By on July 6, 2017

teb-1 Chinese elevated bus

Beijing, like most major metropolitan areas, has a problem with traffic. For a time, Chinese officials thought they had been sent a solution to gridlock in the form of a futuristic-looking urban conveyance dubbed the Transit Elevated Bus (TEB-1).

While not technically a bus at all, the vehicle acts as more like a catamaran on rails, moving a few hundred people over traffic as a colossal trolley. The concept for the TEB has been in existence since the late 1960s, however, no country had ever bothered to build one before China — and for good reason.

After sitting in development hell for most of the decade, a prototype was deployed last August and tested near Beijing in the industrial area of Qinhuangdao. It technically worked but seeing the TEB at full-scale helped to highlight some of the criticisms many had been prodding Huaying Kailai, the company behind the project, with since its earliest scale models. Even a cursory consideration of the TEB should have caused government officials to wonder how it could possibly cope with a clogged intersection, pedestrian overpasses, turning, or overtaking vehicles of above average height.

While some did raise those sorts of questions, it wasn’t enough to keep the cities of Shijiazhuang and Wuhu from applying for financing to implement the project after its unveiling, or another four Chinese cities from following suit over the next five years.

“The elevated bus would just get stuck in traffic and make things even worse,” suggested Shen Gang, an urban transport expert at Tongji University in Shanghai in an interview with NPR. “The idea was absurd, childish.”

Over the last few months, Chinese news media outlets and investors of the project began raising additional questions about where the money was going. It’s estimated that over half a billion dollars had been funneled into the TEB project after potential investors were promised returns of 12 percent.

“We are just a private tech company. We are not a briefcase company for illegal fund-raising,” Zhang Wei, the director of development and planning for TEB Tech, the Huaying Kailai subsidiary that developed the bus, told The New York Times last year. “Everything we do is approved by related departments in the government, and if we are an illegal company with financial issues, why are the local governments still interested in us?”

 

Those local governments lost their appetites last fall, after public scrutiny of the project began to swell. Tempered by some glowing praise, the Chinese media has been highly critical of the TEB. The Beijing News was claiming fraud as early as 2010 — going so far as to call the project a “Ponzi scheme” and a “fake-science investment scam.”

Earlier this week, at least 32 Huaying Kailai employees were arrested — including Bai Zhiming, the entrepreneur who bought the patents for the elevated bus and owns a majority share of TEB Tech.

Chinese authorities have launched an official investigation into the fundraising practices of a firm, with police stating they were working to recover the funds involved in this case and protect investors’ legal interests. Apparently, issues like this are all too common in China and burned investors often take to the streets in anger. Government officials are keen to avoid protests resulting from the TEB fiasco.

However, it’s almost impossible to believe that anyone saw this monstrosity and thought it would be the solution to any city’s traffic problems. The elevated rail provides a pathetic amount of clearance and would have surely obstructed the view and movement of anyone unlucky enough to be caught beneath it. The TEB also requires elevated loading platforms and a minimum of two lanes in which to operate. However, none of that matters since it never would have made it through a busy intersection or over a supply truck in the first place.

[Image: New China TV]

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