Water Buses — Could Maritime Complement To Buses & Trams Solve Traffic Congestion, Reduce Travel Time?

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Water buses. Not something you’re all that likely to have thought of before, huh? But now that you’ve heard of them, they make perfect sense, don’t they?

A new study from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s Department of Aeronautical and Vehicle Engineering recently explored the concept — finding that it could be quite an effective solution to traffic congestion, as well as helping to reduce transit times. Travel time can be reduced up to 33% for many trips, the study found.

A vision of urban water buses as rendered by students from KTH and Stockholm's University College of Arts, Crafts and Design. Image Credit: KTH The Royal Institute of Technology
A vision of urban water buses as rendered by students from KTH and Stockholm’s University College of Arts, Crafts and Design. Image Credit: KTH The Royal Institute of Technology

The new research — referred to as the Waterway 365 project — explored the possible ways that such water buses could be integrated into Stockholm’s mass transit system. The findings of the research suggest that “a strong case (can be made) for a maritime complement to trains and buses — and not just in Sweden.”

Researcher Karl Garme, of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s Department of Aeronautical and Vehicle Engineering, notes that while the water buses could help reduce the load on land-based transit, add capacity to a city’s transit system, and (positively) change transport flows, they could also do much more.

One of these “much mores” that’s the most interesting (imo) is the opportunity to increase bicycle commuting volumes — owing to the relative ease of loading bikes on and off of boats, as opposed to buses.

The purpose of the the Waterway 365 report was to identify research questions and technical issues on the subject — something that was aided to a great degree by the help of Susanna Hall Kihl of Vattenbussen.

“Susanna Hall Kihl has enabled us to put our expertise and knowledge in a clearer context,” Garme says. Helping to transcend “the engineering perspective of the subject and gain insights into market needs and community planners’ challenges.”

With regard to potential applications in other cities, the report notes five basic conditions that have to be taken into account:

  • “The water buses have to be integrated with land infrastructure, physically and through payment systems.”
  • “They should run year-round, even if the water freezes in the winter. The researchers point out that heavy steel reinforced hulls add to fuel consumption, but one solution could be that the system gets assistance ice breaking vessels that clear water routes, much as plow trucks keep roads open in the winter.”
  • Boarding and disembarking needs to be fast. “We want the boats works as a subway or a bus, where you get on and off from the sides, instead of at the bow or stern,” Garme states.
  • “That the boats are energy efficient, effective and efficiently produced. They also should be modular, with different sizes for different needs.”
  • “Planning for water buses should be done before the possibilities are ‘built away’. Planning for water traffic has to be integrated into planning for the rest of the system or it won’t be profitable.”

If interested, you can find the full report here.

Certainly an interesting solution — seems relatively affordable and convenient, wouldn’t (or shouldn’t anyways) involve massive infrastructure improvements, and would probably be pretty enjoyable. So, in other words. Interestingly, in many respects, it’s on the other end of the spectrum from the also-innovative Hyperloop project proposed by Elon Musk last year.

On that subject, there hasn’t been much news out there lately on the subject. Considering the media frenzy last year, the drop-off seems a bit pronounced. Perhaps there is something big coming? Or perhaps nothing at all?

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

James Ayre has 4830 posts and counting. See all posts by James Ayre

9 thoughts on “Water Buses — Could Maritime Complement To Buses & Trams Solve Traffic Congestion, Reduce Travel Time?

  • We have these water buses you speak of. We call them ferrys. Water trams we do not have on account of how an air gap is required for safety on the overhead catenary lines and there is insufficent air underwater for them to meet Workplace Health and Safety Standards. However, this article appears to be about how to make ferrys betterer and that is a noble goal.

  • Don’t the Thames Clipper fast hydrofoils, which have been running in London to supplement the ferries for years, qualify? They get packed with commuters and feel very fast to passengers.

    • Don’t know anything about the Thames, but Brisbane city has high speed catamaran ferries that do 25 knots. They are built in Brisbane and are quite useful for getting around the city. Ferries can leave every 15 minues. But heavy rain can disrupt ferry services due to debris being swept down river. The last bit of really heavy rain Brisbane had swept all the ferry terminals away and they cost $100 million to replace. The rain also swept away houses, cars, roads, bicycles, businesses, and people, and sharks ended up swimming through surburban streets. But our current Prime Minister is certain global warming had nothing to do with particular event, so that’s reassuring. Oddly enough though, all our new coal terminals are designed to withstand large increases in sea levels. Funny that.

  • on line transport road-cum-wter

    bike, car, truck . convert existing vehicle

    cost of converting: bike 100 $; car 300 $; truck 500 $

    technology demo : 2 mn$ 1 yr

    shipping on sea- on land 2000 p 10 mn$ 330 knt fare 1c/km

    ro ro car, pass 1000 t : 2000 p + 250 cars 330 knt fare 1c/km; freight c/km/t

    invest 200 mn$ repaid 400 mn$ in 2 yrs


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