How an autonomous train-bus hybrid could transform city transit

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The U.S. is notoriously dependent on cars. Census data shows just 2% of commuters use mass rapid transit like subways, and U.S. rail projects can cost billions of dollars and take decades to complete.

“Cities all over the world have proposed light rail systems that either get greatly reduced or don’t happen at all because of the expense of putting rail in the roadbed. It’s highly disruptive to the business community,” said Lisa Chamberlain, a communications lead for the Global Centre for Urban Transformation at the World Economic Forum. “For residents, it’s very expensive.”

A Chinese company has a radical new solution. It’s a train-bus hybrid that runs on rubber wheels but follows a predetermined track. It’s called Autonomous Rapid Transit (ART), and it’s made by the CRCC, a Chinese mass transit manufacturer.

“So I went there thinking, this is going to be something hiding like a bus,” said Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Perth, Australia. “It’ll look like a light rail, but it is, in fact, a bus. But when I rode it, it was dramatically different. I could find myself feeling like I was on a train.”

The ART vehicle costs about $2.2 million and is estimated to cost around 1/5 the price of a traditional tram system per mile. It uses stabilizing technology like active suspension systems which help to make it steadier than a city bus.

Watch the video to see how ART works and how it could benefit U.S. cities.

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