| 3:03 PM EST

The Transformation of Transportation

We are at the start of a stage where there will be potentially profound changes in transportation as we know it, with the very real possibility that there is going to be cross-town travel being performed in flying, autonomous Ubers.


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I’m fortunate to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a beautiful region of the United States that happens to be known for its stunning environment. Lately, I’ve been looking up at the sky on cloudless days, focusing my sight on little white streaks moving across the sky. Of course, I’m talking about passenger jets making their way to or from the west coast.

The fact that a small neighborhood can get inside a giant hollow metallic “cigar” with wings attached, and then fly at 550 mph, five miles above the earth’s surface, and be incredibly safe just blows my mind! Going from San Francisco to New York takes about five hours.

We all take transportation for granted, I think. Yet if we look back less than 200 years ago the difference between transportation then and now is absolutely profound. Consider, for example, an earlier version of a neighborhood on the move, the wagon train. According to the California Trail Interpretive Center (californiatrailcenter.org), which is dedicated to the California Trail (according to that group it is like the Oregon Trail except that when it reaches Idaho, those going to California, in effect, turned left), that trail, which is some 2,000 miles long, less than the distance from LA to New York, took from three to six months to complete. The wagons moved 10 to 20 miles per day, not hour.

In 1869 the first Transcontinental Railroad was completed, connecting the east and west coasts. According to History.com (history.com), in 1876 a train left New York and arrived in San Francisco in what was then a startling 83 hours, or about three-and-a-half days.

What we see here is that the months gave way to days in a matter of a few years for travelers. Transportation was literally transformed.

As we all know from elementary school, the Wright Brothers few 852 feet in 59 seconds on December 17, 1903. In a little over 10 years later, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, the first commercial airline service, went into business, with its inaugural flight on January 1, 1914.

In 1959 American Airlines started offering transcontinental jet service between New York and San Francisco, a trip, according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum  (airandspace.si.edu), that took five hours, three fewer than were required when the piston-driven DC-7 made the trip. (Here’s something startling that the Smithsonian points out: a round-trip ticket cost $231.)

The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 initiated the construction of what is officially known as the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways,” and more commonly known as the “Interstate Highway System.” The construction was estimated to require 12 years and $35-billion; which turned into 35 years and $114-billion (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Highway_System). Still, it is hard to imagine getting from one coast to the other in a motor vehicle—be it a car or a Greyhound bus—without this system. (According to an article in USA Today last year (traveltips.usatoday.com/long-road-trip-across-america-109310.html) going from Washington DC to San Francisco takes about 40 hours for the casual driver, not those of a Cannonball Run nature.)

So where am I going with this? Here: We are now at the start of a stage where there will be potentially profound changes in transportation as we have come to know it. For example, while there are the aforementioned airliners carrying people across continents on a regular basis, there is the very real possibility that there is going to be cross-town travel being performed in flying, autonomous Ubers.

And, of course, there is the whole issue of autonomous cars that will change getting from point A to point B and beyond in ways that are analogous from going from the wagon train to the passenger train to the jet.


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