Elon Musk is seen by many as a pioneer in the transportation space—pushing the envelope with big ideas like the Hyperloop, electric cars and a private space agency. One of his more recent projects to gain traction in the transit space is The Boring Company, which sees Musk take his transportation aspirations underground. What implications would a new form of urban transportation have for the taxi industry? Should fleet managers be worried?
Pipe Dreams: What Is The Boring Company?
Inspired by his frustration with traffic, Musk founded The Boring Company in 2016 to explore how the costs of underground tunnelling could be reduced, paving the way for a large-scale subterranean transportation system. The Boring Company’s vision is a system of tunnels that will transport people or vehicles at speeds of 125 – 150 mph using an electrified cart, or “skate”. If all of this sounds far-fetched, you may be surprised to learn that The Boring Company actually has construction agreements in place. Despite concerns about earthquake safety and damage to private property, some cities appear to be on board with Musk’s vision. For example, the City of Chicago recently tapped The Boring Company to construct a tunnel system linking downtown Chicago to O’Hare International Airport.
How Do Taxis Fit in a Subterranean Future?
While subterranean tunnels won’t be a mainstream reality in the next year or two, taxi companies should take note of developments. In Los Angeles, for example, The Boring Company has already completed a test tunnel, and is preparing to offer free rides to the public. On the other hand, there are significant concerns about whether Musk’s vision of subterranean transport is viable on a larger scale. Two scenarios could play out for taxi companies when it comes to The Boring Company, and the proactive fleet manager should be prepared to address them.
Scenario One: The Boring Company Gets Buried
Despite how seemingly close the company is to bringing its vision to reality, concerns remain. The Boring Company has not yet proven that it could make tunnelling so cost-effective that hundreds of tunnels could be built cheaply and quickly. As with Musk’s other projects, it is incredibly ambitious, so failure remains a real possibility.
Let’s imagine, though, that The Boring Company achieves all of its goals. With a brand new underground transportation system up and running in the next five to ten years, what should taxi companies do to remain relevant?
Passengers: The Boring Company aims to transport passengers in futuristic-looking carriages that would run along the same tunnels as its vehicle-carrying skates (more on those later). As the company’s carriages are projected to carry up to 16 passengers and their luggage, this model echoes existing rapid transit systems: a shared service for multiple customers. Taxi companies could continue to provide a more private, bespoke option for travellers by collecting passengers from hubs such as airports and train stations and transporting them to their final destination. Taxis would still have a niche, providing a service to travelers who don’t have the time or inclination to make use of public transport. But what about the more audacious proposal of a system that uses sleds to transport actual vehicles?
Personal vehicles: The Boring Company is putting forth a concept that will see personal vehicles transported through tunnels on moving platforms—the aforementioned skates. With this system, carts would propel vehicles autonomously through tunnels between access points on the surface. To remain competitive, taxi companies would need to integrate with the skate system, taking into account any additional fees needed to utilize the system. Companies that don’t offer their customers the fastest, most exciting options for getting from one point to another risk being left out in the cold. Considering Musk’s penchant for diversification, it won’t be a surprise if he adds his own taxi service to the equation, either. His ideal system would probably see an autonomous Tesla pick you up from your home and get you to your destination via one of his tunnels.
Aiming at Agility
It’s important to remember that, even if The Boring Company succeeds, a relatively small number of taxi routes would be impacted, at least in the foreseeable future. True, tunnels that connect a downtown area with an airport could be impacted, but taxis already face significant competition here. Most taxi trips, however, are too short to be be affected by high-speed tunnels. The company’s solution would only really make sense if people are taking longer trips, and it’s sure to be expensive. How extensive and widespread these networks could be in cities with existing underground systems remains an open question as well. So, while The Boring Company might force companies to rethink some of their strategies, it’s not a major existential threat.
That said, taxi companies are not completely off the hook. Many people see taxis as an aging, antiquated form of transportation that’s slow to innovate. The time is now to break the mold and find ways to ensure taxis are not left in the dust of a technology-driven transportation future. Whether it means investigating the benefits and challenges of autonomous vehicles and how they could integrate into a fleet, or simply designing a customized and efficient app, taxi companies are well placed to be a part of the transportation landscape in the future.
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