In 2019, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority approved a nearly $50 million contract with Elon Musk’s Boring Company to build a transportation system that helps conventioneers quickly navigate the convention halls. Their recent media event allowed a select few to see what the LVCVA paid for—plain cheese sandwiches in the form of slow-moving Tesla Model 3s.
The dream of seeing autonomous, speedy people movers were dashed last Friday as friendly media were greeted by a parade of manned, 5-passenger Tesla 3s. The lights were cool though.
The LVCVA was hoping to shuttle over 4,000 people every hour between halls. But planning documents reviewed by TechCrunch as early as October of 2020 indicated the tunnel would fall short of that goal. According to TechCrunch, at its most efficient, TBC can only transport 1200 passengers an hour, about a quarter of what was promised.
Concerns about TBC’s ability to fulfill the contract were raised prior to the May 2019 vote. Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, someone I’ve never associated with quality soundbites, objected to the bid, saying, “The Boring Company is 3 years old and has yet to deliver a final package on anything”, according to Vegas Inc.
Instead, Goodman favored the proposal by Doppelmayr Garaventa Group, an Austrian-based company known for their cable cars and ski lifts. I don’t know if Goodman’s suggestions were in earnest. She had to of known the $215 million bid from Doppelmayr Garaventa was far more than the LVCVA wanted to allocate. Yet, Vegas Inc. reported Doppelmayr Garaventa’s CEO, Markus Schrentewein, was willing to adjust his proposal to something more aligned with what the LVCVA wanted. Doppelmayr Garventa are no Vegas strangers. They built the tram at Mandalay Bay and the Aria Express.
TBC’s bid came in at about a quarter of the cost of the above-ground Doppelmayr Garaventa cable car, which, according to Convention Authority CEO Steve Hill, was one of the primary reasons it was chosen. TBC’s cost savings come in part because the tunnel doesn’t have to be as wide as typical subways and the tunneling technology, which is really quite fascinating, allows it to shape bricks from the dirt, saving money on excavation.
Yet a low price tag alone does hardly a good bid make. I haven’t been a homeowner long, but I know that when hiring contractors, it’s smart to avoid the lowest bid coming from a team that’s never completed the project in question.
While LVCVA board members ignored Mayor Goodman’s counter-proposal, her skepticism bled into the contract. Once operational, every time TBC fails to transport almost 4,000 people an hour during major tradeshows, they owe the LVCVA $300,000.
Apologists are insisting Boring naysayers need to just be patient. That the vehicles will soon be bigger, autonomous, and more efficient. Some ardent defenders even claim the LVCVA tunnel isn’t about its capabilities at all—this is more a showcase for the larger Vegas loop that could link many of Las Vegas’ hot spots. The problem is the LVCVA tunnel is taxpayer-funded. The big loop, according to The Boring Company’s President Steve Davis, wouldn’t be. The LVCVA paid for an efficient public transit system. What it got was a mile-long Tesla tradeshow.
The idea that this could be an attraction or have value as a marketing tool is laughable. Mainly because watching cars drive through a tunnel single file isn’t as exciting as it sounds. Just ask a cabbie at LAS to take the long way if you really want to see an expert do this in practice. But more practically, this “attraction” is for conventioneers only.
I want Vegas projects like this to succeed. The hard-working people of Las Vegas deserve a reliable public transportation system. The sights and sounds on Las Vegas BLVD are invigorating for tourists, but its accompanying traffic is infuriating for locals. If there’s any city worthy of an infusion of innovation, especially in transportation, it’s Vegas. But this tunnel isn’t innovative. And most importantly, no matter how much of a visionary Musk is, this project doesn’t deliver on its promise.
The LVCVA wanted little to do Doppelmayr Garaventa’s tired cable car concept. Instead, they succumbed to the shiny, new penny slot that is The Boring Company tunnel. Vegas visitors know the temptation all too well.
Don’t get me wrong, I love shiny new things in Las Vegas. Yet this progress report from TBC was deeply disappointing. Because of it, I have serious doubts about the tunnel and expanded loop’s success. But for now, Convention Authority CEO Hill will continue to defend it. Musk fanboys will continue to tell those with even the slightest reservation about the project’s efficacy that they “just don’t get it”. And Las Vegans will continue to wait for a solution to a longstanding problem.