OK, so this is not exactly a travel column this week, but it is a story about a foreign land, so it counts in my eyes. You know that old phrase, "thrown under the bus?" Well, how would you like to "drive under the bus?"
In a move that will either prove the Chinese are geniuses, or crazy weird, the Communist nation is expected to, by the end of the year, begin installing a new system of buses, called 3D Express Coaches -- where YOU drive UNDER the bus. I found this story when it got picked up by the Huffington Post web site.
There are pictures of this thing. It looks like a largemouth bass, in an astronaut's helmet, that swallows cars it comes upon them from behind. The Huffington Post cited Chinese-American blog, ChinaHush, as saying the bus can move at speeds up to 60 kilometers per hour. I ran that through a conversion calculator, and it equates to roughly 37 miles per hour.
Apparently, it's some sort of twisted version of the double-decker buses that you see in the United Kingdom. It is a two-level bus. On the upper level, is the part where people sit. The lower level is open. Other vehicles can drive through it.
According to the web site for the Shenzhen Huashi Future Parking Equipment Company, which is producing the new buses, cars that are no taller than the equivalent of 6-feet, 6.74-inches in height can travel under the bus. In all, the bus is only 14-feet, 9.16-inches tall, which means it can go under bridges as well (although, judging by the pictures, I'd say just barely).
To listen to how this thing is laid out, and to see computer-generated pictures of it in action, you'll notice some striking similarities to subway trains. The only difference is with the buses, you follow the existing roadways, and the buses ride over the roadways, rather than under them as subways do, or next to them, as a train might.
The buses run off a mix of electricity and solar power, according to the Shenzhen Huashi Future Parking Equipment Company web site. The company also claims that reconstruction of one 40-kilometer (roughly 24.85 miles) stretch of roadway, to accommodate these new buses, can be done in a one-year time frame.
The company further claims that one of their new buses operates at a cost that is approximately 30 percent of the operating costs for a traditional transit bus.
From looking at pictures of this thing, you apparently can either enter from doors on the side, or through a retractable moon roof that is in the roof of the bus. Bus stations are built as overpasses on the road.
All I can say is, "Passenger Rail?" It could become a thing of the past before it finally (if ever) gets off the ground in Georgia. And the Mass transit buses we have now, that creep along and belch thick, dark smoke, should already be relics of the past, anyway. So why not the largemouth-bass bus?
I actually like this 3D Express Coach concept. You're taking existing roadway, and rather than just continually adding more lanes to keep up with increased traffic, you're finding a way to double stack the lanes you've got in an environmentally friendly manner.
Now, if only they had a solution for tractor-trailer trucks.
I want to ride one of these things, and drive underneath it as well. On the one hand, you're riding down the highway while looking down at everyone else on the road. If you are driving under one of these things, though, that has got to be a freaky site, to look up and see you're almost boxed in under a bus.
And, given how badly traffic solutions are needed in the metro-Atlanta area, I say we should give it some consideration.
Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.