Tried Vegas Loop: Musk’s Dumbest Idea Ever?

In Las Vegas, the “LVCC Loop” connects the exhibition halls – and soon the hotels on the “Strip”. Teslas go underground through the tube. A test drive.

Here in Las Vegas, you’re actually always stuck in traffic at CES. The informal discussions and product presentations take place in hotels throughout the city, and four exhibition halls also want to be visited – you are constantly on the move. If you don’t plan your appointments well, you’ve already lost. Everything should get better with the “Loop”: Elon Musk’s crazy tunnel project connects the four exhibition halls and is already moving to a new location behind the Strip. We tried out how the loop operated by operator The Boring Company works.

To the common European, passenger transport in a tunnel sounds like local public transport: an underground train that takes people from A to B. Far from it: under the exhibition halls, a large fleet of Tesla Model X and Model Y dashes through a narrow tube all day long. And “tube” is meant absolutely literally here: the walls are a good arm’s length from the side windows of the Teslas. There is one tube in each direction, and the connection to the Strip has so far been one lane, and the Teslas have to drive back from there above ground.

Tunnel segment and entrance. (Image: c’t/uk)

The entry or stopping points are reminiscent of bus distributors, some are above ground, others underground. The whole thing is quite personnel-intensive, especially at the underground stations, which can be reached by escalators. There, watchdogs have to make sure that no passenger runs in front of the approaching and departing Teslas. Each car takes up to four guests, plus the driver – although the route suggests it, the cars are by no means autonomous!

The underground taxi driver’s job is pretty dreary, with almost no daylight, no view, and a shift that lasts seven hours. After an hour it gets very boring, our driver admitted. And showed us why autonomous driving is not possible in the Vegas Loop: At the transition between the tube and the stop station, the sensors start to skid and flash to themselves in search of help. If there are still vehicles in the lock area, it’s all over. We experienced such traffic jams in both directions. It is possible that the passengers were also to blame, who stood around uncontrolled on the roadway after getting off the train, despite the many watchers.

It took almost exactly two minutes from the new West Hall to the Central Hall, plus the waiting time for the next available taxi. It was currently very short, but not all CES visitors know about the loop. When I think of the very long queues in front of the big coaches that take you from the Central Hall to the hotels at the end of a day at the trade fair, I doubt that the current Tesla fleet can transport such crowds in an acceptable amount of time.

Despite the somewhat depressing narrowness of the tunnel, our journey was surprisingly pleasant. The drivers are allowed to drive up to 40 miles fast, that is 65 kilometers per hour. Luckily our driver didn’t exhaust it. I would advise people who suffer from claustrophobia not to ride the Vegas Loop. You shouldn’t worry about possible accidents either: I couldn’t figure out how to get out of the narrow tube in a reasonable amount of time after an accident. I did not discover any emergency exits or escape routes. A fire could have devastating consequences. The loop has not yet passed the stress test with a really large number of passengers within a short period of time.

The time advantage of the loop is unbeatable – for the same route, you need at least 20 minutes above ground, longer in the evening. The City of Las Vegas and adjacent Clark County have signed an agreement with operator The Boring Company to tunnel to additional destinations including Harry Reid Airport, the new Allegiant Stadium, and downtown Las Vegas hotels.

What could still work in Las Vegas – after all, everything is possible here – seems absurd to me for cities like San Francisco or even Los Angeles. In any case, larger – and autonomous – vehicles would have to be used. At some point, there might also be the autonomous “people movers” that Musk envisioned for his tunnels. This brings us to an underground road system for buses and trains – like in Seattle. “Las Vegas Loop” of course somehow sounds more innovative.

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