In October 2021, Clark County approved a massive expansion of Teslas into tunnels, a project led by Elon Musk’s Boring Company. The project, known as the Vegas Loop, includes 29 miles of underground car tunnels connecting 51 stations around downtown Las Vegas. The idea is new, even seemingly innovative, but the claim that the underground highway system is anything close to efficient “public express transport” is incredibly misleading. The Vegas Loop is a low-capacity Tesla ad designed around the needs of shareholders and tourists, not Las Vegas communities.
The map of Teslas in the tunnels indicates the limits of the project’s target market. The map shows tunnels that do not go further west than Arville and no further east than UNLV. Very little of North Las Vegas is served, Henderson and Summerlin are completely ignored, and the majority of Eastside Vegas and Spring Valley are bypassed. The majority of residences in Las Vegas will therefore not be served by the Vegas Loop. Instead, the loop will connect one casino to another, one capital exchange area to another, while ignoring the needs of the workers who make up those casinos’ workforce. In no case does the shape or form of the Teslas in the tunnels serve the stated purpose of the Boring Company of “[solving] the problem of soul-destroying trafficking.
Focusing tourists rather than locals in infrastructure development is nothing new in Las Vegas; however, he remains incredibly short-sighted. Long commutes are linked to lower productivity as well as a lower quality of life due to poorer physical and mental health. Since the majority of Vegas residences will not be served by the Loop, commutes for most workers will remain just as long. This means lower short-term health outcomes as well as long-term deterioration in health caused by continued road congestion as many workers remain dependent on their own cars to get to work. Teslas in the tunnels will do nothing to solve any of these pre-existing issues that can be solved by public transport.
The Vegas Loop is built on the premise of providing “safe, reliable and extremely affordable public transportation.” Beyond the difference between this laudable stated goal and the reality in terms of customers served, the Teslas in the tunnels fail to serve as public transport in another way: capacity. The Boring Company claims it will target 57,000 customers per hour. However, the first results of the existing tunnel infrastructure show that the figure is probably much lower, as the Tesla in the tunnels do not reach the promised speed.
In addition, the Loop can be successful in transporting customers faster than a metro, but only one or two customers at a time. This is viewed by the Boring Company as a plus. If anything, this is a major drawback. One of the key factors in public transport is the number of residents that can be served. A car driving down a tunnel at high speed can be fast, but it does not serve as many people as a series of cars linked together in a continuous line following a rail, i.e. a metro.
It is very convenient for the Boring Company to have been able to gain approval for their “transit” system. It is even more practical that, in fact, the tunnels are designed by one of Elon Musk’s companies and are exclusively reserved for another Musk company – Tesla. This is because every Tesla used will be an advertisement for the Tesla brand, which will lead to increased demand for Tesla and greater profits for Elon Musk and his shareholders. More importantly, as the Boring Company begins construction in Las Vegas, it targets other cities like San Antonio and Fort Lauderdale in an attempt to build similar “public transportation” systems of equally questionable value – increasing costs. profits for both Boring and Tesla.
Teslas in the Tunnels is simply an advertisement under the guise of public transport. It is not a public good, but a private good. Teslas in Tunnels will join the list of novelties widely used by tourists unrelated to the real Las Vegas audience, another cog in the Las Vegas theme park, while generating greater wealth for the already wealthy. Clark County should approve public transportation that benefits the public good, not projects with little or no public value like the Vegas Loop.
Travis Sanderson is a longtime Las Vegas resident. He is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic State of Nevada and the Democratic Socialists of America in Las Vegas.