Elon Musk’s The Boring Company Is Starting To Look Like A Dumb Idea

BERLIN, GERMANY DECEMBER 01: SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk poses on the red carpet of the … [+] Axel Springer Award 2020 on December 1st, 2020 in Berlin. (Photo by Hannibal Hanschke-Pool / Getty Images)

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What if you could drill a hole in the ground to come to work? Like a mole, you would furrow through the earth, straight to your destination. And what if you could drive a car through the tunnel?

Seems interesting at first, but it also means sitting in your car even more. There is barely enough space for the vehicle, so it’s claustrophobic. There is also no way to use the bathroom.

If this sounds like a terrible idea, the reality is even worse.

Recently Elon Musk unveiled a tunnel in the Las Vegas area. It’s a 1.7 mile loop called the Loop, which may connect underground to the airport.

If this sounds familiar, and you’re envisioning a subway, that’s because it’s just like a subway, only you’re riding in a Tesla.

The idea for The Boring Company started as a tweet in 2016 and still feels as concrete as 140 characters (at that time) would allow.

Musk often tweets jokes and memes, some of which are directed at specific companies. He even tweeted about one of my articles many years ago. This was one of those rare occasions when he seemed to be joking but then actually started the company.

I’m contending here that Musk should have left it as a meme. I read it all like this: “Let’s dig a tunnel in big cities at incredibly high costs under the existing motorway system that we are already using in the hope that few people will discover the idea or that we will have to deal with traffic jams.” If you are an investor and that is the pitch, you would be running for the hills. It is more likely that you will drive away without having to lower yourself into a tunnel.

This congestion problem is interesting. The business concept depends on the hope that few people will use this single lane tunnel. If they were commuting this way and we were all starting boring tunnels in most major cities, you’d have to wait for your car to pull into the single lane or pay extra for the privilege. In the meantime, healthy people would only use the existing motorway system.

There is a similar transport in my area that runs from the metropolitan airport to a large mall a few miles away. It’s called the tram. I’m sure there must be other technical reasons The Boring Company exists, but it smells like elitism. “I deserve to drive my own tunnel and car.”

The Boring Company refutes a number of things on their website, including any comparisons with a subway: “Loop is an express public transit system that is more like a subway than a subway system. Typically, if a subway line had 100 stops, a train would stop at each station, so the journey between stop 1 and stop 100 would be long. In contrast, loop passengers drive directly to their destination, anywhere between stop 1 and stop 100, without stopping at the intermediate stops. “

When I read this, all I think about is being in a closed tunnel for way too long. The site mentions earthquakes, Covid-19 security, and a few other things. The actual tunnel in Las Vegas, however, has a fleet of 62 vehicles (the Tesla Model 3 electric cars) that hum along silently. For safety reasons, the cars cannot go anywhere near as fast as the recommended 125 MPH estimate or the previous 150 MPH estimate. Currently it is only around 35 MPH. Apparently, telling the driver where to drop you off is complex and confusing. You read that right, too: even if the Tesla is able to drive autonomously and there seems to be little risk of driving off the road or hitting a tractor-trailer, a driver is still involved.

The Boring Company FAQ reported 10,000 people per hour (link is currently inactive). The latest claim is that the tunnel can transport 4,400 people an hour around the convention center. I would be surprised if that were possible. First you need 4,400 people per hour ready to do this after the disco lights fade. The Vegas monorail system transports approximately 5 million people annually using multiple cars and has been in operation for decades. If The Boring Company transported 4,400 people an hour all day, that would be almost 20 million people a year.

Maybe there is more to it than that. No emissions? This applies to many monorail systems. The cool factor? I’m not sure how cool it is to go in a tunnel at low speeds. Avoid overloading? This is exactly what a train is designed for, minus the onerous factor of using individual cars that can accommodate fewer people and cost much more to build and run.

It’s glamorous and high-profile, with a catchy and clever name that might be a little too forward-looking for its own good. Maybe it should be called The Ridiculous Company.

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