Trains are some of the most efficient modes of transportation on earth, consuming “up to nine times less fuel for every ton” carried, when compared to automobiles. Despite this, trains in the USA are not ubiquitous, with 73 percent of Americans using a private automobile as their main form of transportation to work. Some, like Elon Musk, are trying to change this — or so it seems at first glance.
Elon Musk’s The Boring Company opened the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop in June 2021, a system of underground “public transportation” throughout a small area in Las Vegas. This system, which is a trial run for a city-wide expansion approved in May 2023, is the exact opposite of public transportation, however.
The Loop is essentially a collection of tunnels underground, wherein massive numbers of Teslas that one can hail and jump into — sort of like a taxi — run nearly non-stop. It is, as the Loop’s website itself admits, little more than “Teslas in Tunnels!”
While this cavalier, self-aware attitude may seem charming to some, it should not distract from the fact that his system does incredibly little in the way of a real solution to car-centric US transport culture. Through a system that supposedly attempts to alleviate ground traffic and create “high-speed” transportation, Musk has essentially recreated above-ground conditions For example, January 2022 saw a massive traffic jam within the LVCC Loop. Unlike a conventional traffic jam, however, or even a traffic jam within a normal tunnel, the LVCC traffic jam turned the Loop tunnel, which has no emergency walkways or handrails, into a futuristic death trap.
Real questions regarding the charging of the vehicles, climate emissions, the destruction of nature due to the extraction of lithium, cost, and more plague this project — despite the clear solution: ditching the teslas and building a train.
Buzzwords, self-promo, and the cultivation of a cult of personality around Musk have allowed him to time and time again reinvent the wheel, providing subpar solutions to real problems — solutions that, conveniently, tie various of his companies together, benefiting him personally more than anyone else.
Rather than using the tunnels dug by The Boring Company (at a significantly lower cost than most other tunnels dug) to create a system of mass public transportation, such as the New York City metro system, Musk’s vision seems to be one of private vehicles, inefficiency, and Tesla idolatry.
A typical NYC IRT subway train can carry around 2,000 people at a time, and run around 29 trains per hour per tunnel, carrying 58,000 people in an hour. Musk’s Loop, meanwhile, may “only be able to carry 1,200 people per hour,” and that is assuming that all cars are filled with five passengers — an unlikely situation if people wish to travel in groups.
Although the running of the Loop would not in and of itself cause carbon emissions — as Teslas are electric cars — charging those Teslas certainly could. The creation of a single Tesla car actually produces more CO2 than traditional internal combustion cars. However, it is true that long-run emissions are lower, especially if the electricity used to charge the Teslas were to come from renewable sources.
Even the inclusion of buses, which would allow for transportation of more than five people at a time per vehicle, could save this project. But the LVCC Loop would not be able to fit a normal bus inside of it, until, of course, Musk designs a new “hyper-bus” to gracefully solve this problem of his own creation.
Some may argue that Musk’s loop is an elegant move towards public transport in a country that may be reluctant to accept traditional forms of it, given America’s car-centric culture. This, however, is very clearly not the case. American scepticism of public transport and trains is due mainly to underfunded systems which fail to adequately provide for their needs.
Delays, low quality infrastructure, inefficient lines and layouts and more plague the current public transportation network of many US cities.
Who can blame Americans for refusing to believe public transport can work?
An adequately funded system would quickly act against American doubt, as in NYC, where over 30 percent of journeys to work are taken by public transport. It can even be argued that public transport scepticism just does not exist, with recent polls showing that over 70 percent of Americans would support improving American public transportation.
Musk, like other billionaires embarking on vanity projects, suffers from “Elite Projection,” defined as “the belief, among relatively fortunate and influential people, that what those people find convenient or attractive is good for the society as a whole.” Just because Musk enjoys driving a private automobile, and because he makes money from the sale of Teslas and tunnels, he believes that all of society will agree with him. His situation must be applicable to all, he believes, everyone must share his opinions on the ‘future of transport’s. He does not realise that many would not only enjoy, but prefer a real solution, not a temporary band-aid.
His solution is, at heart, one more lane on the highway, but this time, underground.
This solution is not futuristic. It is not full of buzzwords. It is not easily marketable, but it is simple. The solution to the USA’s car-centrism, perpetual traffic jams, and CO2 emissions, is — following the doctrine of Occam’s Razor — the simplest: the train.