So, where are all the flying cars?

As a child growing up during the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed all movies, television shows, cartoons and books predicting life in the 21st century promised we would all be zipping around in gravity-defying vehicles, traveling hither and yon without a concern for crumbling highway infrastructures, traffic jams or the rising cost of fuel. I have an in-law who still feels the flying car is his birthright, and he’s not going to shuffle off this mortal coil until he gets to operate one, even if he has to wait another century or so.

I guess there are worse things to strive for in old age.

But for those of us still contemplating reality, there are no flying cars on the horizon to whisk us away from pending transportation problems. For better or worse, the world still primarily relies on fossil fuel to make the planes, trains and automobiles run and the turbines spin… and we are steadily running out of the black stuff, and will continue to do so no matter how much drilling is done or pipeline is laid. Simple supply and demand tells us that when the desire for a finite resource is high, the price for that resource will continue to rise. That’s why gas prices have more than doubled over the past decade in the United States, and will likely surpass $4 per gallon by the summer. The rate of increase is becoming steeper and steeper with no cap in sight.

Of course, compared to the rest of the world, the U.S. consumer still pays relatively little for gas and most people are affluent enough to absorb the $4 per gallon fee without serious changes to their driving habits or lifestyle. But can the same be said when gas reaches $10 per gallon, which it very well might do before the close of the decade? What happens when everyone but the very wealthy have to ration car use? For the gaming industry which relies so much on people driving to both local and regional casino resorts, the demise of the car culture could lead to serious economic hardship as visitation rates and frequencies drop.

On paper, the solution to this dilemma would appear to be mass transit. Indeed, some resorts already rely on mass transit to bring in the customers, such as casinos in Atlantic City and along the East Coast where a large number of casino patrons arrive each day by bus, or gaming properties in Macau that have the bulk of players coming in via ferry from mainland China.

But will casinos and mass transit work in the U.S. outside the Eastern seaboard-especially in the West, were the car trip to Las Vegas is viewed as a rite of passage? It might, if it is presented in the proper way. At least this is what the backers of the DesertXpress bullet train hope. The DesertXpress is a park-and-ride mass transit project in which people in the Los Angeles area would drive 100 miles to Victorville, Calif., to hop on a 150 mph bullet train that will whisk them to Las Vegas in 80 minutes, saving three to four hours when compared to the average car trip. Trains to and from Las Vegas would leave every 20 minutes, cost from $75 to $100 per trip, and feature luxuries unavailable in both car and plane travel. The supporters of the project, which include Nevada Senator Harry Reid and casino developer Anthony Marnell, hope to have three to four million travelers during the first year of operation.

The DesertXpress has a number of hurdles to pass before it becomes reality, not the least of which is its $4.9 billion price tag, which the private backers of the project hope to fund through a federal loan. Still, the fact that it is being considered at all shows some in Las Vegas are taking the future transportation needs of the casino industry seriously. It’s a better strategy than waiting for the flying cars to appear.

But don’t tell my in-law that. A man’s got to dream.