L.A. tunnel rides for $1: Six takeaways from Elon Musk’s Boring Company talk

Elon Musk and Steve Davis
Elon Musk and Boring Company project leader Steve Davis talk about tunnels at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles. (Boring Company Photo / Kevin Mills)

If billionaire Elon Musk’s tunnel vision comes to pass, travelers will be able to zip beneath Los Angeles through an underground Loop system at 150 mph for about $ 1 a ride.

That’s the promise of the Boring Company in a nutshell. During a Thursday night session that lasted nearly an hour, Musk and the Boring Company’s project leader, Steve Davis, laid out their case for building a network of tunnels 30 feet or more beneath Los Angeles, starting with a 2.7-mile “proof of concept” dig.

Musk’s aim is to get around the “soul-destroying traffic” that afflicts L.A. and other big cities, by building as many tunnels as needed to accommodate underground transit on fast-moving pods. Priority would be given to passengers and bicyclists, but cars could be lowered from the streets into subterranean superhighways as well.

You can watch the whole session here on video. We’ve picked six points to highlight:

  • Hundreds of tunnels, hundreds of stations: Musk said hundreds of pod tunnels could be built beneath the surface, each with many points of entry that could be as small as a parking space. “In the extreme, you could have a station in everyone’s driveway,” Davis said. That’s the big difference between the Boring Company concept and traditional subway systems. “It’s very difficult to weave large stations into the fabric of a city,” Musk said.
  • Fast construction: Davis noted that the current generation of tunnel-boring machines make progress at a rate of 0.003 mph, while a snail travels at 0.03 mph. “You have the boring machine, which is 10 times slower than the snail, which is 100 times slower than a human,” he said. “So what Elon has challenged the company to do is at least beat the snail.” The company mascot? Gary the Snail.
  • 150 mph Loop ride for $ 1: The electric-powered pods would carry vehicles or up to 16 passengers at speeds of up to 150 mph, which translates into an eight-minute trip from downtown L.A. to Los Angeles International Airport. Pods would use on-ramps and off-ramps rather than running like a subway line. “The only time you actually stop would be when you exit,” Musk said. The aim is to run the system so economically that a ride would cost about $ 1, which is about half the price of a typical L.A. bus ticket.
  • Hyperloop at 700 mph: While Loops would be designed for in-city transit, Hyperloops would be designed to transport passengers at near-supersonic speeds between cities. The Hyperloop system would send pressurized pods through vacuum tubes, with a 30-minute transit time between L.A. and San Francisco. Hyperloops would connect with Loops to provide a smooth transition for travel.
  • Hand-delivered flamethrowers: One of the fun fundraisers that Musk set up for the Boring Company sold 20,000 flamethrowers (or “not-a-flamethrowers” for regulatory purposes) at a cost of $ 500 each. Musk said there were challenges in working out a delivery system: “I guess they don’t like it if you ship things with propane.” He said the current plan is to start custom-delivering the flamethrowers in two weeks.
  • Party time in the tunnel: “Once we’re done, in order to get public feedback, we want to offer free rides, sort of like a weird little Disney ride in the middle of L.A.,” Musk said. He also promised there’d be a party in the tunnel to celebrate its launch. “This’d be like a really trippy place to throw a party,” Musk said. “It’d be really fun, and feel like pre-post-apocalyptic or something.”

One test tunnel has already been excavated near SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. Now Musk wants to build support for the Boring Company’s plan to build the more extensive 2.7-mile prototype tunnel in West Los Angeles.

That plan has been met with skepticism (and a lawsuit) by neighborhood groups concerned about construction noise and other environmental impacts.

Musk and Davis offered assurances that the excavation operation wouldn’t impact utilities and wouldn’t be noticeable as it’s going on. “In our mind, you won’t hear us, you won’t see us, you won’t feel us, you won’t even know we exist,” Davis said.

There would be truck traffic between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily, however.

The plan calls for excavated soil to be compacted into concrete reinforcement segments for the tunnels, or turned into construction bricks. “We can actually sell the bricks at like 10 cents a brick,” Musk said.

Test tunnel
A map shows the proposed route for a 2.7-mile prototype tunnel. (Boring Company via YouTube)

It’s hard to imagine everything proceeding as smoothly as Musk and Davis make it sound, and it’s hard to imagine that there’d be no disruption caused by the comings and goings at hundreds of neighborhood stations with hundreds of car elevators.

But then again, some people found it hard to imagine that Musk’s SpaceX venture would have as much success as it has. If the Boring Company wins all the regulatory go-aheads that are required, Musk’s past record of hard-to-imagine achievements may be a big reason why.

“If some of those resources were applied to personalized mass transit, then there’s the potential for a significant breakthrough,” Musk said. “But obviously that can only happen with public support.”

The big question is how the Boring Company’s pitch will go over with the community in the West L.A. neighborhood where the 2.7-mile Sepulveda Boulevard test tunnel is to be built. And it sounds as if further outreach might need to focus on local residents rather than Musk’s fans.

“The crowd was majority male, and there were very few people of color,” neighborhood leader Andres Cuervo told the Los Angeles Times. “Based on tonight’s meeting, they may have a different definition of what a community looks like.”

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