Could China's "straddle bus" really work?

The bus in action. Image:

For centuries, city designers have looked at road networks, shaken their heads at the traffic jams, and dug great big tunnels under the city to allow for a faster, disruption-free form of transport. 

But Song Youzhou, a Chinese designer, has a very new suggestion. He has created an electric "bus" which straddles two lanes of traffic but passes under overpasses, using road barriers as a kind of rail.

Five Chinese cities have apparently signed on to pilot the new form of transport already, and the rest of the world is taking notice. Bai Zhiming, the project's manager, says the system would cost a fifth as much as a subway, which seems convicing given the system requires no tunnelling and minimal infrastructure.

Each bus could carry as many as 1,200 people, and cars would pass easily beneath it. (Lorries would need to go behind it, or overtake in another lane.) It would also run on solar power.

This video introduces the concept, and shows a model of the futuristic vehicle whizzing over traffic jams. Customers would board at road bridges, and if necessary, could evacuate via slides which fold out of the bus's sides:

But as Time Payne, a transportation consultant, points out at Fast Company magazine, we shouldn't get too excited yet:

"For us transit geeks, it's pretty interesting stuff, just to see what people are trying...While they're very different in the approach, it's not all that different from Elon Musk and the Hyperloop. . . . Putting that video on the Internet with the intention of raising capital, one does not want to talk about downsides."

We still have a lot of questions: the overpass stations seem very complicated, as passengers would need to descend into the vehicle from above; and lorries seem like they'd cause no end of trouble. As Cory Doctorow points out at Boing Boing, videos also appear to show the vehicle bending as though made of rubber, not steel. That doesn't mean it isn't a very cool idea, though.


A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?

Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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