Learn from Musk’s mistakes on his Las Vegas Tunnel to find out what you need to be mindful of when executing your ideas.
What’s worse than being stuck and trying to move your car through congested streets? Getting caught in traffic inside an underground one-way tunnel. In January this year, a massive traffic jam was caused inside Elon Musk’s loop tunnel beneath Las Vegas during the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). There were no emergency walkways or handrails on the sides for you to walk out, even if you wanted to jump out of the car. When Musk took CBS anchor Gayle King for a test drive through the tunnel in 2018, King said it was “claustrophobic”.
In 2021, tunneling firm The Boring Company, under the leadership of Musk, got a 1.7-mile-long loop tunnel with three stations up and running under the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC). This would essentially provide visitors to LVCC with a congestion-free drive across the center. All one has to do is hail a Tesla people-mover using an app, and it will cut the 45-minute travel time across the 200-acre campus of LVCC to roughly just two minutes. The LVCC loop tunnel is worth US$52.5 million.
While all of this sounds great on paper, the actual tunnel is not quite as congestion-alleviating as it claims to be. Let’s take a closer look at what happened and what we can learn from it.
What caused the traffic jam inside the tunnel?
The CES is an extremely popular show, with journalists and tech enthusiasts gathering there to look at new technologies entering the consumer electronics industry. This year, due to the pandemic, CES saw a significantly smaller footfall; in spite of that, there was traffic congestion inside the LVCC loop.
The reason behind this congestion was that it had 90 cars inside it at the time of the traffic jam due to a “driver error”, even though the tunnel had only been approved to fit 70 cars. The traffic piled up to such an extent that Twitter users began expressing concerns of asphyxiation inside what they called a “death trap”.
Now that you know what happened, here is what we can learn from it—
You need meticulous planning
An important part of executing any idea is to thoroughly understand what you need for everything to work out the right way. In this case, that meant factoring in the number of cars against the number of parking spaces.
There are only 29 parking spaces (ten at two stations and nine at the third) at the three stations where the cars pick up passengers. Yet, as per a report by Cnet, 62 Tesla vehicles operate within the loop. And, as we previously mentioned, at the time of the traffic jam, there were 90 vehicles inside the loop. It’s easy to see that the math doesn’t add up, and this could lead to congestion at the stations.
The Boring Company’s driver manual features this as a possible scenario the drivers may have to deal with. Moreover, the manual also brings attention to issues, like the driver stopping at the wrong station or missing the station they were supposed to stop at. Both of these situations could also lead to traffic jams. When you consider that The Boring Company advertises the loop as an anti-traffic solution, these instructions would make you question how the loop is any different or more efficient from surface-level travel.
You need to differentiate your product
When a company comes out with a product, it is important to tell the consumer how your product is different from other similar products present in the market. Moreover, you have to ask yourself if it is providing an effective and efficient solution to a problem. In the case of the loop tunnel, this meant setting itself apart from the subway and shuttle bus systems to alleviate traffic congestion.
Critics of the loop tunnel believe that it is “nothing more than a very inefficient subway system”. Their main question is: why is there any need for a loop when a subway system would be cheaper and could carry more passengers?
The Boring Company explains away this critique by saying that while a train stops at every single station, passengers are taken directly to their destination without any stops in-between in the loop system. However, at the CES, there is already point-to-point visitor drop-off service in place—the shuttle bus service.
The chink in The Boring Company’s armor here is that no matter how many stops there might be with the subway system, congestion barely happens. The failure of the Vegas loop signals that not enough attention has been given to traffic management within the tunnel system.
There has to be room for human error
Even the best-made plans can be ruined by errors, which is why those must be factored into the choices you make. The loop tunnel, much like any other product or service, is not immune to human error.
The traffic jam loop witnessed in January was because of this exact reason. Traffic congestion can end up happening as a result of someone taking too long to just get in and out of the car. This, added to the fact that human drivers cannot know anything beyond what’s going beyond the car in front of them, makes it impossible to adjust speed and leave a large enough gap between cars.
The original plan for the loop system was to use autonomous 12-passenger vans. Perhaps if automated vans were used, it would reduce the chances of traffic congestion. Alternatively, some experts worry that with the state of traffic above ground, things wouldn’t be any better with autonomous cars zooming through stations where people wait for their rides.
This should give you a roadmap on what errors you need to avoid in your entrepreneurial journey. Even for someone with a lot of successful projects, like Elon Musk, one can fail from time to time. This is not to say that the project is an entire failure, though. This is the first time we are seeing such an issue emerge from the tunnel; future usage should give more insight into the tunnel’s long-term utility. Hopefully, problems within the loop system can be addressed as it expands further.
Header image courtesy of The Boring Company’s website