Although it sounds like a scene from Ocean’s 14—100 Tesla S sedans cruising the Strip, eventually converging on Zappos founder Tony Hsieh’s downtown penthouse—Project 100 is the latest plank in Hsieh’s $350 million Downtown Project, his privately-funded plan to simultaneously revitalize downtown Las Vegas and evolve his company. Project 100 is the code name for an ambitious new car-, bike-, and bus-sharing service with the fleet of Teslas (ordered late last month for $62,400 apiece and up) at its core.
Members can expect to pay $400 per month (less than it costs to lease a Tesla S, even using Tesla CEO’s Elon Musk’s fuzzy accounting) for a metropolitan transit system comprised of the aforementioned Tesla sedans, equipped with professional drivers (a la Uber), 100 short-range electric vehicles you drive yourself (like Zipcar), 100 bikes (reminiscent of London’s and New York’s bike-sharing systems), and shuttle buses with 100 stops across the metropolitan Vegas area. A smart phone app will calculate the proximity and availability of each depending on factors like membership level and supply-and-demand. The range of options might look like this:
- Be picked up by a driver in a Tesla in 3 minutes.
- Drive yourself in a low range electric vehicle that’s 0.2 miles away.
- Grab a bike that’s 0.1 miles away.
- Hop on the party bus that will be near you in 4 minutes.
"We’re asking members to get rid of their cars," according to Project 100’s FAQ, and to replace it with an app.
The project fills a niche in Hsieh’s larger vision for Vegas, which is based on what he calls "the three Cs": community, collisions and co-learning. Building a downtown community in Zappos’ image requires airlifting entrepreneurs lured by Hsieh’s Vegas Tech Fund, budgeting $50 million for education—including a thousand Teach For America staff and alumni—and moving 1,200 Zappos employees from their suburban campus into the former City Hall this fall.
"Collisions" refers to their serendipitous meetings in the streets, and in the Downtown Project’s own coworking chain, Work In Progress, which features the Las Vegas branch of the tech incubator General Assembly (another Vegas Tech Fund investment). And that, in turn, leads to the sharing of good ideas (i.e. co-learning). Living in downtown, Hsieh likes to say, "will make you smarter."
Project 100 is designed to make those downtown collisions more accessible to non-residents:
We see an opportunity to hack density and use tools like Project 100 to equalize the time it takes someone who lives two miles away to get to and from a certain bar or restaurant within the time it takes someone who lives five blocks away. This is how we’ll do it and we think it’s a model that will scale in Las Vegas and in other cities.
Yes, it’s built to scale. The Downtown Project eschewed bringing Uber or Zipcar to town in favor of building its own technology with the help of Vegas startup Local Motion. Although pricing has yet to be announced, the project’s Zach Ware (also a co-founder of Work In Progress and Hsieh’s right-hand man) says the system will be run at a profit, underscoring the fact that the Downtown Project is neither a public agency nor a public-private partnership, but a private entity that both understands the benefits and the business opportunities of good urbanism. It might be the first, but it won’t be the last—Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert is planning a similarly radical transformation of downtown Detroit—and soon it might be coming to the city near you.