Paris is piloting hydrofoil water taxis

Artist's impression. Image: Seabubble.

The people of Paris could be using the waterways instead of roads, as early as summer. A new design concept called the Seabubble is due to be piloted in the French capital. The people behind the idea foresee a fleet of small electric hydrofoil taxi vehicles carrying passengers along the Seine, and much like a car sharing arrangement, its designers have even suggested they may be piloted by individual users.

Seabubbles, which can seat up to five people and are shaped like a car, employ proven hydrofoil technology which has been in use since Enrico Forlanini first baffled the inhabitants of Italy with it in the early 1900s.

Hydrofoil technology uses an underwater foil or arm which helps to lift the boat’s hull out of the water so that it can coast on the water’s surface. The drag reduction on these fast and efficient modes of water transport means a smoother ride – even in choppy waters. Larger hydrofoils are in use across the world. You can already catch a hydrofoil ferry in St Petersburg, Russia.

Commute by river

If these hydrofoil vehicles were adopted as a city transport, it would provide a fun, silent, electrically propelled and emission-free alternative to spending time in cars or buses on congested roads, or in the gloom of the Paris Metro system. Its designers are reportedly also seeking permission to use them on the Thames in London.

Paris already has an established and successful dry land equivalent in the electric car sharing scheme Autolib, so the Seabubble already has a lot going for it.

While the thought of using a water vehicle to get around a city with a 30-mile diameter may seem curious, let’s not forget that water has been used to travel across large cities for years. London, Venice, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, New York, Auckland, and Rotterdam all use water buses and taxis of some description.

The river system in Paris snakes its way through the city in such a way that many important parts of town would be in easy walking distance from any moored boat. But as promising as this may be, there are still many unanswered questions.

Boat licences

Although water transport is used across the globe, they are all usually operated by a captain, and run along set routes, but Seabubbles’ designers propose that they could be driven by members of the public. Anyone operating a boat in France requires a boat licence. In fact, there are three different licence types, depending on the type of “driving” you intend to do. So whether there would be enough incentive for someone to embark on a lengthy and thorough training course is yet to be seen. It might make more sense for these to exist as a taxi service for most.

It’s fair to assume that navigating the waters would require some measure of seamanship since avoiding collisions with other Seabubbles and drifting objects would present a daily challenge. Larger vessels would also be a constant and inflexible presence on the Seine and if a large quantity of Seabubbles come into use, they will contribute significantly to the on-water traffic, of which there is already plenty.

Nevertheless, Seabubbles claim that compared to roads, there would be less objects to hit in the water and that their vehicle is easier to handle than a car. They also suggest that innovative detail solutions could take care of any likely gremlins. Technology such as sonar and sensors could be employed to “read” the water ahead and reduce engine performance when objects are spotted. Or an automatic parking function could self-moor the vehicles once they are within reach of their landing.


Maintenance and repairs

Seabubbles can reach a speed of 20mph, and although this is seemingly modest, it is actually quite respectable on water. However, water feels firmer at higher speeds so this can put strain on the vehicle body. The stresses on their gliding points are high, and their structure is subject to a high levels of vibration – meaning that hydrofoils require regular and extensive maintenance. This combined with high usage and a potentially changing, relatively inexperienced clientele, means they may come in for frequent repairs.

All this considered, the project already has the backing of the city of Paris. And if the French pilot phase goes well, some of these questions should be answered, and Seabubbles may well provide Paris with another attraction.The Conversation

Chris Ebbert is senior lecturer in product design at Nottingham Trent University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Worried Guildford will be destroyed by Chinese trains? Then you might not be very nice

A South West Train at Waterloo. Image: Getty.

Despite the collapse of everything else that more-or-less worked in 2008 Britain, before the Hunger Games years began, some things remain constant. One of the things that’s near-mathematical in its constancy is that, when a new train contract is let, people on both sides of the political spectrum will say extremely stupid things for perceived partisan advantage.

