Is the Chinese straddling bus a fraud and a scam? Wait and see.
Whether you think the Transit Elevated Bus (TEB) or straddling bus is a dumb idea or not, it was hard not to be impressed that the prototype got built. While we in North America wait forever for anything to happen, Song Youzhou and his team up in Hebei Province actually pulled this off.
Then the knives came out. On Jalopnik, Jason Torchinsky complains about the build quality, quoting Car News China, which is shocked, shocked that it has rubber wheels (just like subways in Paris and Montreal). Jason concludes that “These are early prototypes and tests, so perhaps a high level of polish just isn’t needed at this point. Maybe.”
On Shanghaiist, which broke the story of the straddling bus in the first place, it is a whole other story, titled Chinese state media says that the 'straddling bus' is nothing more than a big scam.
First they raise the technical issues and concerns, like how it deals with bridges and intersections and higher vehicles going underneath it, all of which are reasonable concerns. Then they get serious with the charges:
Global Times and Sina have both claimed that the TEB is a fraudulent peer to peer (P2P) investment project aimed at scamming investors. The TEB is funded by P2P financing, which the government has already been cracking down on recently… The Global Times also attacks Song Youzhou, the designer of TEB, for only having an elementary school education.
They even suggest that “the "straddling bus" idea was stolen. "It was first proposed by Architect Craig Hodgetts, who referred to it as "the Landliner" and intended it to be built in New York city.” Really. Or maybe it was stolen from somewhere else.
On another website, Sixth Tone, they quote a commenter on Weibo saying “Fraud! I hope that the relevant Chinese government bodies crack down on the perpetrators as soon as possible to reduce harm to society and throw them in jail!” Song defends himself, saying “We haven’t done anything wrong at all. The latest tests show that the bus design is entirely possible.”
Groundbreaking for the world's tallest building in Changsha, China, 2013/via
So what is actually happening here? I believe that TreeHugger readers have seen this kind of smear campaign before, with the attacks on Broad Sustainable Building’s attempt to build the world’s tallest building in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, but a long way from Shanghai or Beijing. They also were operating under the radar, and they also got trashed by the state controlled media and other authorities, who claimed that the project was “insane.” It got to the point that the project was essentially put on permanent hold; The papers gleefully announced that its site was now a fish farm. Broad has overcome these obstacles and built the world's tallest prefab tower, but it was a struggle for a while.
Are the two projects comparable? Not really, the BSB projects make a lot more sense than a straddling bus. But the arc of the discussion is pretty much the same: Entrepreneur from the middle of nowhere suddenly gets worldwide attention for something that was ignored for years, outside of the usual channels and controls. Media campaign starts to cut them down to size and teach them their place.
If the TEB is a scam, it is a pretty elaborate one, what with it being a working prototype that must have cost serious yuan to build. A straddling bus may be a dumb idea, but I suspect the accusations of fraud should be taken with a whole lot of salt.