Elon Musk leads both Tesla and The Boring Company (TBC). At the automaker arm, Musk has vacillated about whether there's a need to do a vehicle like an electric bus or van or minivan. At the tunneling arm, the conveyance vehicle inside the tunnels has gone from private vehicles on fast-moving sleds, to Teslas driving at relaxed speeds, to an open-plan shuttle focused on pedestrian travel. A story in the California newspaper The Mercury News suggests a passenger electric van could be about to meet the underground thoroughfares, thanks to approval of a project in California's San Bernardino Valley. Transportation authorities in the inland area had been considering a number of proposals to expand already-built light-rail lines to run to the Ontario Airport, about 40 miles east of Los Angeles. The Boring Company submitted an unsolicited proposal that earned unanimous approval from the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors, shutting down a $3 million study of other rail projects to make airport connections.
The crux of the plan is to dig a tunnel called the Ontario Airport Loop that would be 2.8 miles long, 14 feet wide, and 35 feet underground between the airport and the suburb of Rancho Cucamonga. Instead of the modified Teslas mentioned in The Boring Company's original proposal, San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman told the paper TBC is "working with Tesla to develop electric vans that can seat up to 12 people and their luggage." The vans, on rubber tires, would run the tunnel at up to 127 miles per hour, making the 2.8-mile trip in around 90 seconds to two minutes. County transportation heads envision capacity one day rising to 1,200 riders per hour, more than 10 million per year. Annual passenger traffic at the Ontario International Airport passenger traffic was roughly 5.6 million flyers last year, rising about 10 percent per year from a low of nearly 4 million flyers in 2013.
Authorities took up the proposal enthusiastically because, in Hagman's words, “It gets us thinking in a new way. This is something that can be done relatively quickly and inexpensively." Famous last words in private and public planning, yes. However, the preliminary numbers for a light rail extension from the city of Pomona to the airport, about 8.5 miles apart, is projected to cost from $1 billion to $1.5 billion and take ten years. The Boring Company Plan is projected to cost up to $75 million including operational costs, and take no more than four years.
As someone who's lived in that area of California, we have questions about the plan. The first is how authorities figure on getting enough people to a rally point three miles away from the airport, without them driving there, to make a difference in the admittedly heinous traffic around the Ontario airport, which happens to be where two vital highways intersect.
But that's not our concern. What interests us is the prospect of a 12-passenger Tesla van driving on rubber tires. Tesla could save money on federal regulations and create a shuttle that will only ever live underground. Or Tesla could take the chance to create a platform that can be used for an above-ground van as well. There are around 500,000 commercial vans sold in the U.S. each year, and when GM recently announced its intentions in the EV commercial van space, the Detroit automaker called out Tesla specifically. Tesla has a long list of other projects to complete, but if the Ontario Airport Loop goes ahead as discussed, we won't be surprised to see a white van rising from the earth around Rancho Cucamonga playing ice cream truck music and offering free hugs.