This week saw the award of the contract to run trains to the south west of London, and unsurprisingly, the saying stupid things lobby was out in force. Oddly – perhaps a Corbyn-Brexit trend – the saying of egregiously stupid racist lies, rather than moderately stupid things, was most pronounced on the left.

As we’ve done to death here: rail in Great Britain is publicly run. The rail infrastructure is 100 per cent publicly owned, and train operators operate on government contracts, apart from a few weird anomalies. Some physical trains are owned by private investors, but to claim rail isn’t publicly run would be like claiming the NHS was the same as American healthcare because some hospital buildings are maintained by construction firms.

Every seven years or so, companies bid for the right to pay the UK government to operate trains in a particular area. This is the standard procedure: for railways that are lossmaking but community-important, or where they are within a major city and have no important external connections, or where there’s a major infrastructure project going on that’ll ruin everything, special measures take place.

The South Western England franchise is not one of these. It’s a profitable set of train routes which doesn’t quite live up to its name. Although it inherited a few Devon and Dorset routes from the old days, its day job involves transporting hundreds of thousands of Reginald Perrins and Mark Corrigans from London’s outer suburbs and Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire’s satellite towns to the grinding misery of desk jobs that pay a great deal of money.

(If your office is in the actual City of London, a fair trek from the railway’s Waterloo terminus, then you get the extra fun of an extra daily trip on the silliest and smelliest Tube line, and you get even more money still.)

Anyway. The South Western concession went up for auction, and Scottish bus and train operator First Group won out over Scottish bus and train operator Stagecoach, the latter of which had run the franchise for the preceding 20 years. (Yes, I know 20 isn’t a multiple of 7. Don’t ask me to explain, because I can and you wouldn’t enjoy it.)

First will manage the introduction of a bunch of new trains, which will be paid for by other people, and will pay the government £2.2bn in premiums for being allowed to run the service.

One might expect the reaction to this to be quite muted, because it’s quite a boring story. “The government does quite a good deal under which there’ll be more trains, it’ll be paid lots of money, and this will ultimately be paid back by well-paid people paying more train fares.” But these are not normal times.


First Group has decided for the purposes of this franchise to team up with MTR, which operates Hong Kong’s extremely good metro railway. MTR has a 30 per cent share in the combined business, and will presumably help advise First Group about how to run good metro railways, in exchange for taking a cut of the profits (which, for UK train franchises, tend to be about 3 per cent of total revenue).

The RMT, famous for being the least sensible or survival-oriented union in the UK since the National Union of Mineworkers, has taken exception to a Hong Kong company being involved in the railways, since in their Brexity, curly sandwich-eating eyes, only decent honest British Rail has ever delivered good railways anywhere in the world.

“A foreign state operator, in this case the Chinese state, is set to make a killing at the British taxpayers’ expense,” the RMT’s General Secretary Mick Cash said in a press release.

This is not true. Partly that's because a 30 per cent share of those 3 per cent profits is less than 1 per cent of total revenues, so hardly making a killing. Mostly, though, it’s because it’s misleading to call MTR “state-owned”. While it’s majority owned by the Hong Kong government (not the same body as the central Chinese state), it’s also partly listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. More to the point, this a really odd way of describing a transport authority controlled by a devolved body. I wouldn’t call the Glasgow subway “UK-state owned” either.

So this fuss is intensely, ridiculously stupid.

There’s an argument – it’s a bad argument, but it exists – that the entire UK rail system should be properly privatised without government subsidy.

There’s an argument – it’s a slightly less stupid argument, but it exists – that the entire UK rail system should be returned to the public sector so we can enjoy the glory days of British Rail again.

The glory days of British Rail, illustrated in passenger numbers. Image: AbsolutelyPureMilk/Wikipedia.

But to claim that the problem is neither of these things, but rather that the companies who are operating trains on the publicly run network are partially foreign owned, makes you sound like a blithering xenophobe.

In fact, if you think it’s reasonable for a Scottish company to run trains but not for a Hong Kong company to run them, then that's me being pretty bloody polite all things considered.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.