If you’re driving in a Chinese city in the none-too-distant future and your car is engulfed in a smooth, humming metallic belly, don’t panic. It may feel like an alien abduction, but probably it’s only a colossal, street-straddling bus.
The idea of a bus so large, high and long that it could virtually levitate above congested streets seemed surreal when presented at an expo in Beijing in May. But it came a step closer to reality this week, when a prototype went for an experimental spin in Qinhuangdao, a seaside city in northern China.
The makers of the vehicle, known as the Transit Elevated Bus, declared the ride down a few hundred yards of street on Tuesday a success, but the controlled conditions hardly reflected the gnarled unpredictability of Chinese traffic. Television news showed the bus, resembling a goliath bug, edging forward down tracks while two cars nestled side by side underneath.
“I wanted to officially show people that this is entirely possible and that the bus can be up and running,” Song Youzhou, the designer of the straddling bus, said in a telephone interview from Qinhuangdao.
“We were inspecting and testing the vehicle for a range of functions, like ignition, braking and other processes, to see if they all work together and there are no problems,” Mr. Song said. But a full trial run will not take place until the middle of next year in a city in central China, he said.
To supporters, floating buses offer a solution to the traffic that chokes China’s cities. The prototype is 72 feet long and 26 feet wide. Most important, it is 16 feet high, creating room for a tunnel more than 6 feet high between the wheels for cars. Commuters will be able to float above two lanes of traffic, whisked on rails from one specially built elevated stop to another.
“The invention of the Transit Elevated Bus is considered as a revolution for the environment-friendly public transportation,” the maker of the bus, TEB Technology, says on its website.
“No more traffic jams,” it says with some optimism.
But skeptics say the bus is a magnificent example of a solution to a problem that is likely to create even more problems.
After the test run on Tuesday, China’s internet filled with questions. How would the bus negotiate turns? What about the many drivers who jump in and out of lanes? And what about vehicles like trucks that are too large to fit under the bus?
“It might be a fantasy to deploy the ‘elevated bus’ on existing urban road infrastructure,” Beijing Daily said about the idea in June. “It’s very impractical.”
It noted that the giant buses would not be able to use the bridges and overpasses in the capital city.
“Even if the ‘elevated bus’ is deployed on ordinary urban roadways, it will need special groundwork, otherwise the roads will be crushed to smithereens before long,” the paper said.
Mr. Song said that a full bus would have four connected carriages and be able to carry 1,200 passengers, which may make getting on and off an adventure in itself. An animated video from the bus maker shows passengers using podlike elevators that also have a sci-fi feel.
Turning at broad intersections would not pose a problem, Mr. Song added. The cars underneath the bus would come to a stop and wait while the bus curved the corner.
“Underneath the bus, traffic lights will be coordinated with the traffic lights on the road so that cars are notified,” he said.
Even drivers hardened to the mayhem on China’s roads might be unsettled by the idea of sitting under a bus while red and green lights flash.
“This may create some psychological pressure for motorists,” Zhang Jianwu, a professor at the Institute of Automotive Engineering at Shanghai Jiaotong University, told China Youth Daily last month.
But Mr. Song had something to reassure people worried about the newfangled technology.
“At the moment, we can’t use driverless technology on the bus,” he said. “We have to have humans at the wheel.”
Source: New York Times