A recent report from Chinese news outlet The Paper says that a radical “straddling bus” that promised to solve China’s mounting urban traffic problem has hit a major roadblock. A full-scale test model of the bus has been all but abandoned at its testing site in Qinhuangdao, and the company developing it seems to have evaporated.
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That company, Transit Explore Bus, ignited global interest in May, when it showcased the concept at the Beijing International High-Tech Expo. The vehicle, dubbed the Transit Elevated Bus, was intended to carry passengers above road traffic, helping reduce congestion.
But many observers (including Fortune) were skeptical of the basic viability of the idea. The working model built over the summer added design errors to more fundamental hurdles—most notably, the bus offered vehicle clearance about half as high as the tallest vehicles on China’s roads.
But more than design problems led to the project's troubles. Back in August, when the TEB test model was unveiled, Chinese media began arguing that TEB was a fraudulent scheme, intended only to fleece the naïve. An editorial at the Huanqiu news service compared TEB to a prior investment scam called Ezubao, which stole $7.6 billion from small investors. At least some investors have reportedly tried to get their money back following the negative media reports.
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Though TEB inventor Song Youzhou has insisted the company is still operating normally, sources told The Paper that a major TEB investor has now cut off further funds to the company, and the TEB management team has already left Qinhuangdao. That certainly doesn’t bode well for this particular future of transportation.