THE VINE AUGUST 4, 2010
Annie Lee at China Hush relays the future of public transportation in China: the "straddling bus," which glides over other cars on the road. (Okay, it's technically called the "3D fast bus," but straddling bus is more apt.)
Apart from looking cool, the idea makes practical sense. Many Chinese cities have severe congestion problems and need more public transit options. Buses can get bogged down amid the slow crawl of cars unless they have their own lanes, and if they do get their own lanes, they're hogging up road capacity. Not a problem for the straddling bus. Likewise, subways are sleek and convenient, but they're also expensive and take a long time to build. All that's involved in a straddling bus is refitting the roads and building station platforms—planners estimate that a system costs just 10 percent of a comparable subway option.
Of course, as Ryan Avent would tell you, these fancy new buses won't, on their own, solve China's congestion problem. The primary source of woe is that space on the roads is a valuable good that's kept artificially cheap. So demand outstrips supply and, voila, instant parking lot. Congestion pricing at peak hours would solve this problem, and the money raised could be plowed back into transportation alternatives—like, well, shiny new straddling buses.
And yet, much like here in the United States, very few Chinese cities have shown any interest in congestion pricing. Instead, as The New York Times described last week, you see cities like Beijing relying on "driving restrictions that remove a fifth of private cars from roads each weekday." (That policy just encourages families to buy multiple cars, so that they always have a car that's allowed on the road.)