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The NovaBus RTS

Nova 7213

TTC RTS bus #7213 picks up passengers at Eglinton station, in service on 100 FLEMINGDON PARK in this year 2000 shot by David Cavlovic.

Text by James Bow

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Going Modern

Today, in the United States the Rapid Transit Series (RTS) transit bus model is manufactured by Millennium Transit Services as the “RTS Legend”. This bus has a long history in the United States. It was launched by General Motors in 1977, from their plant in Pontiac, Michigan, but its design dates back to General Motor’s entry for an initiative called the “Transbus Project”. This was, in turn, the descendant of the RTX (Rapid Transit Experimental), which was a experimental prototype commissioned in 1968 after four years of design work.

At the time, General Motors was hard at work building and maintaining its classic and popular “New Look” bus design, but it was not content to rest on its laurels. The RTS was designed to appeal with its more futuristic styling, featuring an automobile-like curved body and window panels, in contrast to the New Looks’ flat side glass windows and body panels. With this newer look than the “New Look”, General Motors hoped that the RTS would assure the company’s dominance in the public transit vehicle market for the next generation.

A Limited Success

Although a number of American cities bought the RTS model, General Motors encountered resistance both inside and outside the United States. There were only two attempts to build the RTS model outside of North America, with GM’s Holden Division in Australia looking into the concept. In Canada, the GM Diesel Division in London, Ontario researched adding the RTS series to its production line, but discovered that most transit agencies in the country preferred the older “New Looks” to the “futuristic” RTS line. This resulted in General Motors Diesel Division producing the “Classic”, an updated New Look model, in 1983, which agencies like the TTC embraced. The Classic would prove popular with US agencies as well.

The RTS series operated in the shadow of the Classic until production on the Classic ceased in 1996. During this time, General Motors divested itself of its bus production division, selling its production lines to Motor Coach Industries (MCI). MCI continued to produce RTS buses out of New Mexico and Classic buses in St. Eustache, Quebec until the early 1990s, when it decided to focus on its highway coach business. In 1993, MCI created Nova Bus to take over production of both the Classic and the RTS bus models.

Upon discontinuation of the Classic in 1996, Nova Bus began limited production of the RTS series for the Canadian market from its Quebec plant. From 1997 to 2001, Nova Bus produced the RTS-06 WFD variant, which it managed to sell to a number of transit agencies in Quebec and the Maritimes, but sales in Ontario and western Canada proved elusive.

Demonstration and Purchase by the TTC

In November 1997, Nova Bus sent the TTC a demonstrator bus painted in TTC colours and numbered 1000. This bus had been built to New York City Transit Authority standards as of 1995. The TTC was pleased with the stainless steel frame and how well the bus performed on city streets. It placed an order for 100 of the RTS series buses (The order was originally called for another 100 Orion VI buses as they already substituted the other half of the 100 bus order as lift equipped Orion V buses earlier). However, as time constraints for deliveries gone through as well as bus shortages, the TTC cut the order to 52 buses giving the other 51 to New Flyer for the D40LF models and purchase an LFS demonstrator numbered #1001 which they were originally to lease.

The first production RTS bus, #7200, arrived on TTC property in the beginning of July 1998, a few days before bus #1000 left the property (later sold off and scrapped). Buses 7201 through 7251 followed, all featuring a rear wheelchair lift, air conditioning and wider front doors. The buses were initially equipped with the Luminator MAX2000 flip-dot destination display, although buses #7210 and 7236 were retrofitted in early 2012 to use the Luminator Horizon, which used backlit LEDs for a crisper and easier-to-read display.

In spite of this order, the TTC decided not to commit to further purchases of RTS buses. The Commission had a stronger relationship with Orion Bus Industries, which had plants in Ontario, and the TTC felt political pressure to purchases buses closer to home. The 52 RTS vehicles were initially operate out of Danforth Garage, although they were moved to Arrow Road garage in 2002 and were seen on a number of routes served by this garage, including 96 WILSON, 35 JANE and 37 ISLINGTON.

Final Days

The TTC’s RTS series buses lasted well into 2014, almost finishing out a standard 18-year lifespan. By the end of 2014, however, their days were numbered, as purchases of low-floor Orion VII buses made these wheelchair lift-equipped buses increasingly obsolete. However, they did survive long enough to see Nova Bus outlast Orion Bus Industries. As the latter company exited the bus vehicle business, the TTC turned to Nova Bus for a large order of low floor articulated buses.

Through the first half of 2015, the RTS fleet dwindled due to retirements, with the remainder continuing to operate out of Arrow Road garage. On August 19, 2015, RTS bus #7232 pulled in for the last time, closing the book on one of the last high-floor bus models in the TTC fleet.

NovaBus RTS Specifications

  • Numbers: 7200-7251
  • Engine: Detroit Diesel Series 50 275 hp @ 2100 rpm
  • Transmission: Allison VR731RH 3 speed
  • Seating: 39 passengers

Nova RTS Image Archive


Thanks to Mike Vainchtein and Evan McCausland for their updates, corrections and additions to this web page

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