Linda Poon is a staff writer at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
For years, it existed only on paper and tiny models, but on Tuesday, the bus went for its first test drive.
They actually did it.
China has built the much-anticipated straddling bus—not the tiny model engineers showed off in May, but the real thing. According to the China’s official news agency Xinhua, it was taken for its first test drive on Tuesday in the northeastern city of Qinhuangdao, in the Hebei province.
If you recall, the straddling bus would run above street level, carrying as many as 1,400 passengers while cars travel beneath it. Formally called TEB-1, for Transit Elevated Bus, it was touted as the future of China’s public transit, capable of not only easing traffic congestion, but also cutting annual fuel consumption by 800 tons and carbon emissions by 2,500 tons.
But when Chinese engineer Song Youzhou introduced the concept—first in 2010, then again in May at Beijing’s 19th International High-Tech Expo—the idea seemed so far off in the future. Enthusiasts and skeptics alike wondered if it would ever come into fruition, and many were doubtful. (It didn’t help that the first bid to build the bus by Shenzhen Huashi Future Parking Equipment turned out to be empty promises.)
This time, though, Song and the Beijing-based company Transit Explore Bus have finally brought the futuristic idea to life. Song told Xinhua at the expo in May that the production of a prototype was already underway, and in July, the company finally unveiled the finished product. The bus (fine, train) spans 72 feet long and nearly 26 feet wide, and can hold up to 300 people. It’s roughly 16 feet tall and offers about 7 feet underneath for cars to pass through. The interior features 18 seats along the walls, two round ones in the center, and plenty of space to stand. On the outside, traffic lights sit on all for corners of the bus.
Meanwhile in Qinghuangdao, city officials have laid out special tracks for the series of test drives. Passengers board from elevated platforms; a less exciting (but probably safer) idea than what was dreamt up in old concept videos.
The tests will help engineers and officials understand the feasibility of such a far-out idea, and whether the bus will actually serve its purpose. It’ll also either quash or confirm the safety concerns of skeptics, including the possibility of collisions when cars attempt to change lanes or when a 13-foot truck comes barreling through.
But either way, China was successful in at least one thing: turning what was thought to be mere science fiction into a tangible reality.