I’ve been havin’ some hard travelin’

I’ve been havin’ some hard travelin’

by Lloyd Marino

I travel a lot. I have so many frequent flyer miles that my airline owes me a free trip to Mars.

I’m not alone in this. Americans spend much of our lives in transit. The average American commutes almost an hour (50.8 minutes) each work day. That works out to over 200 hours annually, or eight and a half full days in the car, bus, or subway. If you commute from the suburbs, your commute will be even longer.

And Americans do other traveling for fun and for necessities. According to the most recent (2009) National Household Travel Survey Americans travel an average of 33,000 miles per year.

Unfortunately, the way we travel is bad for ourselves and our planet. Studies show that lengthy commutes hurt our health by raising our cortisol, blood pressure, and stress levels while providing less time for exercise and healthy eating. Cars, buses, and planes pollute the air and use up fossil fuel. Travel is frequently expensive, nerve wracking, and tiring as lines, delays, traffic jams, and crowding slow us down.

And that’s why I recently travelled over 6,000 miles to Bratislava, Slovak Republic for the Hyperloop Transport Technologies’ (HTT) Digital Innovation Challenge. I’ve written about the revolutionary hyperloop in a past blog. This superfast capsule tram system would drastically cut travel time—going from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just 34 minutes.

The Challenge

Potentially just as innovative is the opportunity to design a transportation digital ecosystem for the computer age from the ground up. The Digital Innovation Challenge asked contestants to do just that. In eight hours, participants developed an application for the Hyperloop Marketplace that could integrate with the existing Hyperloop ecosystem and make this new form of transportation more available, accessible, and affordable to a wider audience.

The judges looked for feasible, innovative ideas. There were two levels to this challenge. The first, novice level, challenged participants to improve the travel experience either by: (a) solving a problem or (b) coming up with a way to entertain, inform, or distract riders. At the advanced level participants developed an alternative business model based a higher level of customer services.

I saw many creative ideas. Here are some of the problems that participants tackled:

  • The last mile – Unlike a subway or even a train, the hyperloop, to achieve its high speed, won’t be able to make many stops. This means passengers will need to travel to the hyperloop. A travel app for the hyperloop should also have a way to integrate other travel systems – cars, trains, subways, buses, bikes – so people can plan their full trip, purchase necessary tickets, and track timetables so they arrive at the hyperloop on time and can travel from the hyperloop to their final destination. One app should do it all.
  • Ride sharing – Every passenger in a rideshare is one fewer car on the road, using gasoline and emitting pollution. But right now there is no organized way to find someone near you who is going to the same destination. A ride sharing app can employ similar big data techniques as those used by compatibility dating services to find a traveler whose starting point and destination are close to yours.
  • Subsidized rides – Many people care about the environment and would be willing to help subsidize forms of travel that are better environmentally. An app that functions like DonorsChoose does for classrooms could link donated or subsidized bus/rail/subway/hyperloop tickets to people who agree to leave their cars at home. This could include a form of verification that the tickets are being used and pictures of the car’s odometer.

Alternative funding stream – The creators of the hyperloop want to find ways to reduce the costs of its tickets, making its competitive with other forms of travel or even free. One way would be to build in advertising to the scheduling app. A transportation app is ideal for advertising because it not only knows where a person is, but also where the traveler is going. An app could feature discounts on food and services at the airport/hyperloop station or restaurants and lodging at the destination.

Travel Made Easy

Travelling does not have to be hard. Many Americans travel for fun—jogging, biking, or going on road trips. The problem comes when our transportation system does not support the numbers who need to travel. We’ve all seen that during rush hour, trains going out of the city are mostly empty. The airport that is mobbed the Sunday after Thanksgiving has plenty of capacity a week later. We need better ways to help people travel and better applications to make travel easier.

The hyperloop, which promises rapid, affordable travel between major hubs, will be a key player in the transportation system of the future. But it will need to be paired with improved “last mile” transportation, better integration into local transportation infrastructure, and apps to help this process along. Maybe then some future Woody Guthrie won’t need to sing about “hard travelin’”.

Image By: Paul Dufour

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