By James Bow
- The Western Flyer D700 Series Bus
- The Flyer Industries D800 Series Bus
- The Flyer Industries D901 Series Bus
- The Flyer Industries D40 Series Bus
The company that is today known as New Flyer Industries has had a considerable influence on the Toronto Transit Commission fleet. In spite of competition from General Motors (now Nova) and Ontario Bus Industries (now Orion), representatives of New Flyer have been operating on the TTC’s bus and trolley bus routes since 1968. Today, they are a major player in many other cities as well, and their buses can be seen operating for agencies throughout the Greater Toronto Area. This article gives you a history of this western Canadian institution, and offers links to the histories and galleries of the many models that operated on Toronto’s streets.
Founded in Western Canada
New Flyer Industries was founded in 1930 by John Coval of Winnipeg, starting out as the Western Auto and Truck Body limited. The company branched out from its production of trucks and introduced the “Western Flyer”, its first motor coach in 1941. The spacious coaches were a hit with inter-city bus companies and, by 1948, the company had been renamed “Western Flyer Coach” in recognition of its new focus.
The company would go on to build the “Canuck” highway coach in 1953, which proved very successful. The company opened a new plant in Fort Garry, Manitoba and looked to expand into the city transit market starting in 1964. It came to the attention of the TTC in 1968, when the commission looked for a company that could rebuild its aging fleet of trolley coaches. The result of these negotiations was a commitment to rebuild the TTC’s 151 coaches into electric versions of its D-700 model of bus, plus an additional purchase of 23 diesel models in this class.
This started a relationship with the TTC that would last to this day. Although the D-700 diesel model suffered from mechanical problems, these issues were addressed in the subsequent models, the D-800 and the D-901.
Bought by Manitoba, then Sold
In spite of these initial successes, Western Flyer was running into hard times. The company was bought out by the Manitoba government in 1971 and renamed Flyer Industries Limited. This continued until July 15, 1986, when Flyer was acquired by Jan Den Oudsten of Den Oudsten, B.V., which was Holland’s largest bus manufacturer. The new owners rechristened the company New Flyer Industries Limited. Around this time, the company introduced the D-40 series buses. It also followed up with a revolutionary new design, the D40LF, a low-floor vehicle that could allow wheelchair-bound passengers to access city transit buses. The first of these vehicles came on sale in 1991, and low floor vehicles soon became a standard across North America.
The TTC purchased 50 D40LFs for its system in 1998, and as of the time of this writing (July 2014), this was the last purchase the TTC made from New Flyer Industries. Strong incentives through the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st millennium tipped the TTC heavily in favour of Orion Bus Industries. However, New Flyer Industries has found considerable success in other cities across the North America. A final assembly plant opened in California in 1987 and was moved to Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1990. This plant handled a total of 2,655 buses before being closed in March 1996 and moved to an updated facility in Crookston, Minnesota. A new assembly plant was opened in St. Cloud, Minnesota in June 1999.
While New Flyer continued building new buses, it continued to innovate. In 2002, it secured an order to build 218 articulated hybrid buses for Seattle, Washington. The company has also investigated the possibilities of hydrogen fuel cells and, in 2004, delivered the first hydrogen-hybrid bus to California’s Sun Line Transit. They then re-entered the electric trolley bus business, supplying new models for Vancouver starting in 2005 to replace the city’s aging fleet.
And while New Flyer hasn’t had a recent sale with the TTC, it has broken back into the GTA market with its Xcelsior bus. Introduced in 2008, this distinctive vehicle was designed to reduce its weight by 10% over previous models. Wider doors and a lowered front step helped to make the vehicle even more accessible. The Xcelsior was purchased by the City of Brampton for use in its Zum bus rapid transit network. In 2012, New Flyer announced it had built a prototype for an all-electric, battery-powered version of the Xcelsior, for emissions-free operation on a city’s heaviest-travelled bus routes. The Xcelsior is available in 35 foot, 40 foot and 60 foot articulated models. The company is also offering the MIDI, a bus available in 30 and 30 foot models, designed in partnership with Alexander Dennis Limited of the United Kingdom.
New Flyer Industries continues to influence the Toronto transit picture in other ways. On March 1, 2013, the company announced it had reached an agreement with Daimler Buses North America to acquire assets related to the Orion after-market parts business. As a result, New Flyer Industries committed to completing any remaining unfulfilled orders from Orion, and now provides the TTC and other agencies using Orion buses with spare parts.
In a tough marketplace, New Flyer Industries continues to hold its own with innovative bus designs, and advances in diesel, hybrid and electric-powered vehicles. With its buses plying Brampton’s Zum system, and with it in control of certain Orion assets, it is likely that its influence in the Greater Toronto Area will grow in the years to come.
The Full TTC Western Flyer/Flyer/New Flyer Fleet History
- Bus World Encyclopedia of Buses, Stauss Publications, Woodland Hills (California), 1988.
- Diesel City Bus, Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), 1991.
- “History.” Welcome to New Flyer! N.p., n.d. Web. 12 July 2014.
- Toronto Transit Commission 7300-7350, Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board Wiki, Website.
- Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board Wiki
Thanks to Mike Vainchtein for his corrections and updates to this web page