Other challengers to the megabus crown include a 24.7m (80ft) Trolleybus that operates in Zurich, Switzerland. As well as their giant size, all of these behemoths share another common feature – they are articulated, or bendy, single-decker buses.
“Articulated vehicles are being investigated quite intensively at the moment” says Austin. Many believe this “slinky” design is just about cramming in more passengers and allowing the vehicle to turn more effectively in narrow city streets. However, the single deck approach means that the bus also has less air resistance, saving fuel, and can load passengers more quickly.
As a result, the bendy bus looks here to stay. In fact, it is one of a number of designs that is currently being by a European project to design the “bus of the future”.
This bus is more conventional than both its Chinese and Brazilian counterparts – with just two sections, instead of three - but it gives us an idea of the direction bus designers are looking in. In particular, the project shows the appetite for smart buses – vehicles equipped with onboard computers, sensors and GPS to make sure the transport system is efficient as possible. Think onboard road maps that update in real time to show the location of connections, drivers who are warned about disruptions on their routes or onboard diagnostics to say when a part is about to wear out.
However, there are concerns about the use of these large buses in some cities. They were brought in and then rapidly phased out in London, UK. The "cumbersome machines" which were too large for the city’s narrow streets and were thought to encourage fare-dodgers who could hop on the bus by the back doors out of sight of the driver. In addition, there was a perception that they were potentially dangerous to cyclists who may be riding alongside it.
One answer to this kind of problem is the dedicated bus lanes of Curitiba, that separate the megabuses from other road users. But one scheme that is taking this to an extreme is the UK’s Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, which connects the university town of Cambridge with surrounding villages. The 25-mile (40 km) route consists of bus lanes with priority access, of which 16 miles (25 km) is dedicated for guided buses. These specially adapted buses have trolley wheels on their outside which allows them to follow a concrete guide - the bus driver does not even need to hold the steering wheel. This speeds up travel and cuts down on congestion.
It is not the first system in the world to use guided buses – Adelaide in South Australia has one, for example. However, the rural Cambridgeshire scheme has one claim to fame; and it is one that would make China jealous – it is the longest operational guided busway in the world. But how long will it be until China catches up?