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China’s straddling bus, on a test run, floats above streets

A model of a innovative street-straddling bus called Transit Elevated Bus after a test run in Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, China.
A model of a innovative street-straddling bus called Transit Elevated Bus after a test run in Qinhuangdao, Hebei Province, China. REUTERS/stringer

BEIJING — If you’re driving in a Chinese city in the none-too-distant future and your car is engulfed in a smooth, humming metallic belly, don’t panic. It may feel like an alien abduction, but probably it’s only a colossal, street-straddling bus.

The idea of a bus so large, high, and long that it could virtually levitate above congested streets seemed surreal when presented at an expo in Beijing in May. But it came a step closer to reality this week, when a prototype went for an experimental spin in Qinhuangdao, a seaside city in northern China.

The makers of the vehicle, known as the Transit Elevated Bus, declared the ride down a few hundred yards of street on Tuesday a success, but the controlled conditions hardly reflected the gnarled unpredictability of Chinese traffic. Television news showed the bus, resembling a goliath bug, edging forward down tracks while two cars nestled side by side underneath.

“I wanted to officially show people that this is entirely possible and that the bus can be up and running,” Song Youzhou, the designer of the straddling bus, said in a telephone interview from Qinhuangdao.

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To supporters, floating buses offer a solution to the traffic that chokes China’s cities. The prototype is 72 feet long and 26 feet wide. Most important, it is 16 feet high, creating room for a tunnel more than 6 feet high between the wheels for cars. Commuters will be able to float above two lanes of traffic, whisked on rails from one specially built elevated stop to another.

But skeptics say the bus is a magnificent example of a solution to a problem that is likely to create even more problems.

After the test run Tuesday, China’s Internet filled with questions. How would the bus negotiate turns? What about the many drivers who jump in and out of lanes? And what about vehicles like trucks that are too large to fit under the bus?

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Beijing Daily noted in June that the giant buses would not be able to use the bridges and overpasses in the capital city.