High-speed trains, Ockels says, are too slow and don’t go where people want to go. So he has designed and built a prototype electric-powered bus capable of going 150 mph. The bus holds 23 passengers and, as he envisions it, would operate on dedicated lanes in the median strips of existing highways. But it could also leave these lanes and operate at conventional speeds on ordinary roads and streets, which means it could serve far more destinations than high-speed trains.
Ockels’ concept vehicle is a useful counterpoint to the high-speed rail program. But the Antiplanner is skeptical that high-speed buses on exclusive bus lanes are significantly more viable than trains. The great thing about highways and streets is they are inherently multi-modal, carrying bicycles, motorcycles, cars, buses, and trucks. That means the costs are shared among all these users rather than imposed on just one small class of people or externalized via subsidies.
Around the world, highways have maximum speed limits that generally top out around 130 kph (80 mph–though Texas may increase its limit to 85). This limit is probably as much due to slow human reflexes as to highway design. As cars become driverless, all forms of motorized highway travel, not just 23-passenger buses, will be able to go faster.