Has Elon Musk gone completely off the rails? No pun intended. I’m not talking about the robot uprising or his odd candy company. I am talking about his vision for the future of mass transit in Los Angeles. Before I get too far into this, I want to preface this post with – I think this is an incredible idea. But I’m not sure it’s achievable. What am I talking about? Musk envisions a “personalized mass transit system” which would shuttle up to 16passengerss through tunnels underneath Los Angeles. That’s not the crazy part. Nor is the fact that his vision also includes an 11-mile tunnel that would shuttle passengers between downtown LA to Los Angeles International Airport in eight minutes.
The crazy part is that Musk thinks the rides should only cost $1. That’s right. For less than a cup of coffee, you can take said ride anywhere in Los Angeles. I do think that this is potentially an incredible idea. But like I said, I kind of think it’s a bit crazy. Let’s talk about public transportation to start. Public transportation service providers typically don’t do well from a financial perspective. They raise money through the tax base to be able to purchase assets and infrastructure, and then use fare charges to maintain service. But the fare charges isn’t where they get most of their funding. That comes from the tax base. Which is paid for by people who typically don’t take public transit. All of the capitalists out there are screaming while they read this statement. And the socialists out there think this is a great system. And honestly, it’s not bad.
But the question has to be – where is the money going to come from if the fare is only $1? Someone is shelling out a ton of cash to build these underground tunnels in the first place. Maybe it’s Elon Musk’s Boring Company? Maybe there are investors? Or maybe there are government grants available? Either way, this whole project is going to have a hefty price tag. So where is the money going to come to subsidize the price of the fare?
But here’s why I like it. If people are charged a lot of money, or the assets and infrastructure are garbage, no one is going to use the transit system. I don’t mean to digress, but this is why the taxi industry is not doing well in some cities. Uber and Lyft have given people an alternative to needing to take traditional taxis, and in some cases at a much cheaper rate. That’s why I think Musk’s vision is a good one, but I am concerned about how achieveable it will be.
The underground tunnel transportation system is still a ways off. Los Angeles’s city council voted unanimously last month to approve an environmental review exemption for a tunnel. There are objectors to this idea, and I would like to say that I hold my reservations. Boring through a densely populated (and earthquake-prone) area like Los Angeles is a bit risky and shouldn’t be done until a full analysis has been conducted. Like I said, I am on Musk’s side when it comes to the vision itself. But, as someone who is also concerned about human safety, I think that more work needs to be done before going through with the tunnels.