Designer Song Yuzhou shows his ambitious plan to build a "straddling bus" in 2010. AP/Andy Wong

The whole project may turn out to be one big disappointment—or worse, a full-on scam.

China’s futuristic straddling bus was an idea that sounded straight out of a science fiction novel. It seemed too good to be true. And, as it turns out, it may be.

Just days after its high-profile unveiling in the northeastern city of Qinghaungdao—quashing doubts that the project would ever get off the ground—the bus (or train, as some have argued) seems to have driven right into a ditch of dashed hopes.

Shanghaiist reports that the 72-foot-long straddling bus has been locked up, and all further testing postponed amid allegations by local media outlet Global Times that the project was illegally funded—and that it may have all been a big scam. Designer Song Yuzhou has refuted these claims, saying his company hasn’t done anything wrong.

It was always clear that the far-out design of the bus was going to invite questions about its feasibility: How can cars maneuver safely under the bus to change lanes or make a turn? With only 7 feet of clearance underneath, what happens when a 13-foot-tall truck needs to pass through? Both Wired and Beijing Daily have also pointed out issues with maintenance costs, re-charging requirements (it runs on electricity), and the weight of both the vehicle itself and the 1,400 passengers it can carry.

Essentially, that’s what the road test was supposed to be for: To investigate these concerns, and either scrap the project or introduce design revisions. But things didn’t get that far.

Yes, the Transit Explore Bus company tested the straddling bus—but on a 300-meter track (less than a thousand feet) that local media say did not simulate real road conditions. The company now calls the trial run a mere “internal test” to try out the vehicle’s brakes and such. And authorities in Qinghuangdao say that, at least for right now, the so-called Transit Elevated Bus is really just for “tourism.”

More serious concerns face the Transport Explore Bus company. The editorial in Global Times also alleges that the project is a scam, funded through what’s called peer-to-peer (P2P) financing, which the Chinese government has recently begun cracking down on as a Ponzi scheme. In fact, when journalists from Xinhua News Agency—the state outlet that first reported the attention-grabbing unveiling—went to visit a proposed factory for building the bus, all they found was a giant hole.

Oh, failed straddling bus. The big idea always had its problems, but it was exciting to see it go from the drawing board to the road. We might only ever see it in action as a tiny model. Or in these in retro drawings from the 1940s and 1960s:

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Who’s Really Buying Property in San Francisco?

    A lot of software developers, according to an unprecedented new analysis.

  2. a rendering of the moon village with a view of Earth
    Design

    Designing the First Full-Time Human Habitat on the Moon

    SOM, in partnership with the ESA and MIT, wants to accommodate research and maybe even tourism on the moon.

  3. Transportation

    Will Ottawa Ever Get Its Light Rail?

    Sinkholes, winter-weary trains, and political upheaval have held the Confederation Line light-rail transit back from a seriously overdue opening.

  4. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  5. Maria Romano stands behind one of her three children, Jennifer, 10, as she gets something to eat in their Harlem apartment in New York Thursday, June 3, 2005
    Equity

    Why HUD Wants to Restrict Assistance for Immigrants

    A proposal by Ben Carson’s agency would eject immigrant families from public housing to make way for the "most vulnerable." Housing advocates aren't buying it.