Remote shift could doom high-speed rail projects
Living in a rural area or small town has always come with the cost of a secure means of transportation (like a shuttle, taxi, or friend) to get you to the airport or train station, especially in the United States. United. . But the trend toward remote worker business models is ongoing and could challenge that model.
If you look at the Amtrak road map, you will notice that the service is not really geared towards servicing rural areas and small towns. Sure, they stop in some small towns along existing train tracks, but it’s not so much a place to refuel and get people on connecting services. Adding to this problem, Amtrak largely uses the same tracks as freight trains, and freight lines were placed based on freight needs, not the needs of potential passengers. In one particularly odd case, it skips the Phoenix metro area altogether, with the closest station in Maricopa.
But I’m getting a bit off topic with this one. The main takeaway from the map is that it is primarily designed to connect major cities to other major cities. Going from New York to Los Angeles is not a big deal. Going from El Paso to Albuquerque, well, even Amtrak tells you on the map that you’re riding in a Greyhound. Public transit isn’t much of a priority in the United States, though. So maybe that’s not a fair comparison. Let’s look at some maps in other countries for a minute:
In this Eurail map we see a similar pattern. Long-distance public transport connects the cities. If you need to get from a small town to a small town, the only way to get there is to get to the nearest big town, get on the grid, and then get to the nearest big town. close to the destination. The last few miles are either done through a partner service, or you’ll have to rent a car, get an Uber, or something else.
As new, faster services like hyperloop come into development (LOL — Ed.), the same pattern begins to emerge. Even Elon Musk wants to continue serving cities and connecting cities together.
In the coming years, Boring Co will attempt to build a working Hyperloop.
From a known physical point of view, this is the fastest way to get from one city center to another over distances less than ~2000 miles. Starship is faster for long journeys.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 24, 2022
To be clear, I’m not saying this model is stupid. Clearly, it makes sense to focus where the customers are, and on a global scale, a majority of people live in cities. In more developed countries, the percentage is almost always above 75% and often exceeds 90%. Building a major train station and/or airport in every small hamlet would not only be economically inefficient, but would be a huge waste of space. Exceptions to this rule are rare and are almost always found in rural areas popular with tourists from around the world, such as the Grand Canyon.
COVID has created remote workers and cities are not recovering
While working on another recent article about remote workers and their struggle to remain remote workers, I found that many cities are pushing hard to get people back into office buildings. Jobs that could be done by remote workers or some on-site/remote hybrids (about 40% of all jobs in the US) were largely moved away during the pandemic because it was the only way to continue doing Business. Remote workers have found that they don’t really like going to cities where they can’t afford to live every day to work and then leave. I wrote this about the New York problem:
New York Mayor Eric Adams met with 100 business leaders in February to try to force them back into empty New York commercial buildings. His argument? New York’s economy is hurting because people aren’t coming in and out every day. With the exorbitant cost of living in places like New York and San Francisco, only the wealthiest people can afford to live close to where they work. Everyone else has to get up hours earlier to get to those towns and work in jobs that can’t afford an apartment in the next building, or even on most of the same island or peninsula.
“This bank accountant who sits in an office is not just him. It powers our financial ecosystem. He goes to the cleaners to have his suits cleaned. He goes to the restaurant. He brings in a business traveler, which accounts for 70% of our hotel occupancy. He buys a hot dog on our streets – hopefully a vegan hot dog – but he participates in the economy.
Other people in major cities are also worried. Businesses that cater to people who spend time in the city but cannot afford to live there are closing and going bankrupt. Commercial real estate does not sell. Unsustainable big cities and their economies are suffering because workers prefer to live elsewhere with cheaper real estate, cleaner air, open spaces and lower taxes, but now cities aren’t getting that revenue or providing some of these services.
Forcing these workers back is not good for the environment, workers or even many businesses. Some companies will try to force their remote workers to “go back to normal”, but many of these workers are being poached by companies willing to continue offering jobs to remote workers – and, as house prices continue to climb – this will only move much of the population to smaller towns and rural areas, diminishing the importance of big cities in the global economy. This will reduce the need for high-speed interconnectivity between cities.
Ultimately, the demographic shift caused by remote workers will mean that the “city-to-city” model will not be as applicable to future transportation needs. When people want to travel, fewer people will leave from a big city. When they travel, fewer of them will be going to a big city, as events like business meetings will start happening elsewhere. Large companies, some or all of whose employees are leaving remotely, won’t attract people as often to places like New York or Los Angeles – and we’re already seeing this play out in Texas, Tennessee and Alabama where large companies are building huge factories on cheap real estate.
A continuing trend of companies hiring remote workers and the decreasing importance of cities will make building large projects much more difficult and much less financially feasible. I don’t know what the solutions are, but it’s better to find them before construction starts and not after they’re finished and money is hemorrhaged. The importance of road transport and autonomous vehicles could be greater than we think for a green future.
Featured Image: A screenshot of Amtrak’s website showing its service map.
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