Tag Archives: Transportation

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Traffic Schmaffic

I’ll believe the pandemic is behind us when I can’t even see it in the rearview mirror, but it does seem that places are opening up again. That means going back to work in an office for a lot of us… and that means traffic. But what if there were a way to fix traffic? This 11-minute video offers some possible solutions.

It’s Not a Balloon, it’s an AIRSHIP!

As one person in the CNBC video below points out, there’s something almost magical about watching airships in flight… sort of the inverse of what you feel when someone says, “dirigible,” which I swear makes me think of required safety trainings, possibly involving protective gear.

So I’ve paid attention to the articles here and there, now and then, that say airships might be making a comeback, including ones specifically to haul freight. And then, I realize that “airships might be making a comeback” is a sub-sub-category of article that I’ve been seeing for awhile. For example:

While the return of airships does seem to be as slow as they appear to move across the sky, it feels like something is going to happen this century… and that return of a little bit of magic doesn’t seem bad.

However, I confess, whenever I read these articles, I also suddenly think of Monty Python and get derailed. Maybe that’s what’s happening to the balloon engineers. I mean, airship. AIRSHIP!

Shipping Ships and How Long Said Ships Ship

From the same folks who had the piece on the airline industry I posted back in January comes another illuminating piece about the container ships that dominate shipping via the oceans these days.

One notion I found especially interesting was the one that posited that “perfect” systems –by which I read systems that are optimized as perfectly as factors allow– can be more susceptible to issues than imperfect –or non-optimized systems. That’s not necessarily an argument for imperfect systems, though with the delays faced by ocean shipping, this may be a case where the system needs some variability, potentially in terms of redundancy.

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The Surprising Profit Center for Airlines

Continuing my trend of learning more about how certain industries actually work (see the McDonald’s article or film distribution video from previous weeks), I stumbled across this ‘explainer’ video about how airlines have changed their profit priority: it’s no longer focused on flying planes.

Now, I’m sure some people already knew this, just as many people know that, historically, movie theaters make more money on concessions than on the movie tickets themselves. But I’m just going to advocate for the consumers of airline travel and movie theaters that it’s okay for you all to push for airlines and theaters to care about those things.

If a Supersonic Airplane Doesn’t ‘Boom,’ is it really Supersonic?

So let’s say you’re thinking about traveling again, perhaps even flying. Perhaps you’re wondering what happened to the efforts to make a new supersonic passenger aircraft since I posted about it in November 2019.

Well, you’re in luck! Rebecca Heilweil over on Vox/Recode has an update on Boom, the company working on building new supersonic passenger jets which United is now very keen to start flying.

A big question, however, is not only if they can address the sonic boom through technological improvements, but if there’s a way to make supersonic travel environmentally friendly…

America and Mass Transit

WMATA/Shutterstock/Madison McVeigh/CityLab

Hey! Since we here in the United States are not traveling so much on this traditional week of travel, how about we take that time and read this longform article by Jonathan English all about mass transit in the United States. It unearths some assumptions about what mass transit is and can be and how those assumptions developed over the past 100 years or so.

Besides the fond memories evoked by seeing the picture above (I was there for the grand opening of Washington’s Metro — you were able to ride free all day), I also found his premises interesting.

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Flight of the (Original) Concordes

For whatever reason, Big Data decided to show me a Vox video piece from 2016 about the Concorde the other day. It’s part of an article by Phil Edwards.

For you young whippersnappers, the Concorde was a quite cool-looking supersonic passenger plane that heralded the future of air travel… until that future disappeared.

Later in 2016 (and also in Vox), Brad Plumer noted that several startups and NASA were revisiting supersonic transport. He noted one young company, Boom, in particular.

Fast forward (though not supersonically so) to 2019 and Boom has been busy. They’ve been rolling out the PR and getting reactions from the press. James Wynbrandt in a piece for AIN Online this past June adds some numbers to get a better idea of Boom’s business model and timeline.

More recently, Rohit Jaggi over at the Robb Report gives a summary of where Boom and other companies (including Lockheed Martin) are in working to get supersonic transport revived again.

Move over Monorail, It’s Electric Bus Time

I still remember researching electric cars being developed during the beginnings of the auto industry and being surprised when my dad mentioned that there were still electric vehicles on the road when he grew up in the 40s and 50s. Old models of delivery vehicles were still being used by thrifty businesses — and, in fact, the Walker Vehicle Company made such vehicles up until 1942 in Chicago.

The reason the vehicles were still on the roads was because electric motors cope with lots of starts and stops… such as delivery vehicles make. Delivery vehicles usually also don’t need to worry about extended range. They’re headed across town, not cross-country.

Being the practical engineer type, my dad was always befuddled by the fact that no one had decided to continue making electric vehicles for the urban environment.

It might not come as any surprise that many practical engineer types have had similar thoughts of late, only this time with buses versus delivery vehicles. In fact, they’re on track to be a significant percentage of all buses inside the next 10 years. Not only that, their use is already making a noticeable dent in oil use. My dad would especially like the passage in the latter article where the electric bus company was laughed at for making a toy not too many years ago. There’s no hubris quite like status quo hubris. (Especially since many people have mused about this happening, as you’ll see in a similar article from last year).

Of course, the only surefire way to have local governments adopt electric buses is to come up with a catchy song. You, know, something like…

Will the Oil Industry Collapse in Less than a Decade?

As the engines of disruption continue in the form of automation, one trend I keep following is the coming changes to transportation. No, I don’t mean the fabled hyperloop (though I’m following that too). I’m thinking of electric vehicles.

Seth Miller over at an outfit called NewCo Shift hypothesizes that a major shakeup in the oil industry and our car culture is coming sooner than we might have thought — all based on replacing the internal combustion engine. You can compare his predictions with what the car companies themselves have predicted.

I’d say their predictions would place the collapse or restructuring would happen closer to the 2025 – 2030 timeframe, but it I’m wondering how many more cars any of us will individually own in the future.

The Shiny and Chrome Future of Cars… According to the Companies Themselves

Not long after I shared an article about some of the latest innovations in self-driving cars, news broke that Volvo was planning to have all its cars be electric or, at least, hybrid by 2019.

Well, Volvo isn’t the only one with grand plans for the automotive future. Alexis Madrigal in The Atlantic goes over the plans of about a dozen car companies for the cars of the future.

Though, spoiler alert: none of the car companies have plans for flying cars. None.

What’s he supposed to drive?          A Corolla?!? Shame!

I suppose that’s for the best.

Still, if all their lofty dreams come to pass, streets and highways will look very different by 2025.