Could the Next Transit Trend Be Water Buses?

©. A vision of urban water buses as rendered by Linnea Våglund and Karin Bodin, from KTH and Stockholm's University College of Arts, Crafts and Design.

Hot new public transit concepts don't come along every day, but here's a new one based on one of the oldest transportation options: "water buses."

The obvious thing to note is that these won't be applicable everywhere. However, for cities with rivers running through them, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s Department of Aeronautical and Vehicle Engineering say that water buses would be a viable form of public transit, and that they offer a number of unique benefits.

First of all, without all the traffic, travel times could be cut up to 33% for some trips in Stockholm, the core study city. The water buses would also cut road traffic congestion even more than conventional buses. Furthermore, the researchers believe that water buses would better complement bicycling. The report notes that it would be easier to load and unload bikes from water buses than from conventional buses or trains.

water bus station stockholm

© Water bus station rendering by Linnea Våglund and Karin Bodin.

Of course, there are a number of obstacles that may exist in any cities curious about implementing water buses. The researchers were particularly focused on identifying such obstacles and laying out the conditions necessary to make these really work. Here are five basic conditions for success according to the team:

  1. The water buses have to be integrated with land infrastructure, physically and through payment systems.
  2. They should run year-round, even if the water freezes in the winter. The researchers point out that heavy steel reinforced hulls add to fuel consumption, but one solution could be that the system gets assistance ice breaking vessels that clear water routes, much as plow trucks keep roads open in the winter. “Our opinion is that lighter material can handle some ice, and we save fuel during the summer if we don’t need to carry around a heavy, steel-reinforced hull that isn’t needed then,” Garme says.
  3. Boarding and disembarking should be fast. “We want the boats works as a subway or a bus, where you get on and off from the sides, instead of at the bow or stern,” he says.
  4. That the boats are energy efficient, effective and efficiently produced. They also should be modular, with different sizes for different needs.
  5. Planning for water buses should be done before the possibilities are “built away”. Planning for water traffic has to be integrated into planning for the rest of the system or it won’t be profitable. “There’s also the risk that existing and potential berths might disappear because waterfront property is so attractive, says Hall Kihl.

You can read more about the research and recommendations in the full report.

I love the idea. I'd love to ride on a water bus, even more than a regular bus, tram, or train. And I could see them being useful here in Wrocław. Naturally, they'd be limited to certain routes, but they'd make a great, attractive supplement to existing transit options that I think I'd look to ride whenever possible.

Of course, many places do have ferries transporting people from place to place. But they are seldom if ever used as conventional public transport. They also aren't often using the most environmentally friendly technology and have horrible emissions. They aren't the modular, efficient water buses envisioned by the researchers.

What do you think? Could water buses be the next transit trend be water buses?