The last in our series of blogs on WEBs. Having worked on the Hyperloop projects, Volterra Partner Paul Buchanan looks at the impact futuristic modes of transport have on WEBs.
WEBs and Hyperloop
I have been lucky to work on four or five Hyperloop projects; this means thinking about the impact of Hyperloop on where people live, work and where/how often they travel. Hyperloop promises a step change in travel speeds and global connectivity – it will deliver travel speeds of c. 750 mph (or 1,000 kph), faster than the fastest commercial airliner, with stations as conveniently located as underground stations.
I am not claiming any engineering or other insights into the technical aspects of Hyperloop, but I can say that all of the people that are close to the inner workings of the organisation are absolutely convinced that it will work.
So what impact could Hyperloop have on WEBs? I suggest that there are two main impacts:
- City centre to city centre connectivity – the speed of Hyperloop means that two cities can create one virtual CBD. One study of linking Manchester to Leeds by Hyperloop gave a journey time of four to seven minutes depending on whether it was operating in a vacuum or not. Seven minutes is two or three stops on the Underground in London, equivalent to a short trip within a city centre. The change in “Effective Density” would be dramatic. That remains the only project I have seen which would have a significant impact on the economic performance of the North; it would allow the different northern cities to combine their strengths to be create one stronger economy.
- Labour markets – large cities are the engines of growth in the modern world. That creates problems with housing markets as growing city centres demand more and more labour. Hyperloop can resolve that problem by drastically reducing travel times to locations well outside existing labour market catchments. This is a particular problem in Stockholm, where strict housing controls mean waiting lists of 15 plus years for an apartment. Instead of expanding existing suburbs, Hyperloop can link to much more distant towns and cities which are often struggling (and have cheap housing and spare infrastructure) to supply labour to growing city centres.
It is easy to be sucked into the potential of new futuristic modes of transport, but equally you can become cynical about anything ever changing. The inventions of cars, trains and airplanes have all had dramatic impacts on the way that society, people and businesses function. Hyperloop clearly has potential to be the next transformative mode of transport. I’m still not 100% convinced that it will work, but if it does the economic consequences will be far reaching.