Wanted: Transportation Entrepreneurs

It’s hard to take seriously a guy with the name of Wubbo Ockels. (The name does sound better in Dutch than in English.) But I give the Netherlands’ first astronaut credit for dreaming up — and prototyping — a fascinating transportation alternative. His electric-powered superbus can reach a speed of 250 kilometers per hour (about 150 miles per hour). It carries 23 people. (See more in this brief profile in Radio Netherlands Worldwide.) There was no mention of the bus’ range.

Ockels was inspired to develop the superbus by what he deemed to be the inadequacies of trains. “Trains are too slow,” he says, “and they only go from one station to another.”

The economics of the bus are dubious. The bus costs 1 million, or about $1.44 million at current exchange rates. That’s a lot more expensive than a typical motor-coach bus with comparable seating capacity, which runs around $100,000 or so. On the other hand, its fuel costs are considerably lower. And passengers may be willing to pay premium fares to reduce the length of their commute.

The new Dutch government does not seem terribly interested in the bus, but Ockels, whose project was supported by the public Dutch transportation company Connexxion, persists in the hope that he might be able to find foreign markets. I’m wondering: Could the superbus be an economical, money-making alternative for Virginia?

Could HOT lanes be adapted to accommodate the superbus, and how much would that cost? How much of a fare premium would riders pay for a shorter commute? Could the superbus provide an alternative to “high speed rail” as a form of inter-city travel?

We’ll never know as long as mass transit is considered the purview of government-owned and subsidized mass transit systems. Government-owned enterprises are too risk averse. We need entrepreneurs willing to take the risks associated with pioneering a new transportation mode. But one has to wonder, could an entrepreneur even legally operate a superbus in Virginia without violating some law or mass-transit franchise?

(Hat tip: the blogger who goes by “Accurate.”)


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