By BETTINA WASSENER and ANDREA DENG August 19, 2010
A rendering of the "straddling bus," which requires neither elevated tracks nor extensive tunneling.
HONG KONG — What do you do if your roads are congested and polluted? Try designing a vehicle that takes up no road space. And make it partly solar powered.
A company in the southern Chinese town of Shenzhen has done just that. To address the country’s problems with traffic and air quality, Shenzhen Huashi Future Parking Equipment has developed a decidedly odd-looking, extra-wide and extra-tall vehicle that can carry up to 1,200 passengers.
Though it is called the “straddling bus,” Huashi’s invention resembles a train in many respects — but it requires neither elevated tracks nor extensive tunneling. Its passenger compartment spans the width of two traffic lanes and sits high above the road surface, on a pair of fencelike stilts that leave the road clear for ordinary cars to pass underneath. It runs along a fixed route. |
Huashi Future Parking’s outsize invention — six meters, or about 20 feet, wide — is to be powered by a combination of municipal electricity and solar power derived from panels mounted on the roofs of the vehicles and at bus stops.
A pilot project for the vehicle is in the works in Beijing, and several other Chinese cities have shown interest.
The company says the vehicle — which will travel at an average speed of 40 kilometers an hour, or about 25 m.p.h. — could reduce traffic jams by 25 to 30 percent on main routes.
The straddling bus could replace up to 40 conventional buses, potentially saving the 860 tons of fuel that 40 buses would consume annually, and preventing 2,640 tons of carbon emissions, said Youzhou Song, the vehicle’s designer.
“I had the idea when I was doing research on the road for the designs of innovative parking slots for bikes and cars,” Mr. Song, who founded the company with several partners in 2009, said by phone last week. “I saw the traffic jams and wondered if it’s possible to make buses high up in the air as well.”
The design highlights a range of issues that have come with China’s explosive economic growth.
The nation’s urban population has expanded rapidly in recent years. In a report last year, the consulting firm McKinsey estimated that an additional 350 million people — more than the population of the United States — would move to the cities by 2015. More than 220 cities will have more than one million people. By comparison, Europe has 35 such cities now.
All this has caused a vast need for urban infrastructure, with McKinsey estimating that 170 new mass transit systems could be built in China by 2025.
At the same time, rising affluence has caused the number of cars — and traffic jams — to soar.
China is the world’s largest polluter, and Beijing is eager to reduce carbon emissions. The authorities have been pushing solar power and fuel-efficient transportation.
Huashi’s invention appears to have received a preliminary seal of approval from Beijing. The capital’s Mentougou district is testing the technology and plans to start building nine kilometers of route at the end of this year. If the test is successful, about 116 miles would be put in place.
“Mr. Song’s design is in line with our concept of green transportation and our vision of the future. We hope to start the construction and operation as soon as possible,” said Wenbo Zhang, head of the science and technology commission of Mentougou district, though he added that the necessary approvals would take time and investment.