S O CHINA has made a lane-straddling tram. Seen it? It looks like a catamaran for the road, the sides reaching down to rails in the tarmac, but in the middle, a gaping space – a mobile tunnel, really – for the tram to pass over stopped cars, or cars to pass under the stopped tram. It’s brilliant, in the way of many brilliant things out of China, which is to say that it’s actually a terrible idea that will probably cause some sort of ecological disaster (but will create some great fail videos).
The tunnelly bit has 2.1 metres of clearance, or to put it another way, less than 20cm of room over a Land Cruiser. But disregarding for a moment that it will simply decapitate anyone driving a 4WD with a roof rack – and in a country that hoovers up SUVs like a tornado at an NBA training camp, that’s a terrifying thing to disregard – or grind to a halt whenever it comes up behind a lorry, you still run into the hard and uncomfortable fact that even its makers admit that it can’t fit under underpasses.
It’s made its maiden, uh, crawl in Qinhuangdao, a couple hundred kays outside Beijing. The Qinhuandaoians call it the Transit Elevated Bus, because they already used up all their Scrabble tiles naming the city and had to call it something boring. But if you see it, it’s clearly not a bus in the classic sense – the word “bus”, of course, coming from the Latin for “a motorised box filled with sick people coughing on each other”; it runs on rails, so it’s clearly a tram. A bus-tram-catamaran. It’s the first major step forward in bus technology since the bendy articulated bus was dreamed up in the 1960s, probably by someone drinking a milkshake out of one of those elbow straws. While stoned.
What a time to be alive. One day, you’ll be able to tell your grandkids you were there (well, not there there, but around) when the Transit Explore Bus was invented. And your grandkids will say, “You mean the bus that caused the Great Qinhuangdao Decapitation Disaster of 2017?” “Yes, little Worker Clone 472”, you’ll say, “we had big dreams back then – back before President Trump scorched the sky with nuclear weapons trying to write his name over the Super Bowl stadium.”
But from where I’m sitting – which is thankfully neither on a bus nor in Qinhuangdao – there’s something pleasingly prodriver about plonking down $75 million (that’s million, with a capital holy crap) on a giant moving tunnel-tram that basically announces to the world that bus lanes can go and get screwed.
Here’s how I imagine the announcement from the Qinhuangdao council goes: “Sure, we could have set aside a lane for public transport, but that would only benefit the common working man and not our rich car-owning elites. What do you think we really are, Communists?”
If nothing else, I’m all for a giant 50-tonne behemoth that will simply flatten anyone who stops part way across a lane.
It’s traffic enforcement, Sherman tank-style. Lane-hopping douchebag? Get torn in half by the rail-bus. It’s like the Keyser Soze for bad drivers, a mythical boogeyman waiting to punish the unwary: “Don’t you know how to merge? The rail-bus will get you!” And I’m all for the stunts this would allow in some future James Bond movie.
So how do you justify spending 75 mill on something that is clearly terrible? Because it’s still cheaper and quicker than excavating a subway. In the words of The Simpsons’ Lyle Lanley: you need a monorail. M