing our pod, we have come to see how valuable their knowledge and experience is.
Finally, universities and research institutes play an important role in the development of Hyperloop. There are still so many practical and conceptual issues concerning Hyperloop which need to be researched, critically evaluated, designed and tested. There is a wonderful stack of work for faculties ranging from civil engineering and physics to sociology and economics. To prove the feasibility of Hyperloop, or to address the problems of Hyperloop, academic institutions must also be actively involved in the development of a Dutch or European Hyperloop network.