China finally field tested its much hyped “Straddling” bus. The inaugural test was carried out in the city of Qinhaungdao in Hebei province. The bus will be running on specialized tracks and will provide 2 meter clearance for traffic to pass underneath its belly. The current test route is only 300 meters long but through this, the system will be able to iron out any unforeseen factors.
This transport system has been termed as TEB (Transit Elevated Bus). If it becomes a success it could provide mass transit solution to many congested cities around the world. Experts have suggested that the TEB provides the same functionality of a subway but at 1 fifth of the cost. Calling it a bus though is a misnomer as it is set up to travel on a fixed rail. The term elevated tram is more appropriate.
The current bus being tested in China is 21 m long and almost 8 meters wide. It spans the width of two lanes and will be able to carry up 300 passengers.
In many old cities around the world, it is not possible to construct a subway system without massive disruption alongside huge economic setbacks. The TEB can provide much needed movement of people in such zones. With unparalleled growth in China over the last two decades, the phenomenon of urbanization has accelerated. More than 20 million people every year are moving to the cities. That is nearly equivalent to the entire population of Australia moving into Chinese cities each year. To meet the housing and consequently transport requirements, it is estimated that 20,000- 50,000 new high rise building will have to be built in the next 20 years. Similarly the current transportation system will have to be massively upgraded. Mass transit systems will have to be established in over 170 cities.
Urbanization is a global issue. Many other regions around the world can also benefit from this system. For instance, a three mile straight stretch on the M.A. Jinnah Road, in burgeoning metropolis of Karachi shifts hundreds of thousands of people every day. Such a transport system can be readily established there.
Some of the advantages and disadvantages of TEB are listed below:
- Reduce pollution in congestion zones and improve air quality in densely populated cities
- Can provide mass transit in congested cities without the need of an underground
- Can replace up to 40 conventional buses
- Can link up with up to four TEB’s
- Due to its high platform, infrastructure adjustments have to be made.
- Roadside trees, electricity poles, pylons and communication lines may have to be removed/shifted.
- Elevated passenger platforms will have to be made.
- Road would have to be painted to provide perspective to drivers underneath because of loss of side view.
- Only vehicles of a certain size will be able to pass underneath the bus.
- Traffic rules would have to be introduced particularly at junctions. For example, the bus may be allowed to leave traffic lights first before the other traffic.
- The TEB feasibility would be highest on flat straight roads.
- Existing bridges on roads can be a hindrance and may have to be removed.
So far the TEB system has been met with scepticism in the western media. Even in China, there has been criticism, deeming the TEB a charade to squander millions of Yuan of governments money.
One concern is that if the bus is moving at the same speed as car underneath than it could be discerning for the driver. Other than the front view, nothing else would be visible which could disorientate the driver. To alleviate this problem, the bus needs to have LED signs underneath the bus informing the drivers of speed and location. It has also been suggested that the bus should run in the opposite direction to the traffic.
Like any system, the elevated bus too will also have its fair share of teething problems. It takes time for people to adjust to the new system. In many developed countries, incidents where the top of the bus gets shaved off underneath a bridge are fairly common.
Elevated trains are a feature of many cosmopolitan cities. They require huge civil engineering costs for making the raised tracks and platform. On the other hand, the space above the roads is already available and raising a large vehicle rather than its track seems a very clever idea. With all its pros and cons examined, it can be safely said that the TEB despite its limitation can go a long way in bringing much needed sustainable transport to inner cities.
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