And yes, the same could be said for the Concorde - built as a matter of pride by governments, rather than as practical business decision. No commercial airline, worldwide, bought an example of it. It finally "made money" toward the end of its career - but not enough to pay back what the taxpayers of England and France paid for the planes. A lot of jet-setters had a marvelous time on the Concorde - thanks to the taxpayers. And yes, there are romantic types who think the Concorde should not have been retired - that the airframes had "low hours" on them - as if traveling at Mach 2 isn't stressful. But 30 years is a long time, and the Engineers made the right call in that regard.
California, which was teetering near bankruptcy, is trying to build a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A laudable goal, but the way they are going about it raises some questions - the costs per mile are staggering. A measure to issue nearly $10 billion in bonds was barely passed by voters. But even with some Federal funding, the remainder of the costs of the project ($50 Billion or more) remain unfunded. Even if they proceed with the project, it may be 2033 or later before it is completed. It may be a laudable goal, but isn't there a cheaper way to achieve this? Maybe the existing train and tracks could be improved - at a far lower cost? But that is the problem with a lot of these pie-in-the-sky projects. They end up being gold-plated and never make financial sense.
Well, at least the folks in California haven't fallen for Mag-Lev like they have in Australia.
The system worked great, if you lived next to a Metro stop and you worked next to a Metro stop. If you were not near the line, however, or had to transfer trains, the time involved was staggering. For folks with no other choice, of course, that was their mode of transport.
But as a practical, convenient way of travel, well, it left a lot to be desired.
The problem is, there are some folks who think that we should be forced to take public transit. They proposed limiting parking (or actually limited parking) to "force" people to take public transit. Or they proposed taxing parking spaces to "make" people take public transit. Sometimes these schemes actually backfired.
For example the Metro system limited parking at outlying stations, on the theory that it would "force" riders to take the bus to the station. By 7:00 AM, the parking lots were full at the terminus stations. People weren't "forced" to take the bus - they just drove instead. Thankfully, that madness has ended as the Metro system wised up and built more parking at the stations (it is still tight, sadly).
Speaking of parking - if you really want to spur "economic development" of an area, provide more parking. People won't go downtown to a restaurant or theater or whatever, if they can't find a place to park. When it becomes too much of a hassle to park, people don't take public transit - they simply decide to go to other venues where there is a place to park. Sadly, urban planners fail to realize this - and thus intentionally create parking shortages and then wonder why people don't show up.
Also, if you want to "revitalize" a neighborhood, getting rid of the crack dealers, the pimps, the drug pushers (and users) and homeless people goes a lot further to "gentrifying" a neighborhood than a trolly. People want to feel safe. What form of transportation gets them there is less important (but in reality, everyone wants to drive their car, while "the other guy" takes public transit. Human nature at work).
And the funny thing is, the folks who believe the most strongly in public transit - and think the government should "force" others to use it - often don't use it themselves. "Well, I'm on the transit board and have to go to an important meeting, so of course I have to drive! You, on the other hand, can ride!"
As I noted in another posting, I have a stinking hippie brother who drives from Boston to New York regularly in a gas-puzzling Chevy Yukon. He'd take the train, of course, but he has important places to be, you understand and all. Right? Trains are for other people. The hypocrisy factor is off the charts.
Is there a technology on the horizon that could make a lot of these public transit projects obsolete in the next 10-20 years, much as the airlines made the transatlantic liners scrap metal? Perhaps.
First, of course, is telecommuting. It is not just a fad, it is a way of life. Did I mention that I closed my office in Old Town, Alexandria, sold it all and now live on an island? More and more people are telecommuting - even folks who work taking orders at McDonald's. Someday, there will be a "Beltway Museum" in Washington, perhaps, as roadways are torn up to make parks. Perhaps. We'll see. But people who have paper-pushing (keyboard pushing) jobs no longer need to leave home. Or if they do, it is only for one or two days a week. This, far more than trollies or light rail, will cut down on the number of cars on the road.
Even for "casual" travel, the Internet cuts back on driving. Given the cost of fuel and the cost of operating a car, it makes sense to order things online. I can drive into town and back (20 miles roundtrip) and not find what I am looking for, because local merchants don't carry it in stock. Or, I can order online, get free shipping and have exactly what I need in a matter of days.
I think as an overall trend, we will see people drive less in the next ten years. Average annual driving has increased from 12,000 miles to 15,000 miles a year since the 1970's. I think you will see this drop back to 12,000 miles, and perhaps go lower. But then again, there are always idiots, usually the poor, who drive all over hell's half-acre no matter what.
Self-driving technology could be the other half of the equation. This technology has been in development for over 40 years, and indeed, one of the first Patents I wrote, back in 1990, was for a self-driving car. Since then, the technology has exploded. And this technology promises to relieve traffic congestion. Traffic congestion occurs when traffic density reaches a saturation point - and then a triggering event occurs - much as a saturated solution of sugar and water will precipitate if you tap the glass. Once a drive brakes to look at a billboard, an accordion-effect occurs, and traffic slows, stops, and then starts again. Instant traffic jam.
Removing humans from the equation would mean that existing roadways could handle 2-3 times the volume of traffic, without backups, or that they could handled existing traffic far more efficiently and quickly. And of course, the third leg is hybrid and electric vehicles, which when combined with renewable resource electrical energy, would mean cutting air pollution by a factor of ten or more.
Perhaps in 20 years, we'll see yet another set of trolly tracks torn up. We'll see.
But in the meantime, I'm not going to lose any sleep over the return of the Zeppelins or the Trollies.
But for God's sake, please don't double my taxes to pay for your own personal transportation fantasies!