It’s rush hour and you’re stuffed inside your shared ‘micro’ cab. You’ve covered five metres of road in the last 45 minutes – you still haven’t lost sight of the guy running that road side tea stall and he’s made more money from this traffic jam than you sitting here, staring at spreadsheets on your iPad.
The rest of the view from the rear window is bleaker still but by now you’re getting used to it and you’ve allowed your mind to wander. You watch bikers optimistically trying to squeeze through the narrowest of spaces and you wonder how many of them must have failed the spatial visualisation section on aptitude tests. Ironically, the only thing truly mobile on the road is pedestrians filling up whatever gaps they can find between bumpers. Other road users include autorickshaws, hand-carts and cattle. You watch your driver wipe his face with a wash cloth and you’re suddenly glad you didn’t buy that new budget hatch after all. Driving seems painful and your car fund is now allocated to the upcoming trip to Bali. Totally worth it.
And just as you start to relax and feel better about yourself, amidst all that honking and the angry, rush-hour stream of epithets, you hear a rising mechanical hum in the background. It’s still daylight outside but it seems like someone pulled out a giant rectangular canopy over your roof and your view of the road is suddenly replaced by endless gray panels. The shadow spans the entire breadth of the road – cars, bikes, cows and all. The panic won’t be caused by the sudden eclipse but by the realisation that the Transit Elevated Bus (TEB) is moving past all this traffic and you’re still stuck right in the middle of it.
A bus on stilts seems like an ideal solution to extreme traffic congestion. Chinese engineers first showcased the idea in the form of a working scale-sized model at the Beijing International High Tech Expo. The model demonstrates how passengers would be picked up at ground-level via escalators and be transported in the elevated carriage of the bus, while the rest of the traffic would just slip right under it. What’s more – the Chinese engineers behind it have stated that its making cost would be one-fifth of the subway, it can carry up to 1,200 passengers and will take one year to build. Production of the first real-life prototype will begin by the end of 2016 itself. Perfect, right?
But we’re going to rain all over this parade with just a tiny amount of premature skepticism. The scale model replicates certain realities of the road. And it misses out on some. The traffic in the working miniature simulates a disciplined environment where cars drive along straight lines, bikers don’t cut lanes, overloaded trucks don’t use city roads and there’s a curious absence of bovine road users. Also, the roads are straight stretches, free of bottle necks, pot-holes and human pyramids on dahi-handi. True for most countries. India, however, is a whole other story.