A 150-mph underground commute -- that's how Elon Musk plans to solve LA's traffic problem

 cnet.com  5/18/2018 4:02:55 PM  7  Roger Cheng
Elon Musk and SpaceX and Boring Company director Steve Davis

Elon Musk and SpaceX and Boring Company director Steve Davis talk about digging in Los Angeles. 

Roger Cheng/CNET

Elon Musk finally pulled back the curtain on where The Boring Company is headed. And, well, it's definitely not boring. 

The billionaire entrepreneur on Thursday showed off his concept for the Loop, a "personalized mass transit" system that would carry 16 people and travel at 150 miles per hour, which could get you from downtown Los Angeles to LA International Airport in eight minutes in a vacuum tube. His projected fare would be only $1 per person. Musk also said he envisions dozens to hundreds of small stations, each about the size of a single or double parking spot, to alleviate traffic at any one spot. 

Some other project details that Musk revealed: The Loop will require 2.7 miles of tunnel running north to south parallel to the Interstate 405 freeway, it will be privately funded, and it won't be used for public transportation. Musk was speaking to a crowd of roughly 750 people crowding the pews of the Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles, which sits alongside the I-405 freeway by the Getty Center.

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Musk, who's known for making grand promises, didn't provide a time frame for the project.

The comments, though, provide the most detailed view yet, after two years of teasing, of what Musk wants to do with the vast underground tunnels The Boring Company is planning. Musk created the company, which has spent the last year digging (or "boring") tunnels under Los Angeles, to further his vision of creating a new form of transportation -- and to get out of that nasty LA traffic he's famously complained about. 

"It's the only way we can think of to address the chronic traffic issues in major cities," Musk said at the event. He added that over the 16 years he's lived in Los Angeles, the I-405 has "varied between the seventh and eighth levels of hell," and he blamed its clotted traffic for the event's delayed start.

Musk tweeted a week ago that his first LA tunnel is nearly completed

A flamboyant tech executive who's a must-follow on Twitter, Musk has said that The Boring Company takes up 2 percent to 3 percent of his time, essentially a hobby as he runs his other two -- yes, two -- companies, Tesla and SpaceX.

These tunnels aren't yet part of his grander idea of a cross-country "Hyperloop" system, which would ferry people or things in tubes traveling at airline speeds -- but at a much lower cost. At least, not yet. Musk previously said that The Boring Company is involved in proposed Hyperloop projects, including one for the US East Coast. After proposing, in 2012, the idea of flinging pressurized capsules through tubes at insane speeds, Musk initially let other startups run with the idea. But last year, Boring too got approval to build a Hyperloop between New York and Washington, DC, signaling his intentions. 

Musk telegraphed that the Los Angeles tunnels would use a different approach. About an hour before the event began, he retweeted a tweet from Metro Los Angeles about work on its proof-of-concept tunnel under Sepulveda Boulevard. "We'll be partners moving forward," the statement said. At the event, Musk reiterated that he's working with the city and excited to complement the city's metro system.

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The Boring Company held an event in Los Angeles on Thursday. 

Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

The idea is that The Boring Company would take the method and model of tunneling in Los Angeles and eventually bring that to other major cities with traffic issues. "If you can build a tunnel in LA, you can build it anywhere," he said.

In March, he teased an animation of people riding in sleek minibuses running on rails through tunnels. He played the video again on Thursday. There had also been suggestions that pedestrians, bikes and public transit will get priority access to the system

Musk kicked off Thursday night's event by declaring that flying cars wouldn't work, throwing a bit of shade at Uber. He cited the advantages of an underground transportation system, including the fact that it's weatherproof and that, he said, you can create more lanes if you want. "Highways are at the outer limit of their capacity," he said. "For tunnels you can have hundreds of lanes. There's no real limits."

He also talked about the improvement to the actual boring, from continuous mining to tripling the power of the machines themselves, as well as ways to decrease costs. 

Likewise, Musk stressed that this would be a safe project and that the community wouldn't hear any of the tunneling below. How would it fare in an earthquake? Just fine, he said.

The Boring Company -- the much, much smaller sibling to Musk's other companies -- has resorted to some unorthodox merchandise for funding. The company raised $7.5 million selling $500 flamethrowers bearing the company logo (they're supposed to arrive soon). Musk also teased plans to sell large Lego-like bricks made from bored rocks.

"They're really good bricks," he said, eliciting laughter from a crowd that wasn't quite sure he was serious. 

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