What The Actual Shit Was That

Photo: Getty Images

Elon Musk and his Boring Company made quite a bit of a splash out in Los Angeles last night, but instead of grandiose visions of ThE FuTuRe, we got what some were derisively comparing to a Disney tram mashed up with an SUV. And the questions go wildly downhill from there.

As our friends over at Gizmodo pointed out, this is the Boring Company tunnel we were promised, straight out of I, Robot:

...aaaaaand this is what we got:

Photo: AP

But that’s kinda fancy, right? It’s a Tesla Model X with little doo-hickies stuck to the wheels, which make it like a TRAIN. Mass transit and everything, but better!

Photo: AP

Except it’s none of those things. It’s not like mass transit at all, and in a lot of ways, it’s definitively worse.

Let’s start with the notion that this is some sort of revolutionary idea. But it’s so not that I actually got a chuckle out of it this morning. This isn’t some revolutionary transit idea.

This is a bus.

Specifically, it’s a guided bus, that’s been around for so long (literally decades) that it’s got its own Wikipedia page and everything:

Photo: Ed Webster

Except this is already significantly worse than a bus, because a bus can seat a lot of people, and a Tesla Model X can seat five, maybe seven in a pinch. And the Tesla bus is underground, which has the advantage of not having to worry about existing surface-level infrastructure or weather (which isn’t really a huge problem with trains), and the massive disadvantage of having to dig enormous tunnels underground, which even Elon acknowledges must be improved, somehow:

So already this is not only worse than an already-existing idea, but it’s also not really “mass” transit. It’s just a guided Tesla bus.

But whatever! The guided bus is a great idea. It makes buses faster and everything. Maybe cars on a guided track would be better? Press materials from the Boring Co., after all, point to an imagined capacity of 4,000 cars per hour, which, if you figure four adults per vehicle, gives a Boring Co. tunnel a capacity of 16,000 people per hour, as Wired notes.

Which sounds great as well, if you don’t think about it too much.

But if you do think about it, even a little bit, you realise that 16,000 people per hour is not really an impressive figure. I’ll let the director of the Hungarian Transit Museum explain:

Elon, of course, has a response for this sort of maths, however:

Where he’s getting the “100,000 people per hour per lane,” we have no idea. But 100,000 is a nice, round number to just throw out there. And even if you could get the “densely seated buses,” with everybody belted, that process alone takes time, and assumes you’re not dealing with unruly passengers – and unruly passengers are what New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority say is the number one cause of delays.

And that’s assuming you can even get into or out out of the tunnels, as Mashable reporter Rachel Kraus discussed in a Twitter conversation with Elon:

Essentially, the problem is that with vehicles whizzing by at 241km/h, how would 10 cars join that system at the same point? What about 20? How about 30 cars? And when cars are decelerating to exit, how do you not make all of the literally thousands of imagined cars behind that one car exiting decelerate as well? And what if there are now stops all along this system, with cars accelerating or decelerating all the time?

You might see the massive traffic jam this might cause.

Elon, naturally, had a response:

OK, so just... park your car, I guess? While completely ignoring the question about jams in the system? Except for a lot of cities, New York especially, that’s expensive both in physical space and monetary cost.

For reference, the small parking lot across from Jalopnik HQ is not only finite, but it costs $65 a day to park there. A roundtrip on the New York City subway costs all of $8, by contrast.

Never mind that though, as Elon is already declaring it “affordable mass transit”:

Which, let’s be frank, it blatantly isn’t. It’s barely even a tunnel system. It’s a gimmick for one (1) Tesla Model X, so far.

Even assuming they could get the system to work properly with any old electric car that happens to be equipped with Tesla’s proprietary Autopilot system, the entry fee stands right now at approximately $57,841, which is as cheap as a Tesla Model 3 can get at the moment.

Or, for context, just over 28 YEARS worth of monthly New York City unlimited subway passes at $171 a month.

But that’s ok, because Elon says you don’t need to purchase your own car to ride in a Boring Loop:

So, continuously circulating cars dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists. Or, you know, a bus.

And we haven’t gotten into the cost of retrofitting this system to an existing vehicle (for some reason Elon is claiming only a couple of hundred dollars per vehicle, and good luck integrating a retractable system into a non-Tesla vehicle, like a Nissan Leaf or whatever), how much range an electric vehicle like the Tesla Model X has at the Boring Co.’s stated dream speed of 241km/h, how the system would work on different width vehicles that all must travel on the same track, a vehicle-to-vehicle communication system that would almost certainly be necessary to maintain even spacing between cars, and on and on and on and on and on.

Which we’ve asked the Boring Co. about, and are waiting for a response on.

In the meantime, the Boring Company was supposed to be fun and full of fun ideas, like flamethrowers. But it looks like it’s starting out as more of a joke.

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