Chinese mobility solution to ‘straddle’ queuing traffic investigated by Eric Volkman. [Mob.Volkman.2016.06.17]

It’s like a scene from the early Steven Spielberg truck-chase movie, Duel – you’re driving along a motorway when a huge towering bus advances to loom just behind you. Apparently unaware of its speed, it rapidly gains on your car, soon accelerating to just behind it. And then, with a fresh burst of acceleration, it’s right on top of you

But if a visionary new public transport idea comes to fruition, that situation will be perfectly normal, not scary in the least, and hardly fatal. A company has designed and started building a ‘straddle bus’ whose body rides above the road, allowing cars to freely pass underneath.

Fittingly, that company – TEB Technology – is based in China, location of some of the worst traffic snarls on earth. The Beijing-based firm’s Transit Elevated Bus is an elegant solution that takes at least some of the strain off overcrowded roads.

The Transit Elevated Bus straddles the road (hence the ‘straddling’ description) on a pair of tracks either side of the street. The tracks are protected by guardrails to keep them free of cars and pedestrians. The craft consists of a series of cars that are just over two car lanes in width, providing enough room for a pair of vehicles to pass side-by-side below.

Much like an old-fashioned tram, the bus is powered by electricity. This also feeds the illuminated undercarriage of the vehicle’s cars, so the drivers of the automobiles underneath won’t suddenly experience a sudden blackout as they motor along.

TEB Technology isn’t shy to tout the infrastructural and economic advantages of its brainchild. “The biggest advantage is that the bus will save lots of road space,” chief engineer Song Youzhou said in an interview with New China TV. “It [performs] the same function as the subway but it costs only 16% of what the subway costs. Manufacturing and construction time[s] are also much shorter.”

Quoted in a New York Times story, Song said that the cost of each bus would run around $4.5M (£3.4M), roughly one-sixteenth that of a subway train.

The company claims this bus can potentially replace up to 40 standard buses. The benefits it could bring by clearing the road space currently occupied by said buses are obvious. Meanwhile the savings on fuel thanks to the all-electric operation could be enormous, and in the process help clean up the notoriously thick pollution fogging Chinese cities.

The Transit Elevated Bus is a monster, as it needs to be for a public transport vehicle in this most populated of the world’s nations. Each car stands 4.8 metres high, spans 7.8 metres in width, to cover those two traffic lanes, and is 22 metres long. The idea is to connect four cars together, which collectively would provide space for around 1,200 passengers. As for speed, the Transit Elevated Bus can hum along at up to 60kmh (37mph).

This model is an evolution of an earlier concept devised by Song, the 3D Fast Bus. This was similar in terms of concept, design, and capacity. The differences are that 3D Fast Bus anticipated using a mix of electricity and solar to power its operation and consisted of a single long car as opposed to the series of Transit Elevated Bus.

That version of the straddling bus was to be built, then tested as a pilot project in traffic-choked Beijing. The 3D Fast Bus’s design, however, met with criticism from transportation experts and the pilot project was cancelled. Following that, it was back to the drawing board.

Stretching back further, at the end of the 1960s American architect Craig Hodgetts dreamed up a similar but far wilder idea, the Landliner. This was essentially a more massive straddle bus, similarly elevated, with a set of turbine engines placed on “nearly friction-free” air cushion bearings that moved it along a dedicated pair of tracks. It was to travel at 60mph along the track, which would connect New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston.

Unlike the modern straddle bus designs – or any other known vehicle, come to think of it – the Landliner was to ride in constant motion, never stopping once. Passengers were to embark and disembark by using local buses; these would meet up with the Landliner, travelling at the same speed. A “great claw” would descend to lift the bus into the larger craft. The opposite process would move passengers from Landliner to their ultimate destination.

The renderings of the Landliner look like funky science-fiction from a bygone era. In contrast, the Transit Elevated Bus seems to be accelerating very close to reality. The bodywork of the first model was completed this past April in a factory located in the eastern Chinese city of Changzhou. And before long, it’ll actually be making journeys, albeit very abbreviated ones – Song claims that the cities of Nanjiang, Qinhuangdao, Shenyang, Tianjin, and Zhoukou have all signed agreements with TEB Technology to launch pilot projects. The first trial began in Qinhuangdao this summer, on an extremely limited 300 metre-long test track.

Consumer Telematics Show 2017

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