Transportation “re-envisioned” by the greatest inventor of our century
Traffic jams have proven to be an enormous waste of drivers’ time and money. A 2015 study highlighted that “travel delays due to traffic congestion expended more than three billion gallons of fuel and kept drivers in their cars nearly seven billion extra hours, costing $160 billion nationally.” This, in addition to the external costs of carbon dioxide and other emissions by idle cars, contributing to local air pollution and global climate change. However, Elon Musk — considered the greatest inventor of the 21st century by many — has thought of a possible, yet controversial, solution to traffic congestion, and started a company by the name of; The Boring Company.
The Boring Company, unlike the name suggests, aims to construct an underground transportation system for electric vehicles in order to improve efficiency and allow passengers to travel at speeds up to 150mph. Passengers are transported by AEVs (Autonomous Electric Vehicles), exclusively Tesla’s Model S, 3, and X types. However, The Boring Company hopes to have custom Teslas with more spacious interiors. The cars operate using the same autonomous technology found in current Tesla vehicles and have ‘bumpers’ and a set of guide rails enclosing the wheels that allow the vehicle to travel at high speeds without colliding into the 14 foot wide tunnels.
Due to Musk’s successful ventures like Tesla and SpaceX, many are supportive of The Boring Company’s Las Vegas Loop which is set to premiere in January 2021 for use by the autonomous Tesla vehicles in Las Vegas. Since the current road rules and regulations do not allow Tesla to provide the full autonomous experience, even though their technology is more capable, the Loop will serve as the true hands-off experience when the vehicle is supported by rails and bumpers as it travels through the tunnel.
Recently, Elon Musk tweeted about his vision for a subterranean network of “small stations the size of a single parking space that take you very close to your destination and blend seamlessly into the fabric of a city, rather than a small number of big stations like a subway.” Even though Musk specifies the differences between a subway and the Loop project, people are skeptical of the visionary’s Loop’s resemblance to another, 200 year old above-ground, public transportation system; the bus.
As mentioned before, The Boring Company was aiming to produce more spacious vehicles and increase the number of people transported from 5 to approximately 12 for a total of 4,400 people per hour. However, Elon Musk later contradicts himself by claiming “individualized mass transit is the future.” Synonymously, the Boring Company FAQ states that “unlike standard public transportation systems, Loop vehicles carry small numbers of passengers (as low as one)… to reduce the risk of exposure to airborne diseases presented by crowds.”
Hence, the capacity of the Loop will be even lower than Musk implies and his position on conventional buses, trains and subways has been parallel to that of Robert Moses; an infamous urban planner and developer of the Cross Bronx Expressway which segregated the low-income families to the South and the rest to the North. Keep in mind, The Boring Company is a for-profit private corporation and its tunnels are subject to becoming a resource that only elite riders could use, corresponding to Musk’s elitist view of public transport, segregating the rich and poor once again.
Therefore the question is now, given the choice of cramming in with four strangers or sitting alone for a single-passenger ride, which option will society choose in post-pandemic society? And despite Musk’s intentions of reducing traffic congestion by implementing the Loop and enhancing the experience for Tesla’s AEVs; The Boring Company, unlike SpaceX and Tesla, will lose the innovative label, and disadvantage low-income users, all while costing the Convention and Visitors Authority, $48.68 million for two 0.83-mile-long tunnels.
How The Loop impacts Urban Planning and the future of transportation?
Twitter users rapidly pestered Musk, pointing out that trains and busses can already carry up to hundreds of times more riders in the same period for much cheaper, and the costs of building the tunnels are only smaller because they lack infrastructure, which Musk conveniently left out in his conventions bragging about the long distances dug with minimum costs. Although the costs and other transportation systems contradicting Musk’s revolutionary idea are second to none, the majority of twitter users question how The Loop reduces traffic congestion when there will be more cars waiting above ground to use the high speed tunnel. Even though vehicles get from Point A to B quicker, there will be more dwell time (time spent by vehicles waiting in a station doing nothing) as the platforms taking the vehicles down to the tunnel entrance have to propel down and up.
If Musk’s underground transportation system was to become the main mode of commuting for a city, transportation planners would have to reconsider the process of defining future policies, investments, and designs to better prepare for future needs to move people and goods to destinations. The Loop impacts both transportation and urban planners, who often work hand in hand to find the best use of city space, and ensure that transportation is accessible and preferred over the use of personal vehicles. On the other hand, The Loop promotes the use of personal vehicles and considers them using the same space to travel, as “public transportation.” In addition, public transportation generates the majority of a city’s revenue, that is now going to a for-profit organization; and the public has little impact on where the tunnels for the Loop will connect as The Boring Company is not obligated to research the city before digging tunnels. Thus, urban and transportation planners play a pivotal role in deciding where transportation should be located and where it should lead, but without working for The Boring Company, they no longer have a say. Lastly, Musk’s design for The Loop overlooks the already established transportation systems in many cities and by going from Point A to C, rather than allowing the traffic to go from A to B, then use The Loop to travel the remaining B to C. This is of course an oversimplification, but puts into perspective the exclusivity that Musk is trying to obtain by segregating AEV users from the general public, especially the elderly and disabled persons who are discounted for, in Musk’s so called “public transportation.”
Thus as our society grows weary of slow public transportation, what impact will Elon Musk and The Boring Company’s Loop have on the lower to middle class, elderly, and disabled persons; who no longer have access to an affordable method of transportation that accounts for their comfort. Rather than reducing traffic congestion, Musk has successfully prioritized the rich to fuel his other for-profit ventures like Tesla and SpaceX, and disregard the original proposition to improve “public transportation” by changing its definition to “individualized mass transit.”