Straddling Buses Could Change Transportation in China

Talk about next generation transportation. If all goes according to plan, China’s streets could soon be populated by vehicles that resemble a cross between a light rail system and a giant bus, and are capable of passing over moving cars to avoid traffic jams. Meet the “straddling bus,” an attempt to combine the best features of multiple parts of the public transit world.

According to Shenzhen Hashi Future Parking Equipment Company, which came up with the idea, a straddling bus would carry twelve to fourteen hundred passengers at a time, in an upper level that sits high above the road. Meanwhile cars less than two meters tall could pass under the bus as easily as they might drive through any tunnel. Because it could run on existing roads, a straddling bus system would be much cheaper and faster to build than a subway or light rail, promising to provide relatively quick relief to Chinese streets suffering from traffic. Shenzhen Hashi Future Parking Equipment Company says it could build forty kilometers of bus line within one year, at one-tenth the cost of an equivalent length of subway line.

If it works, the straddling bus would reduce carbon emissions and other pollutants by reducing traffic jams and providing a new alternative transportation option in China. Perhaps even better the buses would be all-electric, and produce at least some of their own energy from solar power. In a video explaining the new technology, the bus’ would-be makers claim one of their vehicles could each year save 860 tons of fuel and 2,640 tons of carbon emissions. Unfortunately they don’t say exactly how long of a bus line would be needed to produce those savings, but you get the picture. If they caught on, straddling buses could take a substantial chunk out of China’s transportation-sector carbon emissions.

Even better, the new technology could change how people get around in cities all over the world, if it spreads beyond the borders of China. The implications should be exciting for countries like the United States, where alternative transit is becoming increasingly popular, but light rail and subway systems take a long time and a lot of money to build. Straddling buses could also be an attractive option for developing countries with an interest in reducing traffic pollution but few funds for more expensive alternative transportation infrastructure.

Time will tell if the straddling bus idea spreads far enough to make an impact on global carbon emissions. Yet unlike some “concept car” ideas that look great on a web site but stand little chance of hitting the streets in large numbers, the straddling bus may make its global debut in the relatively near future. Construction on a 186-kilometer straddling bus line is scheduled to begin by the end of this year in the Mentougou District of Beijing.

China’s traffic-clogged streets would seem to be the perfect place to test out the new technology. Unlike the United States, the Chinese government has displayed a strong commitment to investing in technologies like green transportation, and to fostering the growth of new industries. In the next several years straddling buses could become a common site in China’s larger cities—the latest example of this growing economy’s willingness to embrace green technology and alternative transportation.

Photo credit: China Hush

Nick Engelfried is a freelance writer on climate and energy issues, and works with campuses and communities in the Pacific Northwest to reduce the causes of climate change.