Flying cars? Teleportation? Bullet trains? Not even. In the version of 2032 envisioned by South, governments don’t have money to spend on real police or schools, far less this kind of stuff. The transportation picture then looks much as it does now, with certain big absences.
- Amtrak, long a bête noir among conservatives, lost its federal subsidies in 2015. Berkshire Hathaway bought the Northeast Corridor service between Washington D.C. and Boston when Amtrak shut down and now operates the last remaining long-haul passenger rail route.
- Most urban mass-transit systems have also shut down for lack of government subsidies. Certain large cities – New York City, Chicago, Boston – manage to keep their subway systems operating with increased costs for riders, who have little choice but to pay since those cities can’t handle an influx of hundreds of thousands more cars every day. Other heavy- and light-rail systems, such as those in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Miami, ceased operation in the early 2020s.
- Freight rail is still a major component of moving goods to and from ports-of-entry.
- Lack of antitrust review and enforcement – brought about by the defunding of the Federal Trade Commission and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice – has left America with four domestic airlines: American, Delta, United and Southwest. The rest have been merged out of existence or killed by the “Big Four’s” predatory practices. Informal “price-coordination” and destruction of the airline labor unions has ensured profitable operation by all four airlines for a decade, even through the 2025 economic crash. (Note: antitrust laws and enforcement remain unpopular among conservatives as infringements on the free market and were condemned by Tea Party muse Ayn Rand.)
- Despite consistent profitability, the average customer experience on any of the airlines continues to deteriorate, with ever-escalating fees, elimination of amenities in coach, high load factors and more erratic on-time performance enabled by the end of much of the FAA’s regulatory power over the airlines.
- Internal-combustion engines using petroleum-based fuel are still the primary propulsion system in cars and trucks. Alternative-fuel vehicles (primarily fuel cells, E85 and electric) have become established in certain niches, but high costs and persistent lack of supporting infrastructure handicap their broader market penetration.
- All federal lands and all offshore tracts are open to oil and natural-gas production (drilling rigs off Surf City USA!), and elimination or non-enforcement of environmental laws has led to a modest upswing in refinery output. However, a large proportion of American and Canadian production is shipped to China, India and a reunited Korea. Exports and increasing margins sought by now-global oil companies have driven unleaded fuel prices to an average of $9.20 a gallon (roughly $5.10/gallon in 2012 dollars).
- High-performance hybrids are popular among drivers in the top income quintile. High lifecycle costs make them too expensive for anyone else. However, small “lifed-out” hybrids (hybrids in which the batteries have reached the end of their service lives and have been removed) are popular among lower-income drivers because they can be had cheaply and their 2- and 3-cylinder engines are highly fuel-efficient.
- The average car age among the lower four income quintiles is roughly 15 years (compared to 10.2 years in 2010). This pre-dates abolishment of the industry CAFE fuel-efficiency standards.
- Few cars are made specifically for the American market anymore; growth is still in non-U.S. markets, where 2010-like safety and reliability standards are in demand. As a result, even though the U.S. government imposes few safety requirements on domestic automakers anymore, the cars they produce aren’t significantly less reliable or safe than their 2010 counterparts since they’re expected to also sell overseas.
- Geely (China), GEA (Indonesia) and Tata (India) are active in the U.S. fleet and economy markets. Geely four-door sedans are ubiquitous in rental-car fleets. Fiat and Suzuki sell well to drivers in the top two income quintiles, especially as local runabouts or cars for new drivers.
- Households in the top 5% of incomes tend to own at least one full-sized SUV due to a number of well-publicized incidents in which well-off people were stopped at roadblocks and kidnapped (such as what happens in Mexico and Colombia today). Many of these households spend additional money hardening their vehicles against attack with bullet-resistant glass, reinforced bumpers, armor and gunports. Our Hero Luis manages a garage that provides these kinds of conversions.
- Most city and county bus systems have shut down for lack of government support. A handful of cities – Philadelphia chief among them – chose to preserve their bus systems by closing their subways or light-rail systems.
- Greyhound, on the other hand, has experienced a renaissance. Cheap long-haul bus service has replaced flying for most Americans in the bottom 75% of incomes.
- Car services – a form of unlicensed taxi common in poor areas in the early-to-mid 20th Century (see August Wilson’s Jitney) – make a comeback. These gypsy cabs provide short-distance travel for low rates without the inconveniences of meters, cameras, GPS or inquisitive drivers.
Given the scenario for South, what other changes do you think we’d see in general transportation?