How LENR Would Impact Transportation Policy?
So what impact would widespread adoption of low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) aka cold fusion have upon transportation policies? The impacts would be profound but they might not be immediately felt.
Taxation would be the first government function on which LENR could be felt. If vehicles could be powered by LENR or by low cost electricity generated by LENR governments would certainly collect fewer fuel taxes. That would be a big problem here in the United States where fuel taxes pay for the construction and maintenance of roads. There might be more vehicles than ever on the roads being driven more and yet less money to pay for the roads.
Obviously we’d still have to pay for roads, highways and the services they require such as traffic police and rescue workers to pull people out of wrecked vehicles. That means governments would have to turn to alternative methods such as tolls. One model for this would be the 407 Express Toll Route (ETR) around Toronto the worlds’ first all-electronic toll road.
I drove on the 407 last month there are no toll booths instead a transponder on your car calculates a bill. Those who don’t have a transponder get a picture of their license plate taken. Then the company that runs the toll road sends a bill to the address where the vehicle is registered. This system seems to work for highways but what about side roads or country roads. I might point out here that the 407 is a nice freeway on which traffic runs smoothly, mainly because many people avoid it to avoid the toll.
Other solutions might be increasing property taxes or other sales taxes. Another option might be increased vehicle registration fees which is how the State of Colorado is currently making up for revenue losses. An option that’s widely used in Europe but not yet in North America is the VAT (valued added tax). This tax is levied at all stages of a sale. If LENR leads to a great increase in manufacturing as some observers have suggested implementing a VAT might make sense.
Beyond changing taxation LENR will have a profound effect upon the roads, if it becomes cheaper to drive at some point the roads will fill up. Cities like London and New York are already restricting the number of vehicles on the streets. In the US both urban freeways and rural interstates are already jam-packed with vehicles. At some point the government will have to start restricting the number of vehicles on the road just to keep traffic moving. One potential means of doing this will be high taxes on car ownership, pay to drive express lanes or high fees for parking.
One option might be to limit the number of semi-tractor rigs on the road. That will only be practical if some other means of hauling freight such as trains is available. Since the railroad system in the US is already at capacity that means money will have to be spent to expand it. Then we’d still need trucks to haul freight from the train to the final destination in most cases.
This will be a big problem here in the US where is no alternative ground transportation in most areas. We’ll either have to greatly expand the roads or build alternative systems such as high speed rail or light rail. All of these options are expensive it now costs around $50 million a mile to build either a freeway or high speed rail. (Note this is an average cost in areas where tunnels or bridges are required the price is much higher it can rise to as much as $100 to $500 million a mile).
Then there’s airports, if LENR makes air travel cheaper we’ll need more of them. Many of the big airports in the US are already at capacity and in urban areas such as New York and Los Angeles there’s no room to expand. That means new airports outside the cities or the expansion of airports in nearby cities. It also means new roads or rail lines to haul passengers out to those additional airports. Not surprisingly that will cost a fortune. It costs around $10 billion to build a new airport.
One potential solution here is high speed rail which would reduce air travel but that too is expensive. For example high speed rail lines could carry passengers from New York to airports in nearby cities like Albany or Westchester.
Obviously LENR would make high speed rail cheaper because it could either power the trains directly or provide a low cost power source right back the tracks. LENR powered locomotives on the trains could reduce the cost of high speed rail because no electrical lines along the tracks would be necessary to power the trains. That might make high speed rail a viable alternative across long distances here in the US and Canada.
There are some other benefits, the smog in cities like Los Angeles would disappear. The cost of basic transportation would be far lower, until the cost of additional transportation infrastructure is figured in. Construction costs might also be cheaper because of LENR but they’d still add up. Construction costs could down because the machines might be powered by LENR. So it might be cheaper to build infrastructure.
One final alternative that has to be mentioned that I don’t think is realistic is flying cars even though some LENR advocates have said LENR will make them possible. There’s a big reason flying cars will never become widespread simply because of safety. Many average people can’t operate automobiles safely, how are they supposed to operate flying machines? How many people don’t do simple things such as obey stop signs or use their turn signals?
Next time you’re on the freeway take a look around at the other drivers and ask yourself do you want those people flying over your home or your child’s school in a two ton hunk of steel? The answer is probably no. Do you want the lady doing her make up behind the wheel, the guy texting on his phone behind the wheel or that nice fellow guzzling vodka from the bottle flying over your neighborhood? Of course not!!
Even though you’ll probably never be a flying car in your garage we might have a lot of flying vehicles around our cities because of LENR. If LENR makes vertical take-off and landing vehicles (VTOL) such as harrier jets cheap to operate there will be flying shuttle buses that will haul you to the airport or the next town and flying limos for the rich. Those vehicles will be safe because they can be operated by specially licensed pilots.
LENR is going to have a profound effect upon transportation policy. Unfortunately it isn’t going to create the cost free utopia of flying cars that some dreamers want. Fortunately it will greatly improve life for the average person by making transportation cheaper but it’ll also require new government policies to avoid gridlock.