The Bus of the Future

Imagine if Batman drove a school bus. It would probably run on autopilot and have sensors that detect obstacles a quarter of a mile up the road. It would probably be able to switch between regular roads and specially designed tracks where he could crank its speed up to 155 mph. It would probably be low to the ground, black, and have headlights that look like lightning bolts.

Well, that’s exactly what can be expected of the Superbus, the high-speed public transportation system being developed by the Netherlands’ Delft University of Technology. Highlighted in this week’s Economist, the Superbus is a something of a hybrid between a charter bus and a maglev train.

The bus — which will hold thirty people and run on an electric motor — is being promoted as a cheaper alternative to maglev trains, the likes of which crashed last week in Germany.

On-board navigation systems, advanced braking, and power steering have become standard in our cars. Energy-conscious hybrids are packed with technology. So, it makes sense that our public transportation would go high-tech as well, right?

So long as it’s commercially viable. Right now, the only commercially operated maglev train is in Shanghai. One reason is that public transportation has historically been a low-cost service to consumers. With estimates that cap each vehicle’s lifespan at three years, and tracks that may be very costly to build and maintain, the Superbus may be anything but low-cost.

Still, the Dutch bus company Connexxion sees potential in the project and has invested over $1 million in addition to the millions already invested by the government and the university.