Humanity used to have supersonic passenger jets and 70mph car ferries. Now, we have gate-checked bags and the TSA. How did we fall so far? Tom Scott’s video should help explain.
The focus of Scott’s video is the hovercraft ferry that operates between Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, and the Isle of Wight, just a couple miles offshore. The hovercraft is the last of a breed of ferries that used to run shuttles between England and France, at speeds of 70mph.
But just like Corcorde before it, the ferries might’ve been fast, but they weren’t profitable: speed costs fuel, and most passengers are willing to pay a little less for a longer, smoother crossing.
Even when passengers are willing to pay for speed, it’s not always worth it for the companies: in the aftermath of Concorde’s crash in Paris, when the planes were temporarily grounded, British Airways found that it was making more from selling first-class tickets to people who would otherwise have taken Concorde.
It’s an interesting history lesson: while everyone always talks about the speed of Hyperloops and flying cars, it’s often the boring stuff — price, reliability — that decide if something works in the long run.
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