Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Electric Sled Idea Draws Criticism



Tesla Model S going for a ride on The Boring Company’s sled.

Apparently not everyone is so fond of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s electric skate idea, or The Boring Company concepts in general.

Brent Toderian, city planner, urbanist, and former Vancouver chief planner took to Twitter following Musk’s recent TED talk. Though he admits that he respects Musk and his ideas, he is not getting behind The Boring Company, and more specifically, the electric sleds. Toderian concluded:

“So altho on paper & in video the The Boring Company idea may seem cool & out-of-the-box, those of us fighting for REAL solutions must refute it.”

Tesla Model S on the electric sled at street level.

The question is, was Toderian upset because it may take work away from him (not unlike oil companies and some ICE automakers’ feelings about Tesla), or does he pose valid points about Musk’s new idea? Is Toderian concerned about his own plans and interests, and fears that Musk may have some success with The Boring Company? Or, does the Tweetstormer truly fear the implications of the Tesla CEO’s new venture.

Let’s face it … whenever new ideas come about, there is going to be skepticism. Many people are still denouncing the electric car. There were many that didn’t think Musk could send a rocket to space, and moreover to land and reuse that same rocket.

The whole Boring Company situation is a bit different. It’s not totally a new idea, and there are many unanswered questions/concerns. People seem excited about it, but there is a common opinion out there that it is merely a pipe dream. Others feel (or at least hope) that it may happen in some capacity, but not quite in the way that Musk portrayed it in the recent teaser video. There are so many considerations beyond digging faster and cheaper, and putting the cars on an electric skate.

We won’t go into detail here about all the possible roadblocks or pitfalls, but as you can imagine, there are plenty. Below is Toderian’s lengthy Tweetstorm in its entirety. What do you think?

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58 Comments on "Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Electric Sled Idea Draws Criticism"

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City planners know pretty well by now that you can’t outbuild traffic!
Elon’s boring idea indeed seems to be too overengineered and too inefficient. It is nothing like the minimalism and streamlining we know from Tesla.

I’m a big Elon believer but agree this seems like an insane cost for very little gain. Maybe if the tunneling gets real cheap you reinvent subways but I can’t see putting cars on sleds and lowering them from the street level.

The real reason for the creation of the Boring Company is to re-use recovered Falcon 9 first stages as TBMs.

When you look at how many square feet is required per worker in a typical office building vs. how many square feet it required per car in a typical lean parking structure that becomes very clear. Current office planning requires around 150-200 sq. ft. per worker. That isn’t just their work space but all space per floor divided by the number of workers. For a lean, efficient parking structure you might get away with as little as 350 sq. ft. per car including all aisles and ramps, etc. So even if everyone carpooled with at least 2 or 3 people per car you would still need a building of a size equal to that which holds your workers just to hold their cars in effect doubling the size of the built city. In reality people drive themselves to work alone so you would need to triple the size of a built city to accommodate everyone’s cars if there was no commuter transit system in dense cities like NYC. Now if you combined public transit along with a fleet of autonomous shared vehicles acting like cabs that never park then you could actually assist with moving people around within the city.… Read more »

High cost, low gain even IF you could get right of way.

It’s really a system desinged with LA in mind. Musk is tired of wasting time in LA traffic, and people take cars everywhere in LA, so the parking thing is already a sunk cost.

In New York the parking issue would render this idea moot. You’d have nowhere to put the car, unless you were willing to spend a fortune.

Let Musk turn LA into tunnel town. LA is lost to the automobile regardless, so whatever.

Elons videos showed large electric buses going underground as well, so I guess the guy did not check the concept very well. Those should work even better than subways.

Not large buses. Small buses.
The idea depends on and is a follow-on from autonomous transportation. If you have have autonomous transportation, it makes more sense to have more, smaller buses in order to decrease stopping and reduce travel time.

Ok, so he doesn’t attack the technology, just that he is a great believer in public transit and has the mistaken idea that the best way forward for public transit is to make driving more congested.

The first picture of a two-lane road being congested and then “finally” three lanes is what I have experienced on many roads. This is because the expansion has taken many years after it should have been.

