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Has China's futuristic, traffic-straddling bus scammed investors out of millions?

China’s 22nd-century-esque Traffic Elevated Bus (TEB) once promised to drastically reduce congestion in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. A recent report finds the project has reached a dead end after getting attention — and money — from numerous investors.

The only functional TEB prototype is covered by a thick layer of dust and grime in a large, makeshift hangar located in the coastal city of Qinhuangdao. It hasn’t moved in months, and the security guards in charge of keeping an eye on the site say that no one has gone near the two-story-tall behemoth in weeks. They’re concerned the project has been shelved once and for all.

“The managers from the company have long drifted away, and I am unable to contact them,” explained one of the guards in an interview with The Shanghaiist.

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The TEB’s future looked promising last August when the now-idle prototype began testing on a 328-meter stretch of road that Huaying Group, the company in charge of the project, leased from Qinhuangdao. However, observers quickly began raising serious doubts about how the TEB could be neatly integrated into China’s oft-chaotic streets. Notably, skeptics pointed out taller vehicles such as delivery trucks would be unable to drive under the bus because it only has 82 inches of clearance. Others noted that it’s a train, not a bus, because it rides on tracks.

More serious issues followed. About a month after the first test was carried out, Chinese media outlets reported the TEB project was a pipe dream fabricated by Huaying Group to scam investors out of billions of yuan. Further investigation revealed the company hadn’t started building its first factory yet; in fact, government officials hadn’t even given Huaying permission to develop the site. Reporters who traveled to the location of the factory found kids playing on a slightly littered vacant plot of land, not bulldozers, cranes, and cement mixers in action.

Investors soon walked away from the project, sometimes asking for their money back, which left Huaying strapped for cash. No one has ever managed to prove the TEB project was a scam — it could have been the victim of a smear campaign by the Chinese media. Of course, it could also simply be a half-baked, under-funded idea that’s too impractical for mass implementation. Qinhuangdao residents don’t want to find out why the project screeched to a halt; the TEB hangar was built on a public road so they want the prototype gone as fast as possible.

One thing is certain: The futuristic, traffic-hopping bus that promised to alleviate China’s chronic traffic woes will remain a prototype in the foreseeable future.