Elon Musk's Las Vegas Loop could solely carry a fraction of the promised passengers


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In pandemic-free yearsAmerica's largest trade show, CES, attracts more than 170,000 visitors and brings traffic to the streets day and night. To absorb at least some of the congestion, the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) planned a people mover for an expanded campus last year. The LVCC wanted a transit that could move up to 4,400 participants an hour between exhibition halls and parking lots.

It was a traditional light rail system that could carry hundreds of passengers per train, but chose a subway system from Elon Musk's The Boring Company (TBC) – mainly because Musk's offer was tens of millions of dollars cheaper. The LVCC loop would transport participants through two 1.3 km underground tunnels in Tesla vehicles, four or five at a time.

However, planning files verified by TechCrunch appear to show that the loop system cannot move nearly as many people as LVCC would like, and that TBC has agreed to do so.

The fire protection regulations set the occupant capacity in the loading and unloading zones of one of the three stations on the loop to only 800 passengers per hour. If the other stations have similar limitations, the system may only be able to transport 1,200 people per hour – about a quarter of the promised capacity.

If TBC misses its performance target by such a margin, Musk will receive no more than $ 13 million of its construction budget – and it will incur an additional million in penalties once the system is operational.

Neither TBC nor LVCVA responded to multiple requests for comment.

Fire safety regulations limit the loading / unloading zone near the cars to 800 people per hour. Photo credit: TBC / Clark County

The LVCC always recognized that it was gambling on the loop. Although Musk built a short demonstration tunnel near Los Angeles, it would be the first public system with real customer and service requirements. An analysis by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman in May 2019 found that TBC's unproven system poses a high risk to LVCC's parent company, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor's Authority (LVCVA).

When the LCVCA wrote its contract with The Boring Company, It did its best to motivate Musk to keep his promises. The contract would be for a fixed price and TBC would have to meet certain milestones in order to receive all payments. When the bare tunnels are completed, which can happen any day, TBC will have earned just over 30% of the total. The next big milestone is the completion of the entire work system, which would result in a payout of over $ 10 million.

This should be done by October 1st so the system would be ready for the next CES show in January. Even though CES 2021 has now gone virtual and Musk has less time pressure to deliver, he probably still wants to get paid.

In a tweet this week, Elon Musk wrote that the system would be open in "maybe a month or so". The stations have yet to be completed. "

After another milestone for completing a test period and a safety report, the last three milestones of the system relate to how many passengers it can carry. If the loop can demonstrate moving 2,200 passengers per hour, TBC will receive $ 4.4 million, then the same payment again for 3,300 and 4,400 passengers per hour. Together, these capacity payments make up 30% of the fixed price contract.

Even if TBC hit these numbers during the test, LVCVA was concerned that it might not be able to wait for them once the system was operational, so added another requirement: “(TBC) acknowledges that flat-rate damages for (TBCs) Failures apply to providing system capacity for trade fair events with full equipment. "

LVCVA has to pay USD 300,000 in damages for any large exhibition where TBC does not carry an average capacity of 3,960 passengers per hour for 13 hours. If TBC continues to fall short, it will keep paying, up to a maximum of $ 4.5 million.

What is preventing TBC from moving as many people as it and the LVCC want? There are national fire regulations for underground transportation systems that set alarms, sprinklers, emergency exits and a maximum occupant load to prevent overcrowding in the event of a fire.

The blueprints submitted by The Boring Company include a fire code analysis for one of the loop's above-ground stations:

Image source: The Boring Society / Clark County NV

The above screenshot from the plans shows the area where passengers get on and off the Tesla Cars have a maximum load of 100 people every 7.5 minutes, which corresponds to 800 passengers per hour. Even if the other stations had higher limit values, this would limit the hourly capacity of the system to around 1,200 people.

"That sounds right," says Glenn Corbett, professor of security, fire and emergency management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. "But if that's the bottleneck, the security question is what is it controlling (800 an hour)? Is it just pure honesty and people following the rules, or is there some mechanical thing that keeps them from doing it? "

There are no turnstiles or entry restriction obstacles in the plans.

Even without the security constraints, the loop may struggle to meet its capacity goals. Each of the 10 bays at the loop stations has to carry hundreds of passengers per hour, which equates to maybe 100 or more arrivals and departures, depending on how many people each car carries. This leaves little time to load and unload people and luggage, let alone undertake the 1.3 km trip and occasionally recharge.

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Though TBCs Loop website says the system will use autonomous vehicles, a TBC manager told a planning committee last year that the cars would have human drivers "for added safety." TBC had proposed developing a larger capacity autonomous shuttle for the loop that could carry up to 16 people. The latest plans all show traditional sedans, however, and another Musk tweet this week admitted, “We've made this a lot simpler. Right now it's basically just Tesla's in tunnels. "

The latest documents submitted by TBC also show changes to the original design of the loop.

Gone are distinctive curved roofs, and both above-ground stations now have flat photovoltaic canopies to charge the Tesla vehicles. These end stations each have a single charging station and a “showpiece sculpture” made from a concrete segment similar to the one used in the following tunnels.

The underground central station has a large, open platform and also houses the electrical, fire protection and IT equipment. Each station has parking spaces for 10 Tesla vehicles for loading and unloading passengers.

Before the first loop is operational, TBC is planning two more loop tunnels in the vicinity that will connect the LVCC to the Wynn Encore and Resorts World casinos.

The tunnel to the Encore is long enough that safety regulations require an emergency exit halfway. Plans suggest an emergency exit shaft and small hatch, but it's unclear whether passengers escaping a fire or breakdown will have to climb stairs or even a ladder.

Loop expansion output. Image source: The Boring Society / Clark County NV

TBC suggested an emergency ladder for the proposed loop between Baltimore and Washington DC last year, a system that Corbett calls "the definition of insanity, “As passengers with reduced mobility were not included. The project is now In pause.

TBC's stated goal is to expand the LVCC loop from a local people mover to a Vegas-wide transit system that serves the Strip, the airport, and ultimately Los Angeles. If the company is struggling to source capacity – and revenue – from its small convention center system, the future of those ambitions may be in doubt.