I believe in public transit, but if they want people to use it, make it better. Don’t try to force people to use it by making alternatives worse. My biggest gripe about public transit is that it is minimalist service in most areas. Buses are infrequent and wind all over the place to cover the most area. This means your travel time is several times longer than by car. If public transit was set up to be the same time or quicker than driving many more people would take public transit.

Public transit does work the way you desire in dense urban areas, like London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo….maybe even New York.

It works because there is enough density to make things like frequent service practical, plus there is active urban planning and sufficient spending to make it work well.

Problem in most American cities is a general pushback on densification, an inherent anti-transit view based the assumption that only low income types who can’t afford a private car take the bus, combined with a pathological anti-tax position that leaves little money for infrastructure investments like transit systems (or even roads & bridges for that matter).

Yup. Mass transportation only appears, and is only affordable, where population density is high. In general mass transit systems are not profitable; they have to be supported by taxes, and only in densely populated areas is the tax base large enough to support that.

“The Boring Company” concept has a rather low density of passengers, much less so than subway systems, while being much more expensive on a per capita basis (as well as more expensive on the basis of throughput of passengers per day, or per year) than a subway system.

It’s not merely that the concept is unlikely to be realized, it’s that it is economically impossible.

It’s just a (very) rich man’s fantasy, and nothing more.

Hey Pushi, we need some more subway professional “Pushers”, like they have in Asia. If you stuff more riders into the subway tunnels, maybe the elite will pay for the uncrowded personal vehicle subway experience.

Did not watch the video. Clearly shows mass transit use.

Also, in many parts of the world I’ve used public transit, the level of cleanliness of the vehicle and passengers was quite unacceptable.

Subways are already better, faster and more predictable compared to cars in big cities like NYC or London, and do not create smog. There is no way around it if you build skyscrapers. A car can’t fit in the same space as a single person.

Tunnel is not just for cars. Watch it again, til you see it.

I’ll preface by saying I am not an urban planner, and my comments are based on “common sense” and observation as a 60 year lifetime user of various forms of transit, including foot, bicycle, subway, bus, train and car, in a number cities, including LA and Chicago. Elon proposes to start with Los Angeles, a city that is already designed and implemented for cars, and where people tell you where they live by saying what highway exit they are on. Is it politically realistic to think that LA will ever become Amsterdam, where bicycles outnumber cars and have dedicated multi-lane trails? Everything Elon does, including tunnel boring, will be powered by electricity, which will eventually all come directly from the Sun. As such, arguments about the environmental impact of construction need to be considered carefully. As far as use of space, the tunnel concept proposes to use space underground that is otherwise going to waste. Nothing in Elon’s proposal prohibits the tunnels being used for multi-modal transit, and in fact the simulation video shows multi-passenger transit vehicles on some of the sleds. Autonomous ride sharing services will soon make it uneconomic for city dwellers to own a car, regardless of… Read more »

Yes, Los Angeles is a low density city with car based surface transportation. But the same low density that makes mass transit inefficient also makes expensive solutions like tunnelling equally inefficient. Otherwise there would already be underground tunnels for cars and buses. It’s not a novel technology, just hugely expensive, and this solution doesn’t really change that.

Autonomous shared cars or “pods” may very well be the only viable solution for Los Angeles until sufficient densification is enabled/reached to support mass transit.

“It’s not a novel technology, just hugely expensive, and this solution doesn’t really change that.”
Not sure if you watched Elon’s presentation, but this was discussed. He said tunnels aren’t new, but the old way of doing it was very expensive. You need at least a 10-fold decrease in cost to make it feasible. And then he went on to show how the smaller tunnels would equate to a 20-fold or more decrease in cost.

I didn’t see anything novel in the proposal, the single step bore & reinforce process exists today. And boring can currently be done in different sizes. Also given that the cross sectional area of a pipe increases at the square of the diameter, smaller bores by definition are exponentially less capable of carrying volume (please don’t suggest cars in it will travel that much faster, like in a serial data bus!)

It is interesting (and laudable) that he wants to make incremental improvements to boring machine technology, but that doesn’t change the inherent inefficiencies to this approach from a transportation perspective.

