These Futuristic Elevated Buses Can’t Arrive Soon Enough

In the future, buses will zoom right over cars.

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May 27 2016, 10:00am

GIF: YouTube

Have you ever been stuck on a bus in the middle of traffic, imagining how great it'd feel to blow up the cars in front of you with a rocket launcher? Me neither.

Regardless, public transportation can suck—especially when you're commuting in a city that's notorious for congestion. But what if in the future, mass transit such as buses and trams could bypass traffic altogether?

That's exactly what engineers presenting at the 19th China Beijing International High-Tech Expo this year had in mind when they debuted their concept for elevated buses.

According to early simulations, these "straddling buses" would allow drivers to zoom right underneath them, which would not only increase overall road speeds, but also allegedly reduce air pollution by reducing congestion—and perhaps inspire more people to take the bus. The team of engineers at Transit Explore Bus responsible for this ingenious idea claims that land-air buses will cost just 16 percent of what it costs to build subway systems.

When it comes to size, these things are enormous. According to the company's promotional video, up to 1,400 passengers would occupy four compartments that stretch across two entire traffic lanes—that's comparable to about six New York City subway cars at full capacity. The buses' stilts extend six feet off of custom-built rails, which the company says is enough room for cars to easily pass under. However, it doesn't seem as if they've accounted for vehicles that aren't sedans, and I wonder how they're planning to accommodate large trucks and other buses.

A straddling bus' top speed would fall just under 40 miles per hour. Currently, high speed rails in China are pretty damn speedy, so these buses would be most efficient for shorter trips only. Shangai's magnetic levitation train maxes out at 270 miles per hour, and the super-fast CRH380A train can reach speeds of up to 302 miles per hour.

In a 2014, the Wall Street Journal published a report on China's traffic woes that revealed average speeds on roads in Beijing were a lethargic 7.5 miles per hour. In Shanghai—China's largest city—things weren't much better, with average speeds coming in at 10.1 miles per hour.

GIF: YouTube

But aside from alleviating pile-ups, the most promising benefit of straddling buses is their potential to reduce China's fossil fuel dependency. The US Energy Information Administration estimated that China consumed nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined in 2013. And Beijing's toxic smog problem is no doubt a partial result of emissions from the 5.5 million cars on its roads. China is the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter by a long shot, and while coal in particular is responsible for 73 percent of the country's fossil fuel consumption, every last sustainability solution helps.

According to Transit Explore Bus, straddling buses would save more than 800 tons of fuel annually, and prevent 2,480 tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.

The company claims that their product has already been approved for use in the city of Chenzhou to test the effectiveness of their design. Early prototypes should hit the road in fall of this year.