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

See also:

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.

The RTS Enters Toronto

When the TTC ordered 100 Orion VIs in 1992, their goal is to make the fleet more accessible as 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. But however, combined with bus shortages and time constraints, they cut the half of the VI order into the lift-equipped Orion V CNG buses. Another 100 Orion VIs were supposed to be delivered from 1998 to 1999 but due to their ongoing frustration not only with how long new buses were taking to get delivered, but due to them being tired of the market being full of unproven bus designs and poor construction methods. Instead, the Commission placed an order for the RTS; a bus that former Chief General Manager David Gunn knew well from his term in the New York City Transit Authority. However Nova could not meet the delivery schedule as promised. The order was cut to 52 units and the TTC purchased 51 buses from New Flyer for the D40LF models and they agreed to test an LFS buses as part of the contract amendment with Nova Bus. Later on, because of delivery problems with the RTS, Orion VIs and D40LF buses, the TTC decided it made more sense to buy an LFS of their own, with their own specifications.

In November 1997, Nova Bus sent the TTC a demonstrator bus painted in TTC colours and numbered 1000. This bus had been built to NYCTA 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 52 of the RTS series buses. 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.

The 52 RTS vehicles were initially operate out of Danforth Garage, serving many of its routes in East York, Downtown, and Scarborough such as route 57 MIDLAND although they were moved to Arrow Road garage in early 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.

All of the remaining RTS buses have been completely retired in August 2015, as some of the last high-floor buses 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

About this Page

This page is an article within the Bus division of Transit Toronto articles.

To see more articles within the Bus division, you may return to the Bus division page.

You can also return to the main page for news and other articles in Transit Toronto.