“Why hasn’t this been done before? ——– Currently, tunnels are really expensive to dig, with some projects costing as much as $1 billion per mile. In order to make a tunnel network feasible, tunneling costs must be reduced by a factor of more than 10.” “How can we reduce the cost of tunneling? ——- First, reduce the tunnel diameter. To build a one-lane road tunnel, the tunnel diameter must be approximately 28 feet. By placing vehicles on a stabilized electric sled, the diameter can be reduced to less than 14 feet. Reducing the diameter in half reduces tunneling costs by 3-4 times. Secondly, increase the speed of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM). TBMs are super slow. A snail is effectively 14 times faster than a soft-soil TBM. Our goal is to defeat the snail in a race. Ways to increase TBM speed: Increase TBM power. The machine’s power output can be tripled (while coupled with the appropriate upgrades in cooling systems). Continuously tunnel. When building a tunnel, current soft-soil machines tunnel for 50% of the time and erect tunnel support structures the other 50%. This is not efficient. Existing technology can be modified to support continuous tunneling activity. Automate the… Read more »

Honestly Kdawg, I don’t see a whole lot beyond what we do today (globally), although I fully agree that the focus Musk provides will definately result in some important incremental improvements. Maybe that will be enough to make it significant.

As for diameter, that’s a tough planning decision. Given the air traffic between some cities, one might conclude it’s better to shove a whole 737 sized can in there rather than few cars. I’m reminded of how many of the early London tubes from the Victorian era had to be re-dug at great cost because they were too small as traffic volume and car capacity advanced. Even today many Tube tunnels are painfully small by world standards. Would be interesting to see some of Musk’s forecasts.

Regardless, this whole article discussion about tunnels for local communing is a complete distraction from what is whole thing is really about: Hyperloop tunnelling. And I’m fully on board with that.

I think it’s easier/better to make more small tunnels (as needed) vs. 1 big one. Those large tunnels need more support and are set up for gas powered vehicles with ventilation, room for service, etc. This isn’t needed w/the electric skateboard design.

“it is unclear that traditional subways can make better utilization of tunnels than individual sleds with multiple passengers.” I’d love to see a time-and-motion study of The Boring Company concept as compared to an average subway system. With small-diameter tunnels and individual vehicles, instead of trains like subways use, my guess is that a traditional subway would carry at least an order of magnitude more passengers; perhaps two orders of magnitude (100x) or even more. A ticket to ride on one of these “Boring Company” sleds would therefore cost at least an order of magnitude (10x) more than a subway ticket, and maybe 100x, unless it was subsidized to an insane level. As others have noted, the real bottleneck with this concept would be entering and exiting the system. Elevators carrying just one car at a time into the system, or just one mini-bus with at most only a couple of dozen or so passengers, isn’t going to cut it. If this concept were to ever have any hope of becoming practical, there would have to be high-capacity entrances and exits that would allow large numbers of passengers and/or cars to enter and exit quickly, just as there are for… Read more »

I don’t know of any subways that travel at 125mph. Also the cost to build the smaller tunnels is orders of magnitude less.

Subway stations are too close to do 125mph. But Shanghai has the airport maglev that can do around 250mph, and there are cases of commuter rail hitting over a hundred mph.

But those are above ground and take also up real-estate.

My only Trane Experience at 125 Mph, was the Inter City Express Trains, between London and Glasgow or Edinburgh. All Electric, Gantry Powered Trains, can hit much higher speeds, of course, and do so in Europe, but my Subway Experience: BART, TUBE, SkyTrain, TTC, & Washington DC, all sugest the fastest speeds in them, on widely separated stations, was about 70 Mph. What is missing in Subway systems is the 3-layer cake approach: The ‘Milk Run’, which has stops at stations every city block (what is the only pactical design in most current subways, but gets overloaded and slows to a crawl when those office towers empty out); with added Mid Express lines, that go from the core highest density stop, to a set of stops suited for the next major line transfer, to another Mid Express line, and which covers a minimum of 5, to as much as 10 stations between stops; plus the added High Speed Express Line, which picks up at the core, and travels to at least 75%-80% of the outboud distance, at high speed and no stops! This description is for end of day, and could be reversed for beginning of day flows. Next, Mid… Read more »

I’m having a very hard time understanding why this fantasy, this exercise in wishful thinking, is getting so much attention, or why anyone with much common sense would treat it as a serious idea.

