Modern transport innovation isn’t just about convenience; it’s about the environment. Car manufacturers and transport authorities have a duty to cut carbon emissions. With record-high pollution levels, researchers in China are looking for solutions that can cut emissions, save money, and help people. It’s a tall order but designer Youzhou Song thinks he can make a small improvement with a bus that straddles streets and lets car drive underneath.
We’re fans of modernising infrastructure to cut emissions, to embrace new technologies, or even just to stop cyclists from dying. But this bus? It’s no surprise that the original trial run in late 2010 wasn’t given permission to go ahead. Now it seems the idea is being taken seriously and the bus is getting a lot of praise but would it even work?
First let’s talk about the advantages. One single bus would replace 40 traditional buses by carrying 1,400 people. Being electric, it would save 860 tons of fuel every year and would avoid pumping out 2,640 tons of carbon emissions during that tie. It sounds great in theory and we can see why Time Magazine voted it in the top 50 inventions of 2010.
We have questions. It will stand tall enough so cars under 2 m tall can drive underneath. So what happens to vans, trucks, ambulances etc? Building an extra road wherever the bus goes so people can always go around? Or separate roads for the bus and larger vehicles? That’s a lot of infrastructure that has to change. It would be easy if the bus simply runs in a small area but then what’s the point? Here it is in action:
It must be weird to have that suddenly appear over you while driving (unless it always drives in the opposite direction as the cars). It’s even more difficult not to cringe as the bus passes over stationary cars in the demonstration. Surely it couldn’t be allowed on roads where cars park?
What happens if one car is badly parked? Worst-case scenario is a single crash involving thousands of people. The car would probably come off worse but would still cause the bus damage. Presumably there would be sensors to stop it from colliding with cars, bins, people at the side of the road but then what? It’s delayed until the owner moves their car? 1.400 people delayed at once?
When I was a kid, I swung open the passenger door of the family car without looking around and some other kids went flying through my door window. This bus will supposedly travel at about 40 mph. Can you imagine anyone forgetting to look and hopping out of their car only to be smashed by a futuristic bus?
All these problems can only be avoided if the bus is restricted to a route where cars can’t park, where tall vehicles can’t drive, and where the road is contained so other obstacles can’t enter. All of this means it will have to work alongside ordinary roads, which kind of defeats the point if you need a new road especially for a bus. Why elevate at all? To split up the traffic further and help ease congestion could be one answer but the Chinese government isn’t wanting more space for more cars on the road; they want less people to driving in the first place. That’s why the bus is interesting.
So will it work? Yeah, it’s technically possible. According to Song, a full-size version is already under construction in Changzhou and several Chinese cities are interested so we should see a trial soon. They couldn’t get a trial improved in 2010 because it didn’t seem feasible, which is fair. Song’s team will have to show it in action and make a stronger case this time round.
Building the bus won’t be hard. Convincing the cities to radically transform their infrastructure will be.