Waiting in line for a DMV sounds a lot more exciting in Japan than in the United States. The Asa Coast Railway Company has launched a Toyota Coaster-based Dual Mode Vehicle (DMV) that drives like a small bus on the road yet is able to glide like a train on tracks.
The technology that powers Japan's DMV isn't entirely new; the hi-rail trucks that help maintain America's railway network are fitted with a similar system. In short, the minibus is equipped with a train-like front axle that's tucked under the body when it's driving on a paved road. Installing the axle required significantly extending the front end. When the bus approaches tracks, the axle extends to lift the front tires off the ground and allow the DMV to continue its journey. There's a train-like axle installed in the back, too, but the rear wheels stay on the ground.
No one expects speed from something called DMV, and Japan's Dual Mode Vehicle is no exception. With 21 passengers on board, it can reach 37 mph on train tracks and 62 mph on the pavement. Specifications haven't been released, but the Coaster is only offered with a turbodiesel engine.
Deploying DMVs in some of Japan's rural regions, especially in areas with a lot of senior citizens, is expected to fill important gaps in the public transportation network, according to Shigeki Miura, the CEO of the Asa Coast Railway Company. As of this writing, only a small handful of DMVs have been rolled out in a relatively small town called Kaiyo. Miura hopes that other towns will adopt the bus-train in the coming years.
Integrating the DMV into an existing railway network doesn't look cheap, however. Beyond the cost of making the necessary modifications to a Coaster, it looks like special on- and off-ramps need to be built to allow the bus to operate like a train. It's an innovative concept, and it will be interesting to see if local governments in Japan will be able to justify making the investments required to take advantage of it.