Just look back at what Elon said when he first talked about the idea. Did he sound serious about it? And, just look at what he named it: “The Boring Company”! If he was serious about it, then why did he intentionally give it a ridiculous name?

Just because Elon paid somebody to make a computer animation video, and just because he paid someone to film a supposed “demo” for the concept inside a Hyperloop tunnel, doesn’t mean he’s serious. It just means he’s very rich and has a lot of money to throw away on what he knows perfectly well is just a fanciful idea.

If you think of it as a hobby, then perhaps it makes more sense. Rich men sometimes do waste a surprising amount of money on their hobbies.

It appears to have traction simply because Musk said it. This looks like a case where cult overrides logical thought. That’s not a good thing, really, but heartening to see people are calling out the flaws.

“If he was serious about it, then why did he intentionally give it a ridiculous name?”
I think the whole Tesla “SEXY” thing is silly. And what about all the goofy Easter Eggs? Or when they “released” their patents and said “All our patents are belong to you”? That’s just his sense of humor. I don’t think it means he’s not serious.

“Just because Elon paid somebody to make a computer animation video, and just because he paid someone to film a supposed “demo” for the concept inside a Hyperloop tunnel, doesn’t mean he’s serious.”
You know that actual company exists right? They are planning to make tunnels. They are even hiring if you are looking for a job.


Actually the FAQ on that link really puts this in perspective. This is about developing dedicated tunnelling capabilities to support forthcoming hyperloop projects. The car sled thing may be just a side show to gin up investment in the technology needed to support mass scale hyperloop tunnelling.

I see you found the FAQ. I had just snipped a bit of it and replied to you above.

Too bad the Boring Company is not a public company yet, so we can constantly accuse you of shorting the stock.

Then if cycling is the solution, why aren’t more cities becoming bike friendly? If city planners know so much and are experts, then why don’t they come up with solutions instead of bashing others’ without real world testing? The most effective solution is not to cram everyone into filthy diesel buses but to control populations. This planet is too overcrowded. Quality rather than quantity is the answer and if we don’t do anything about it, nature will respond in the harshest way.

Cities are becoming more bike-friendly. It’s just hard to do when it costs money to make good bike routes and it’ll be paid for by local taxes and not by the cyclists themselves.

Which of the Musk projects ever was for masses and making difference for everybody? It always was about hype, enormous waste, exclusivity for 1-percenters, and milking as much taxpayer money as possible for luxury goods.

Paypal & Model 3 come to mind.

Also SpaceX.

So says zzzzz, the serial anti-tesla troll.

No one has moved the needle more on electrification of transportation to make it sustainable then Elon Musk and Tesla.

And, zzzz is also serial shill for the ridiculously expensive (Because of the unchangeable physics of H2) idea of a mass H2 based transportation system that would require enormous subsidies because of its inefficiencies.

It is very obvious that these two aspects of zzzz’s constant whining and lame FUD on IEVs are one and the same.

Yes this car sled idea is just stupid. What he should do is to dig tunnels for the hyperloop instead. That would have many advantages such as protection from sabotage and minimal issues with thermal expansion. Of course you can’t cover it with solar panels when underground but they can be moved elsewhere.
Finally, to put a nail in the coffin of the airline industry, dig a tunnel under the Atlantic and make a hyperloop connection between NYC and Paris. (and then some more in other places)

Assuming no friction, a gravity train could travel from any 2 points on the globe (a chord) in 42 minutes (or less if you account for density changes). That’s even straight through the center of the Earth (assuming that is possible).

It’s becoming clear this is all about improving tunneling technology to support hyper loop projects. The commuter thing seem like a bit of a side show, perhaps to help bolster the case for hyper loop tunneling technology improvements.

It really can’t be argued that Musk does come up with some interesting ideas.

