It sounds like an approach you might take in Grand Theft Auto, but China may soon be dealing with its notorious traffic problems simply by driving right over the top of them. A Beijing company is planning to move ahead with a track-based public transport system that allows vehicles to pass underneath, an idea aimed at easing air pollution and congestion.
Beijing-based company Transit Explore Bus came up with the concept for its Elevated Transit Bus and demonstrated a small functioning model at the China Beijing International High-Tech Expo (CHITEC) this week.
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Wide enough to cover two traffic lanes, the raised bus would travel along tracks on either side of the road so that cars up to 2 meters (6.6 ft) tall can pass underneath. Ramps would fold outwards to give users access to the street when the bus reaches a stop (though in the company's animation these do look rather steep and treacherous).
The bus can travel at speeds of up to 60 km/h (37.2 mph) and is equipped to carry up to 1,400 passengers. According to New China TV, the system could replace up to 40 conventional buses, a move it says would save 800 tons of fuel and 2,480 tons of carbon emissions each year.
Chief engineer Song Youzhou told reporters at CHITEC that the system will save lots of road space and perform the same role as a subway, albeit at 16 percent of the cost. It would also be much quicker to manufacture and construct.
This all sounds like a sound enough idea, but this straddling bus concept has toyed with us before. Back in 2010, Song presented this futuristic transport solution, which had been designed with Shenzhen Huashi Future Parking Equipment Co. Ltd. The company had planned to build a test track in the same year, though this obviously never went ahead.
Six years have passed and the problem isn't getting any smaller. Air pollution continues to be a problem, and so too does the Chinese hankering for automobiles. In 2015, the sales of passenger cars passed 20 million and grew 7.3 percent on year on year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.
So in his second bite of the cherry, Song will be working against not just the technical hurdles inherent in such an ambitious project, but a culture that is trending towards personal car ownership.
Nonetheless, he says some Chinese cities have already shown interest in the Elevated Transit Bus and that a full-scale version is being built in Changzou, with testing to commence in July or August.
The following report is from New China TV: