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.
Briefly hyped as the future of transit, it now sits indefinitely in an open shed.
Well, what once looked like a treatment for China’s serious cases of pollution and traffic “is currently causing them,” as Shanghaiist puts it. A local reporter checked up on the 72-foot-long behemoth earlier this month and found it to be right where engineers left it back in August: on the 300-meter test track of a Hebei city road, blocking lanes and gathering a thick layer of dust in an open shed.
And it looks like it won’t be moving any time soon. Shanghaiist reports that the lease for the track was supposed to expire in August, but has since been renewed for another year. Song Youzhou, the designer, insisted his staff still tests the line every week and that his company—which earlier had been accused of operating a Ponzi scheme—is searching for new investors. (He blames the accumulated dust on China’s smog.) But workers still guarding the bus (or more accurately, the train) told local news that they haven’t heard a peep from the company.
Scam or not, this project was likely doomed from its conception, according to critics. It failed to address problems like feasibility (maintenance cost would be tremendous) and safety (trucks, for example, wouldn’t be able to drive underneath it)—not to mention the fundamentally car-centric approach that rankled many urbanists. The bus made its attempt to straddle between futurism and reality, which in itself warrants the initial excitement, but perhaps it’s time for it to make its final stop in the realm of science fiction.