This week, police in Beijing announced that it had started an investigation into the company behind the Transit Elevated Bus, or TEB. So far, the police have arrested 32 people for illegal fundraising linked to the project. There had been growing speculation that the idea was no more than an investment scam. The project was finally scrapped last month.
The TEB was billed as a potential answer to China’s notorious traffic congestion and air pollution. The idea was to create a “straddling bus” to lift commuters above the congestion. The TEB was an electrically powered, 300-passenger vehicle standing nearly 5 meters high and 8 meters wide. It was to ride above traffic, elevated 2 meters above the other vehicles on the road.
The futuristic idea quickly attracted international attention when it was launched last year. The bus’s investment offering was sold as a private fund with a starting price of $150,000. Investors had reportedly been offered returns of 12 percent if they put money into the project. The government of the northeastern port city of Qinhuangdao in Hebei province, where the TEB was based, had said it would invest $1.5 billion in the project.
Many doubted the vehicle would be able to operate properly on the roads. It was unclear how the bus would manage curves, turn corners, or fit under footbridges. Transportation experts have questioned its impracticality and the safety risks it brings to regular traffic. Critics wondered how long its battery would last and whether it was strong enough to bear its own along with the weight of passengers.
All tests of the vehicle were halted shortly after the initial test run last August. Chinese media reported last month that the Qinhuangdao test site had been demolished.
The Chinese media reports that the project was used to lure investors into buying financial products. At least 72 individual investors have filed lawsuits against Bai and Huaying Kailai for private lending disputes. Beijing’s Dongcheng district police bureau said in a statement on microblogging site Weibo that the police are working to recover funds from the firm. TEB investors are advised to report their complaints to local police stations.
One of those arrested was Bai Zhiming, the 47-year-old CEO of TEB Technology Development, a Beijing-based company that purchased the patent for the elevated bus. Bai calls himself as “the father of the TEB” on Weibo. Zhiming is also the founder of Huaying Kailai Asset Management, a peer-to-peer financing company. The other 31 arrested in connection with the case were Huaying Kailai employees.