Elon Musk recently tweeted that his Boring Company’s first underground tunnel under the city of Los Angeles is almost finished and is seeking regulatory approval. The company plans to offer free test rides to the public in a few months time. Elon Musk also posted a time-lapse video showing a round-trip through the tunnel network in his tweet.
The Underground Tunnel Project
This is a proof-of-concept by Elon Musk’s “The Boring Company” for a public transportation system that aims to eliminate the huge traffic problem in LA. The tunnel system will transport passengers and vehicles beneath congested roadways on autonomous electric skates. These skates have a capacity to transport around 8 to 16 passengers, or one passenger vehicle along magnetic rails at speeds of up to 200 km/h. This 2 mile long tunnel is underneath SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthrone, California.
The Boring Company was founded by Elon Musk as an effort in alternative urban transportation. It’s effectively a high-speed subway exclusively for cars. Elon Musk chose Los Angeles as his testing ground because he works in Hawthorne and because the city’s notorious traffic jams gives the Boring Company a clear-sighted target.
Elon Musk’s ambitions are as controversial as his adventures into aerospace with SpaceX, electric cars with Tesla, and clean energy at SolarCity.
Constantine Samaras (Professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University) says that “The concept of car elevators on skates adds a bunch of engineering challenges, such as reliability and safety of the elevator, loading and unloading times, and the number of dedicated areas in a city you’d need to do this at scale.”
According to The Boring Company, the tunnels are really expensive to dig, with some projects costing as much as $1 billion per mile. The company has raised nearly $113 million, of which $100 million or so came from Elon Musk himself. In order to make a tunnel network feasible, tunneling costs must be reduced by a factor of more than 10.
The Boring Company claims its fares would be comparable to those of current public transportation—$1.75 one way in the city of Los Angeles, $1 in Culver City—but the reasons to be skeptical are legion. Privatized transit, at least in theory, wouldn’t receive the government subsidies of public transit. What’s more, Matute predicts that the company may take a number of approaches to pricing that would restrict accessibility, including a subscription or tiered model in which users pay regular fees to use the tunnels or a pay-per-trip schema. Considering the precedents of Big Tech’s attempts to “disrupt” transportation—namely, Uber and Lyft—a “flex-pricing” model wherein fares rise with demand is equally conceivable.