End of the China bus

BY: Kofi Apkabli
Transit Elevated Bus was touted as a revolution in public transportation to save commuters from traffic jams.
Transit Elevated Bus was touted as a revolution in public transportation to save commuters from traffic jams.

In August last year, a seemingly breakthrough idea was birthed in China at the Beijing International High-Tech Expo. This involved a futuristic traffic-straddling bus, raised over the road so cars can drive underneath.

There was great excitement about this possible solution to traffic woes, but questions soon arose about whether the project was feasible or even real.

The so-called Transit Elevated Bus was touted as a revolution in public ground transportation, able to glide over traffic, literally lifting commuters from the daily grind of being stuck in their cars for hours.

The idea of a traffic-straddling bus first appeared in China back in 2010, but it did not make much impact until the model was presented in 2016 as a solution to traffic congestion. But would it work?

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It was pointed out for example that the model used in the latest test run was the same one as six years ago, suggesting the project has made no real technical progress since then.

The model tested was far from finished as workers were still working on parts of the bus just before the test.

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 Many doubted the vehicle would fit under footbridges in Beijing. Critics also asked how it would turn corners, whether it was strong enough to bear its own and passengers' weight and how long its battery would last.

Do projects like this have a future?

The Chinese social media space was charged with thousands of comments about whether such inventions should be encouraged, even if many turned out to be impractical, or whether they should be discouraged or at least carry bigger warnings about the risk to investors.

There was also confusion about whether the project had ever been approved by the local authorities, with some scepticism and suspicion that it could be the face of an elaborate investment scam.

"This project is when a mad inventor meets a group of mad investors," one person commented. "Inventions can be about anything, but it needs to have a touch of  reality," said another.

"Any invention will face challenges at the beginning, including the first underground train and the first airplane, but now they've all developed very well," the company shot right back.

"We did not commit a crime. We are just trying to innovate. Is there anything wrong with that."

Just one year later, reports now indicate that what seemed like a glimpse into the city of tomorrow is now surely headed for the scrap yard, in a move reminiscent of our own Hope City project that was launched in Kasoa with pomp and pageantry a few years ago.

The futuristic idea of a bus that would drive above traffic, allowing other commuter cars to pass underneath, was similarly launched to much acclaim and publicity, but then ran into feasibility and investment problems.

 The test site is now being demolished entirely, with workers dismantling and removing the test track in Qinhuangdao.

The widespread interest in the idea however did show that there's an appetite for ideas that could help big cities out of the grip of the daily traffic gridlock - even if this one appears to have hit a final roadblock.

Like the elusive Hope City project, one wonders what sort of checks and balances are in place to protect the general public from an investment, safety and patronage perspective in such new ventures.

As a private citizen, I for one was shocked to hear, after the Presidency-supported launch of Hope City, that the land earmarked for the project had not even been properly acquired; the investors later turned to other parts of the country for alternative sites.

One would think that some due diligence would be conducted by the relevant ministries before the Presidency would be brought in to launch such a high-profile project.

Such reports make us the laughing stock of West Africa, not the gateway to the sub-region. Yes, we need to support each other to execute great ideas, but we also need to raise our game in doing so.