The German AutoTram is trying to reap all the benefits of train, tram and bus networks, without taking on any of the negatives. The end result is something that's almost ludicrous on paper, but also a clever new option for mass transit.
In the way it handles, the AutoTram is a bus in that it drives on a road. That's where the similarities start and end, however, as it's really an electric train that just wants you to think it's a bus.
That's because the fully electric AutoTram has a laughably short range of 1.2 miles. That's by design, and one of its quirky strengths: the AutoTram secretly "fuels up" each time it reaches one of its bus stops, where it's special high-capacity but short-lasting batteries are shocked with up to 700 volts. The AutoTram doesn't have to stop to get gas like a bus, doesn't pollute like a bus, and doesn't require expensive infrastructure such as the overhead wires or tracks of a tram or train.
It's the product of a German research firm, the Fraunhofer Institute, and the AutoTram could be zipping around city streets in that country and others by next year. While it'll be far less expensive than a light rail network, it still can't compete with the cost-efficiency of the venerable diesel bus.
"I think this is most useful in countries which only have diesel buses and want to do something new with transportation. They are calculating that overhead lines and infrastructure is very expensive compared to our system," Fraunhofer transport department head Ulrich Potthoff told Fast Company, adding, If it's not subsidized for environmental reasons, you would not be able to calculate in an equal way."