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.

 
 
 
 

What’s in the government’s new rail strategy?

A train in the snow at Gidea Park station, east London, 2003. Image: Getty.

The UK government has published its new Strategic Vision for Rail, setting out policy on what the rail network should look like and how it is to be managed. 

The most eye-catching part of the announcement concerns plans to add new lines to the network. Citing the Campaign for Better Transport’s Expanding the Railways report, the vision highlights the role that new and reopened rail lines could play in expanding labour markets, supporting housing growth, tackling road congestion and other many other benefits.

Everyone loves a good reopening project and this ‘Beeching in reverse’ was eagerly seized on by the media. Strong, long-standing reopening campaigns like Ashington, Blyth and Tyne, Wisbech and Okehampton were name checked and will hopefully be among the first to benefit from the change in policy. 

We’ve long called for this change and are happy to welcome it. The trouble is, on its own this doesn’t get us very much further forward. The main things that stop even good schemes reaching fruition are still currently in place. Over-reliance on hard-pushed local authorities to shoulder risk in initial project development; lack of central government funding; and the labyrinthine, inflexible and extortionately expensive planning process all still need reform. That may be coming and we will be campaigning for another announcement – the Rail Upgrade Plan – to tackle those problems head-on. 

Reopenings were the most passenger-friendly part of the Vision announcement. But while sepia images of long closed rail lines were filling the news, the more significant element of the Strategic Vision actually concerns franchising reform – and here passenger input continues to be notable mainly by its absence. 

Whatever you think of franchising, it is clear the existing model faces major risks which will be worsened if there is a fall in passenger numbers or a slowdown in the wider economy. Our thought leadership programme recently set out new thinking involving different franchise models operating in different areas of the country.

The East-West Link: one of the proposed reopenings. Image: National Rail.

Positively, it seems we are heading in this direction. In operational terms, Chris Grayling’s long-held ambition for integrated management of tracks and trains became clearer with plans for much closer working between Network Rail and train operators. To a degree, the proof of the pudding will in the eating. Will the new arrangements mean fewer delays and better targeted investment? These things most certainly benefit passengers, but they need to be achieved by giving people a direct input into decisions that their fares increasingly pay for. 

The government also announced a consultation on splitting the Great Western franchise into two smaller and more manageable units, but the biggest test of the new set-up is likely to be with the East Coast franchise. Alongside the announcement of the Strategic Vision came confirmation that the current East Coast franchise is being cut short.

Rumours have been circulating for some time that East Coast was in trouble again after 2009’s contract default. The current franchise will now end in 2020 and be replaced with public-private affair involving Network Rail.


This new management model is an ideal opportunity to give passengers and communities more involvement in the railway. We will be pushing for these groups to be given a direct say in service and investment decisions, and not just through a one-off paper consultation.

Elsewhere in the Strategic Vision, there are warm words and repeated commitments to things that do matter to passenger. Ticketing reform, compensation, a new rail ombudsman, investment in improved disabled access and much else. This is all welcome and important, but is overshadowed by the problems facing franchising.

Stability and efficiency are vital – but so too is a model which offers deeper involvement and influence for passengers. With the building blocks of change now in place, the challenge for both the government and rail industry is to deliver such a vision. 

Andrew Allen is research & consultancy coordinator of the Campaign for Better Transport. This article was originally published on the campaign’s blog.

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