Kline: San Jose’s Boring Transit Loop
The Boring Company’s Hawthorne test tunnel with an underground loop design. Photo courtesy The Boring Company.

It is just a day business trip to San Jose, but a good opportunity to check out the new Boring Transit Loop from the airport to downtown. I read it was built in under a year and for $100 million. Sounds like a lot of money, but peanuts for a transportation system.

As I exit the Southwest Gate area, I take the escalator down to the south end of Terminal B. Exiting the automatic doors, I immediately see what looks like a typical Tesla Charging Station. However this one is a bit different. Underneath a solar roof and enclosed by glass walls, there are two tunnel openings with ramps. One runs up from the south with a driveway curving around to the other matching tunnel going  down. There is a kiosk on the side of the driveway where I see several people standing in line.

Doesn’t look like anyone is supervising. I guess I am supposed to know what to do. I get in line. A driverless Model X Tesla appears from the up tunnel. The Falcon Wing doors and trunk automatically lift up.  A sharply-dressed business woman puts her suitcase in the trunk and jumps in the back seat. The doors close and the car is off down the ramp. She has clearly done this before. I feel a bit nervous. Like my first ride on a roller coaster.

Looking around the station, I expected a bit more. There are a few Teslas being charged and a boxy looking car with sliding doors. Must be for ADA purposes. But there are no fancy elevators, escalators or any complexity at all. Not much to maintain, or more importantly, to break down.

I’m next. The kiosk has two buttons: Diridon Station at Google Village or First Street-Downtown. I choose the second. I know the station is just a few blocks away from the Fairmont Hotel where my meeting is. The Model X’s doors are already open. I step in, the doors close down and there is a sudden beeping sound. Oh, yes, the seat belts.

And down the ramp I go. Not as deep as I imagined. Maybe 15  or 20 feet. It levels out and a sudden sense of acceleration as I’m gently pushed back into my seat. I look up at the iPad-like screen and the miles per hour has already hit 85. The feeling of acceleration stops. The tunnel’s walls are bright white and the car is riding on jet black glass-like pavement with no white lines.  There is a slight smell of disinfectant, clearly the air cleaning system is working. The effects of the 2020 pandemic are still around us.

The ride is smooth and quiet. I hear the hum of the electric motors and faint sound of the tires. Too quiet. I take a chance. “Hey Google, play some classical jazz.” The music starts. I wonder what kind of deal the two companies made and then I realized better. “Hey  Siri, stop the music.” The music stops. Clever engineers programmed the car to recognize the popular computer assistant’s names.

The screen in front also shows the other cars on the loop. The one ahead is slowing down slightly, but my car doesn’t seem to care. The car ahead takes the exit to the train station. I barely notice the up and down ramps as they fly by.

And then the car begins to slow. I guess the ride, I mean ‘commute,’ is over. It has only been two minutes. The car moves up the ramp, stops and the doors open. I’m on the ground floor of a large room with windows looking out at First Street. I remember reading that this station used to be the old Woolworth department store.  At one time, every city had a Woolworth store, perhaps someday every city might have a station like this.

Similar to the airport, there are just two tunnels and a curved driveway. Again, no escalator or elevators. There is an attendant at this station. He asks if I have luggage. I just shake my head as I head toward the clearly marked exit. I notice people entering the station using credit cards to open a gate. I see, you can travel from the airport for free, but going back you have to pay. I guess like a toll bridge.

Hurrying toward my meeting, I have a feeling I’ll be thinking about the ride all day. I wonder how the transit loop would work for longer distances? Can it really go 180 miles per hour as some articles state?  A commute from San Jose to San Francisco would be about 20 minutes. That would be something. A car honks loudly as I clearly just walked against a red light. Stop daydreaming, have to focus on this meeting today.

This is a fictional short story. The Boring Transit Loop System does not exist in San Jose — yet.

Norman Kline is a San Jose businessman, entrepreneur and former San Jose Planning Commissioner.

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