(first posted 7/2/2016) There are currently three heavy duty urban transit coach manufacturers that have US-based operations; New Flyer, NovaBus and Gillig. Of those three, Gillig is the only remaining company that has its origins in the US – it can be traced all the way back to Jacob Gillig’s carriage and wagon shop established in Hayward California in 1890.
Paul previously wrote an excellent post on Gillig that focused on the company from the 1950s to the late ’70s, when it was one of the premier manufacturers of school buses on the West Coast.
But the company had the forethought to understand declining enrollments in the 1970’s meant reduced future school bus sales, so it made the smart business decision to broaden its product line – and in 1980, introduced its first urban transit model – the Phantom.
The Phantom went on to great success, however, as a high-floor bus, it was out of step (no pun intended) with new access requirements in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The company once again was in need of a new model. Gillig also had another reason besides ADA requirements to pursue a low-floor coach – it, along with now defunct Orion, had successfully courted the shuttle market, and one of its primary clients was in need of a bus that allowed its customers easier loading and unloading…
So Gillig developed the H2000LF (low floor) coach for these shuttle operators.
Advantage 40 ft model
And building on this model, it introduced a low floor transit bus in 1996, and named it the “Advantage.”
29 ft 35 ft
Here again, Gillig differed from its two other competitors – both New Flyer and NovaBus brought their new low floor designs to market in just one length – 40 ft (though smaller versions were available later). Upon introduction, Gillig had 29, 35 and 40 ft models for customers to choose from.
Powertrain and transmission options were typical (Detroit Diesel and Cummins; ZF, Voith, and Allison), though the Cummins ISL or ISB seemed to be the preferred engine.
Hybrid and CNG versions were also offered.
The Gillig is in wide use; it’s in operation with over 200 transportation entities – and it’s currently the second most popular LFS model in terms of sales in North America. Here are two examples from Waukesha Metro Transit in what I think is a very attractive livery…
Here’s a Gillig from what we Buckeyes (and Coach Woody Hayes) refer to as “that state up north.” Being an Ohio State University alumnus, I wouldn’t recommend driving this bus south of Toledo…
This one’s more my style…I bet it’s faster than that Blue bus too…
The Gillig Advantage/LFS is another bus I have not had the opportunity to ride in – I’d be interested in hearing from readers how it compares to its New Flyer and NovaBus competitors.
That school bus is one of the only “pusher” models that I’d ever call beautiful.
The only time I’ve ridden on city buses is Phoenix and Chicago but danged if I know what brands they were using.
I live in Waukesha! They now have some other buses in service, but the color scheme is still the same.
That awesome Meechigan Maize & Blue Gillig and that ugly Columbus cruiser are both Hybrids. The Hybrids are great driving machines here in Ann Arbor. I drive a 30ft Gillig Hybrid generally though also the 40 footer on occasion. I can’t drive one down to that state below Michigan but the Blue one would definitely be faster with me driving.
Thanks Nick. Just curious if you may know, in terms of driving, how does the hybrid version differ from the straight diesel version?
For others not from the mid-west, Ohio and Michigan have a great, long-standing college football rivalry – but other than that, are probably two of the most economically interdependent states in the US. Jim.
The Hybrids are all quite new and drive really nicely, the straight diesels are a little older though still good. The driving technique, and feel, between the two though is quite distinct. The Hybrids have an extremely strong regenerative braking system which acts only on the rear wheels.
90% of normal in-traffic braking can be and is done by simply letting off (regulating) the throttle pedal. You really only need to use the service brakes to come to an absolute full stop and to hold the bus stopped.
Off throttle coasting (and maintaining speed) does not exist in a Hybrid as it does in a straight diesel.
No throttle pedal input in a Hybrid means you are slowing down strongly, this activates the brake lights also. The Hybrid regenerative braking system even has its own separate (from the service brake system) ABS function.
That’s interesting – thanks!
The sentiment that the U of M livery bus shouldn’t travel south of Toledo reminds me of the army surplus MRAP that Ohio State’s campus police managed to acquire several years ago. Some wag suggested that, in order to test their MRAP’s durability, they paint it U of M colors, drive it around Ohio State for a couple days and see how long it lasts.
Those Ohio State folks have to be among the most rabid and fanatical about their team. Something that has always annoyed me is during the introduction of the members of any NFL squad on television, if their are any Ohio State alumni among them, they ‘always’ refer to their alma mater as The Ohio State.
We don’t have the Gillig buses where I live as Flyer has had the transit market almost to itself for years. I enjoyed seeing The picture of the older Gillig school bus. When seeing them in the US my first thought was always how much more expensive they must be than a typical front engine/rear drive bus.