I think he views things as academic problems and then determines possible solutions to those problems.
Now if the alternatives are ruled out, then what you are left with is the basic solution.

As regards implementation, since you have determined it is a needed solution, implementation is merely a detail.

One that should be focused on, but not something to put a halt to working the solution.

In this particular case engineers will have plenty of things to keep them busy.

How about this idea: instead of full size cars, use fully autonomous 1-2 passenger vehicles (half the size of a smart car) and instead of elevators a steep ramp down and up from street to tunnel level. The cars could tilt to keep passengers level. Get rid of the sleds entirely, the cars just drive through the tunnel. This would increase the passenger density tremendously and still give point to point service, eliminating the hassle and waiting for traditional trains/buses.

I honesty think that the idea of digging tunnels under suburbs and cities would help to take traffic pressure off of roads.

The reason why is in the 1950’s and 1960’s a lot of cities had giant freeway systems planned but they were scrapped due to them knocking down to many neighborhoods. This left a lot of freeway systems unfinished and turned them into bottle neck traffic making machines.

If they could dig a system of highways underground they could add more capacity and add a lot of new missing links and new routes to deal with over population.

I think everyone here is missing the point. This solution isn’t for everyone, it’s for wealthier people who don’t want to use public transit. Nobody enjoys a subway. Cramming a large number of people into one vehicle might be cost effective, but Elon’s plan is time effective. Personally, I’d pay a fair bit of money for more time in my life – a luxury worth having. But is it a big waste of energy? Not at all. There are many ways to capture energy and reduce its loss in this idea. If you don’t understand how, leave this to the physicists and people like Elon. The bottom line.. There are a large portion of people who want to drive, and who very much dislike public transit. These people will still have cars even if you build a subway station on every block.

Urban planners are winning, if this is a war. Unlike hype in car tech, they just replace parking spaces with hip studio closets. No marketing necessary. The property sellers get a better cash-out.

Electric, gas, autonomous, manual. Cars face a hostile future, over the “last mile”. This becomes more convincing, when you live in a large progressive city.

He’s right that autonomous cars won’t reduce traffic. In fact, they will increase it due to driving empty from one passenger to the next.

We will also always have rush hour until culture shifts towards more staggered work schedules and working remotely – two things we could do today and have no relation to autonomous cars. This means most people will still just own their car, and autonomous cars will only really threaten the taxi industry.

Though, hopefully we will have fewer crash related traffic jams.

However, peak traffic is during rush hour. Autonomous cars _could_ very easily _decrease_ traffic through ride-sharing. With affordable autonomous systems, ride-sharing would become a very cheap option, will little loss of convenience.

Since autonomy would likely lead to large fleet-based systems, I wouldn’t expect a lot of cross-traffic, because the taxis would be assigned to nearby passengers where possible.

Yes or they could be very small single passenger cars that take 1/4 the space of a normal car. Not as dense as buses, but way more dense than cars.

I’m sure some may be willing to carpool. But I doubt it will be the norm by any stretch. Cars are a more intimate space to share with strangers. There are numerous demographics that simply won’t choose that option.

I get what the planer is talking about but how about large cities with low density like LA. Go ahean and try to design a good public transportation system…i dare you. My work comute is 25 minutes for 11 city miles which takes 1.5 hours by bus. And that’s why nobody takes the bus here!

I fail to see the relevance of the complaints of one city planner. He’s obviously trying to ride the coattails of Elon’s dramatic and sudden popularity by being a vocal, chaotic critic.

City planners who read this without a snarky jilt that Brent is expressing will catch details like “digging at many times the speed, automation, 10x reduction in cost” and say to themselves “hey, maybe we can hire them if it is that affordable.” There is a lot of genius in the technology and innovation of the tunnel boring itself here.

My commentary got out of hand so I blogged about it here:

Maybe you should read something about city planning and transportation systems before commenting and blogging about them.Those disciplines have been around for some time now. And they have already quite strongly disproven all those ideas that more roads and tunnels would ease traffic congestion.

This idea is not THAT bad, it costs WAY too much and does WAY too little, but interesting.
Nice 12 passenger Model X shuttles by the thousands would do much more to reduce traffic congestion.