Imagine that you’re driving along, minding your own business. Suddenly, you notice the sky darkening. Not the dark that comes from a few clouds rolling overhead, but the type of darkness you experience when entering a tunnel. Now, imagine that the tunnel has just entered you. Sounds like a strange phenomenon that would happen in Russia. The reality is much weirder. China just debuted the straddling bus.
In 2010, China began tinkering with the idea for a straddling bus. Then, in May, Chinese officials announced that tests for the straddling bus, officially dubbed TEB-1, would start in early August. The Transit Elevated Bus concept actually developed back in the 1960s. That project, designed for New York City and known as the Landliner, combined the straddling bus concept with the speed of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, although it never went into production. The idea behind the updated Chinese design is that straddling buses can be built on top of existing infrastructure. Rather than spending the time and money to dig beneath cities in order to construct subways, all straddling buses need are some tracks. There is also the lessening of pollution, with smog being one of China’s greatest problems.
Song Youzhou is the designer tackling the transit challenge. Yesterday, his company conducted its first trial run on the streets of Qinhuangdao, a city of over 3 million residents located in the northeastern Hebei province. The pictures of the contraption are very strange and it looks like a giant claw ready to pluck unsuspecting cars off the streets. The interior is spacious and measures 72 feet long by 25 feet wide. Large windows provide abundant natural light. Seating lines the walls and there are circular seating platforms in the middle of the ‘bus’. The TEB-1 can carry up to 300 passengers.
Underneath, cars have 7 feet of clearance. This height limits the straddling bus concept to roads without trucks. Furthermore, lights built into the bus’ undercarriage create the sense that drivers are passing through a tunnel. The strange looking bus-trolley maxes out at 37 mph. In total, the straddling bus is a little over 16 feet tall. Song Youzhou has contracts to build prototypes for four other cities. The urban areas that will next experience Transit Elevated Buses are Zhoukou, Shenyang, Nanyang, and Tianjin. What remains unclear is how these giant public transportation machines handle real traffic and pedestrians, without killing anyone or causing accidents.