Can We Just Call This a Bus? - City Lab
It’s the shape of a swoopy modern streetcar, but it’s got rubber-shod wheels of a bus. Also, there’s no driver—it’s automated like a tram. The “trackless train” is sort of a jackalope of public transportation.
Or maybe it’s more like a donkey than a truly mythical creature; unlike a certain infamous straddling bus, this hybrid transportation innovation is for real.
Since late October, oblong, self-driving vehicles have been using sensor technology to follow markings painted on the streets of Zhuzhou, China. Operators are behind the wheel for now, but the idea is that they won’t be needed by the time the city builds a network larger than the 3.1-kilometer test track, a dedicated lane on a heavily trafficked boulevard. Word of the apparently successful pilot reached Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, who was so impressed by videos of Zhuzhou’s system in action that he says he’s planning a trip in person to see if it wouldn’t make sense as an answer to his city’s transit challenges. “It’s a solution we can implement now,” Gimenez said last week. “Not one that will take decades to complete.” (All aboard the “Commie bus,” according to one none-too-impressed local columnist.)
Battery-powered and capable of speeds up to 43 miles per hour, a three-carriage vehicle can hold more than 300 passengers. CRRC, the Chinese transportation company that manufactures them, estimates that building and running a network of robo-rail-buses would be about 20 percent of the cost of a subway system, according to Dezeen.
In essence, trackless trains hit every objective high-quality transit systems should: They fit lots of people, run in dedicated lanes, are electric-powered, and are relatively cheap and easy to build. In other words, they are nearly identical to bus rapid transit, with a crucial, and arguably worrying, distinction: They’re called trains instead. (Or, in the case of the video the Miami-Dade administration recently showed business leaders, “rapid transit service.”)
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