Bus Photo of the Month: May 2019

New Flyer C40LF 2302

NovaBus RTS-06 5242

Location: East 42nd Street at 3rd Avenue, New York, NY
Operator of Vehicle: MTA New York City Transit
Date of Photo: December 12, 2012

It is hard to believe, but the end of an era for public transit in New York City is approaching in just a matter of days.  The last of the venerable “RTS” buses, which have been transporting New Yorkers around the five boroughs for thirty-eight years, are due to be retired in the coming days.  The RTS was first developed by GMC’s Truck and Coach Division in 1977 and New York City Transit took its first delivery of RTS buses in 1981.  These buses were able to be recognized by their rounded, futuristic looking fronts, especially when compared to the “New Look” buses that made up much of the fleet when the RTSs were introduced.  Between 1981 and 1999, a total of 4,877 and RTS buses were ordered from three different manufacturers (GMC sold the rights to the RTS design to TMC who later transferred those rights to NovaBUS).  These buses were also the first buses to be equipped with wheelchair lifts, and helped New York City Transit become one of the first agencies of its size to have a 100 percent accessible fleet.  Today, there are only a handful of RTS buses remaining in service in New York City, and it is expected that the remaining units will be taken off the streets by May 10, if not before then due to the fact these buses run on diesel fuel, while newer buses are powered by compressed natural gas or hybrid engines.

New York certainly isn’t the only city to have operated the RTS, but it is certainly the city I associate most with this model of bus.  These buses were everywhere when I would visit family in New York in the 1990s, and while I knew my “home” agency of WMATA had some as well (and they often served routes near where I grew up), I didn’t expect to ride them all that often whereas getting anything but an RTS in New York was a notable event.  I can’t say they were my favorite New York City buses, although I always loved the single seat on the right side just in front of the rear door.  I found the rear door lifts to be annoying as a passenger (it could take a long time to load or unload a wheelchair compared to a bus with a front door lift) and the narrow front door and stairwell was not easy to navigate when traveling with luggage or bulky items.  Over the years, New Flyer D60HFs, Orion Vs, Orion VIIs, and NovaBus LFSAs have come to dominate the routes where I stay most often in New York.  The photo featured this month is one of the last ones I ever took of an RTS in New York, and I took this photo over six years ago.  I believe the last time I rode an RTS in New York City was in 2014.  It just goes to show how much the New York City bus scene has changed in recent years.  However, I don’t expect the association between the RTS and New York City to fade in my mind anytime soon.

What are your memories of the RTS in New York City?

For more photos of New York City Transit’s RTS buses, please click here.