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Future tech

It was all just hype: China’s ‘straddling bus’ dream reaches end of the line with test site to be dismantled

Hit by feasibility and financing questions, the Transit Elevated Bus will go from being hailed as the future of public transportation to a failed idea

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 10:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 9:01pm

China’s controversial “straddling bus” – the elevated vehicle that cruises over the tops of cars – has abruptly come to the end of the road.

Workers have begun dismantling the test site for the Transit Elevated Bus (TEB), a futuristic hollow-bellied bus-train hybrid which stands two metres above the road, and will demolish it by the end of the month, according to the state-run China News Service.

The widely-hyped vehicle in the city of Qinhuangdao in Hebei province went through trial runs on its 300-metre test track last year from August to October. But less than a year after its debut, the giant vehicle – which is now covered in dust – will be moved to a nearby parking lot for next steps, an unnamed local official was quoted as saying.

A worker at the site told China News Service they believe the contract between the developer and the local government will expire in July, and that a contract renewal has been rejected. The local government did not publicly comment.

Despite being hailed as the “future of public transportation” and a solution to air pollution, the TEB’s trial process was dogged by difficulties and controversies.

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Authorities told the state-run People’s Daily newspaper in August that they had not been aware of the road tests. Local residents complained last December that the straddling bus was a traffic obstacle.

The project’s feasibility was also challenged, as some local news outlets reported that its developer, an asset management company, may have misled investors who backed the enterprise.

In an editorial, the state-run Global Times tabloid slammed the project for being “stuck in a concept with no real breakthrough” and for not realistically taking traffic problems into account. The newspaper also was critical of the TEB’s funding source – peer-to-peer (P2P) investment platforms. China’s regulators have recently cracked down on these online services, viewing them as public-private partnerships.

Part of TEB’s funding was raised through the Huaying Kailai P2P platform, which is run by Huaying Land Group, according to Sixth Tone, the sister publication of state-run outlet Thepaper.cn.

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Sun Zhang, a transportation professor at Tongji University in Shanghai, had told the South China Morning Post that the straddling bus would encounter difficulty navigating turns, while motorists driving beneath it could face risks from limited road vision.

“It can only run on wide and straight roads,” he said. “In big cities where roads are winding and jammed [with traffic], such roads are in short supply.