Go to any sports website today and you are likely to see a headline about Tesla founder Elon Musk’s brilliant new plan to alleviate traffic before and after Los Angeles Dodgers games. ESPN: “Elon Musk’s tunnel company aims to reduce Dodger Stadium traffic with ‘Dugout Loop.’” Sports Illustrated: “Elon Musk Proposes Underground Tunnel to Dodger Stadium.” Bleacher Report: “Elon Musk’s Company to Build Tunnel to Dodger Stadium to Ease Traffic.” You get the idea.
Under these headlines you’ll read all sorts of bold claims from Musk relayed uncritically by the writers. ESPN’s Darren Rovell is the worst offender, of course, and his story reads like a press release sent straight from Musk’s PR department. Rovell writes that the tunnel would connect Dodgers Stadium to a metro station in East Hollywood, and would “reduce time in traffic from more than an hour in the car to fewer than four minutes by electric vehicle.” His story also trumpets how quickly and seamlessly the project will be completed:
The project, whose only investor is The Boring Company, promises to have no above-ground disruption for the estimated 14 months it will take to build the 3.6-mile tunnel. While the cost of building the tunnel will take many years to recoup, sources familiar with the project say The Boring Company projects to be operationally profitable by charging a fee of $1 per person, per trip.
It’s far too much to ask Darren Rovell to ever think critically about anything a rich person or a brand tells him, but there are some things Dodgers fans who are excited about the prospect of being whisked away to games by a futuristic underground vehicle should probably know. For one thing, the 3.6-mile tunnel is unlikely to transform any fan’s commute from one that takes over an hour to one that takes less than four minutes, as Rovell’s story claims. As Los Angeles Times reporter Laura Nelson points out, none of the proposed routes would connect the stadium to anywhere that takes an hour to reach by car:
There’s also the fact that Musk’s company, which aims to eventually bless various American cities with underground tunnels through which electric buses will travel at 150 mph, hasn’t yet, you know, proven it can come anywhere close to achieving that goal. So far, Musk’s company has managed to build a single 2.7-mile tunnel under Los Angeles, through which he has yet to send any high-speed electric vehicles, partly because he has not yet met government regulations. He may not have any actual proof of concept or a working understanding of how large-scale infrastructure actually works, but he does have plenty of pretty computer-animated demos.
Musk has been on a seemingly life-long mission to brand himself as a real-life Tony Stark, but he’s really just a guy who made an electric car that rich people like to drive. Given that his last Big Thing was to build a useless submarine for the Thai cave rescue and then call the expert who told him it was useless a “pedo,” it’s best to take whatever he says with a giant grain of salt.