Front engine (usually gasoline) school buses are much cheaper to acquire, but in the long run cost more to operate due to higher fuel costs and lighter duty construction. i cant speak for the Gillig, but ancient Crowns are still in service all over southern California. Generations of front engine ones have long since been scrapped.
School bus operators also prefer transit style buses due to safety factors- It’s very easy to lose sight of elementary age school kids crossing in front of the tall hood on a front engine bus.
The panoramic windshield on a pusher allows the driver to see the ground out front, keep track of the kids, and avoid accidents.
Do these, the New Flyer, and the NovaBus all get their side windows from the same manufacturer? I’m noticing a distinct familiarity between them and I think that may be it.
Yes, all the side window frame, glass and opening systems are built by suppliers to the bus building industry so they could be offered by any of the manufacturers. The newest systems have glass that is very easy to replace, held in with just a rubber gasket. Old style windows on GM / Nova Classics and high floor New Flyers had frames you had to remove from the bus and then take the whole frame apart…a real PITA!!
Interesting, I thought I noticed a difference in windows in the Nova article. That’s a pretty smart design, even if it does take away some distinctiveness, they actually look better than the sharp edged square Windows I’ve seen on the other busses. I wish the transit agencies would stop with the blackout livery around them.
Very interesting, these bus articles. Does any of the US based bus builders offer more luxurious long-distance bus models ? I went to the Gillig website (Proudly made in America / Made in USA / Thank you for Supporting American Jobs !) but I couldn’t find one there.
Yes Johannes, there are two North American manufacturers that assemble long distance intercity and touring coaches; MCI and Prevost. MCI is affiliated with New Flyer Industries and Prevost was purchased by Volvo Bus in 1995. Their websites are below. Setra also sells coaches in the US in partnership with MCI.
Both have very interesting histories – you’ve given me a good idea for a future post. Jim.
Thanks Jim, I hope you can find the time to write them up, with the usual collection of pictures.
Yesterday evening I went to Greyhound’s website to have a look there. Through “Discover Greyhound” and “Our bus fleet” I learned about the brands MCI and Prevost. Let’s hear more of them !
Fantastic seeing the Gillig buses. Being in the SF Bay Area, they are a local company, “Built Locally” on the AC Transit bus is for real! The SamTrans (San Mateo Country Transit District) is also a local operator, too.
I rode Gillig school buses as a kid; the ones my school district had seemed older than all the others. Now I ride Gillig transit buses exclusively since there aren’t any other models in service where I live.
There are a few Gillig Phantoms running around here but I’ve never been able to catch one on the routes I take.
I caught an older Advantage the other day; the bus was the same as many of the others, but the seats were rock hard. Thankfully the newer Wheels buses have comfortable seating.
Gillig is moving to a new facility 2 miles away from here, so I’m sure to see Gillig buses for the foreseeable future.
The Gillig is a respectable bus but I still miss riding GM New Look buses.
When I was in college in the 60’s, we had a Gillig bus that took us to our track meets. A bit more plush than regular school buses, it had high back seats with more leg room because it was transporting young men over long distances. Although Gilligs are making inroads since the other domestic suppliers (GM. Flxible, Mack) bowed out, the larger transit systems like LA, New York, Chicago, don’t yet seem willing to trust Gillig workmanship. I see a lot of them on smaller systems that don’t have the deep pockets. But it should be noted that Gillig has survived foreign inroads like Scania, Volvo, MAN, Neoplan, Orion and even NABI, which was swallowed up by New Flyer. It represents the last opportunity to keep tax dollars in the US rather than sending it overseas. I hope they survive that current craze.
I can’t say I’ve ever seen a Gillig operating as a Transit bus in Canada. Are there any out there? I’ve ridden them often shuttling between airport terminals and rental car agencies in the US, but until this series wasn’t really aware that they were even offered as transit buses!
Green Bay has been using Gilligs for quite a few years now. They seem dependable, as opposed to the old Neoplans and the GM New Looks. They are temperamental when the temperatures hover around zero for extended periods, but I sometimes wonder what actually does operate well under those conditions. I’ve yet to be stranded on one, but I’ve been delayed because one of the complementary buses broke down on route.
Green Bay started with the 29 footers, eventually purchased 35 footers, and finally added four new 40 footers to the fleet this December.
And since we all love bus photos, how about one from December 2015 after a 13 inch snow storm. The shorties don’t really play well in the snow, especially attempting to back out the way of another stuck vehicle.
