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Farewell, "Fishbowls"

GM Diagram

Click on the diagram to see a full plan and elevation

I had planned on writing an article about the TTC’s General Motors buses next week, but, unexpectedly, as both Urban Toronto and The Grid have reported, the TTC scheduled the last runs of these transit workhorses Friday, December 16.

These last five GM buses are part of a batch that the TTC ordered from the manufacturer in 1981, but as The Grid explains, “their legacy goes back to 1959, when General Motors unveiled their new bus design: what they called the ‘New Look’, but what almost everyone else took to calling the ‘Fishbowl’, for its curved windshield.”

I’m old enough to remember boarding one of the first Fishbowls when it was new and still possessed that ‘new-car smell’… not one of the TTC’s but, instead, one of the earliest that the Hamilton Street Railway operated along Upper James Street, perhaps in 1960 or 1961. Already a transit geek, I was amazed by the sleek lines, big windows, wide aisles and, although I didn’t understand such things then, design elements that became iconic of the 1960s, including a starburst motif splashing across the ceiling.

From 1960 to 1990, as the TTC entered the largest expansion in its history, extending service beyond the original City of Toronto boundaries to the furthest extents of Metropolitan Toronto, most of the TTC’s bus fleet consisted of GM New Looks.

The last five GM New Look buses have been operating exclusively this year along the 52 Lawrence West and 352 Lawrence West overnight routes, but last year, you would also have seen them serving passengers on some of the other routes that emerge from the Mount Dennis Garage, including 6 Bay, 71 Runnymede, 77 Swansea, 90 Vaughan and 196 York University rocket.

The TTC recently signaled the end of the Fishbowls, when it announced that the two Lawrence West routes would be accessible, starting Sunday, January 8. Since the GMs are the last TTC buses “not friendly” to passengers using wheelchairs or other mobility devices, the end had to be near. (By withdrawing these buses from service, the TTC can claim that all buses in its active fleet are now accessible.)

The TTC has not yet announced the fate of the final few Fishbowls, but hopefully it keeps a few around for parades and other events — and to keep us transit buffs happy!

The dominance of New Look buses throughout Canada and the United States symbolized General Motor’s dominance of the bus manufacturing industry in North America until the 1980s. Some have suggested that General Motors assured its rise to the top of the bus heap by joining other corporations in a conspiracy that actively sought to end streetcar service in most major cities.

The Transit Toronto archives contains many, many photographs of New Looks in service — some of them appear below.

The archives also contain detailed articles — by James Bow, Brad O’Brien and others — on the history of the TTC’s GM bus fleet. here, here, here and here.

GM New Look Image Archive

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