The one in that picture looks more like a New Flyer
Indeed it is…
Charlotte, NC (CATS) seems to use Gillig buses exclusively, all lengths.
CLT Douglas Airport though, uses a bus company called ElDorado National for their buses. Part of some conglomerate I had to look up
Gillig makes attractive buses. I recognize the SamTrans and the AC Transit versions from when I lived in those areas and I used to commute past the Gillig factory in Hayward off the 92 regularly, although I’ve probably ridden in more of the various airport versions than I can remember. This one’s up there with the Neoplan for looks in my estimation. And of course their school buses were all over the place in CA as well.
Murilee Martin used to write the technical documentation manuals for Gillig for a while if I remember correctly. He wrote about it and I found it fascinating for some reason but can’t locate the link now 🙁
We had several Phantoms in our school bus fleet. Definitely second tier compared to the Crown coaches, but far better than Blue Bird or any of its contemporaries. Gillig used Hehr windows in that era. They drove ok with a 6V92 Detroit Diesel de rated to 250 Hp as that was all the Allison behind it could handle. Neway air suspension rear and a 4 bag proprietary that was very well done and would kneel up front. Just don’t take it out in the rain because they are serious leakers.
As an aside. Gillig also tried its hand with trackless trolleys, using the Phantom body. Seattle took 100 of them, remotored with the rebuilt solid state controls taken from retired AMGeneral trackless trolleys. Unfortunately, their service lives weren’t that long, owing to the eventual wearing out of the reused motors. Although I spent a number of years driving and later becoming a supervisor for both Seattle Metro and later, Los Angeles RTD/MTA, neither systems employed Gilligs before I retired. I might add though that I have ridden them at airports and in the town of Santa Clarita, CA, where I presently live.
All of our buses here in Eugene have been Gilligs for some years now, with the exception of the articulated EMX Bus Rapid Transit. Over 50% are hybrids.
I have read that our transit district is buying five BYD (Chinese company) battery-electric buses this summer, and has an option on 70(!) more. It will be interesting to see how they hold up.
Do you know if that ended up happening and what’s the verdict?
Let’s hope they work out better than the BYD buses Los Angeles bought.
(…and the ones in the Netherlands, and Albuquerque, and more Albuquerque…)
Trimet (the PDX transit entity) has mostly 40′ and a few 30′ Gilligs, with some older New Flyers still in the fleet.
can’t see any logos, but the decoration on the bus in the first photo looks like it’d be a Detroit Department of Transportation (DDoT) vehicle.
These are used by Pittsburgh’s Port Authority, if I’m not mistaken. I find their ride is super harsh and they are very noisy inside. I always try to stay near the front because of the noise.
The Cincinnati Metro has a fleet consisting of Gillig low floors Advantages, a few older high floor Phantom buses and some New Flyers. I ride the bus to work everyday so I’ve ridden them all. The new low floor buses feel very sanitized and lack character. The older high floor models have the characteristic inclined driver’s window. The newer models have a two piece rounded windshield. My favorite is the older buses. They have blue flooring and even plastic wood paneling inside on the walls. The fiberglass seating in the old ones is somewhat deeper, which helps you stay in your seat with all the stop and go lurching. The high floor buses have the benefit of having more seating over the front wheel wells. The high floor buses have the passengers sit at the same level as the driver which is cool because it allows you to see the different light up displays on the dash, such as when the ABS is on etc.
Modern low floor buses overall, are more agile and faster accelerating, and have more of a general feel of driving in a small van. High floor buses (even the later designs) had that heavier, cumbersome feel we often associated with the old school transit buses like the GM Old and New Look buses.
Yes, the lack of brand identity is clear. The original Nova low floor buses had a distinctive nose. But it is getting harder to find design and experience uniqueness among the competitors.
Green Mountain Transit (formerly CCTA) has been running Gilligs almost exclusively in and around Burlington, VT since the RTS went out of production; NovaBus based in Montreal and has their main US production facility in Plattsburgh, NY is much closer so proximity doesn’t have as much to do with it as there must’ve been in the days of “east coast” and “west coast” operators.
I’m not sure who their electric bus was made by, whether BYD or something else, but I wonder what the point of a fully BEV city bus is, versus a trolleybus using existing overhead power lines and with some BEV capacity to operate away from them which would require much less battery storage with its’ weight, expense and fire risk.
I think trolleybuses are great; we still have some of them here in Philly. However, the issue with trolleybuses, particularly if you are talking about converting a diesel bus route to something else, is the cost of constructing and maintaining the overhead wire network.
SRTA has a bunch of these, although I’ve never ridden in one, but I see them pulling up in front of work every hour.