In previous articles, we’ve taken a somewhat convoluted trip through some of the “loosely identified” eras of transit coach operations in the US. What were these eras? Well, transit historians generally identify four…
First is the Pre-war period (prior to 1945), where motor coaches played mostly a secondary or complimentary role to trolleys and other rail systems. A broad variety of manufacturers built buses during this period.
Next came the Post-war era (1945 – 1959) where rail was superseded by the diesel coach, primarily the legendary GM Old Look.
GM easily transitioned from the Old Look to the “New Look” period (1959 – 1977) and again dominated the market with a superior product.
Things became less clear with the Advanced Design Bus or “ADB” era (1977 – 1991), which in contrast to earlier periods, lacked one overall dominant model, and with several of the more popular coaches suffering significant early “teething” problems.
So we have Pre-war, Post-war, New Look and ADB…what era comes next?
My non-expert opinion would say the next period begins in 1990-91 with passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the transition from high floor to low floor coaches. ADA provided for a number of initiatives to give the disabled more mobility and easier access. With regards to public transportation, it required operators to ensure all new equipment was fully accessible by the physically challenged, to include vehicle ramps or wheelchair lifts.
Since the early 1980s, transport operators had experimented with various systems (mainly wheelchair lifts), as proponents for the disabled lobbied operators and political officials for more access. While operators desired to provide more transportation options for the disabled, the systems themselves proved troublesome; they would routinely break, and were very slow, significantly increasing dwell times.
The solution to this problem came from Europe, which since the 1970s had essentially forged ahead of the US in introducing public transportation innovations. This solution was the Low Floor System (LFS) bus. The Low Floor bus had no step upon entry, so wheel chair ramps, which were much less expensive, more reliable, and offered quicker loading/unloading, could be paired with wider doors to meet all ADA requirements.
The first LFS bus in North America was the New Flyer D40LF. The D40LF was developed from the European model B85 series bus built by Den Oudsten Bussen BV, New Flyer’s then parent company based in the Netherlands.
Production began at the company’s new Grand Forks manufacturing and assembly plant in 1991 with the first models being delivered to the Port Authority of New York later that year.
GM 50 series inline 4 cylinder diesel
D40LF’s had typical North American coach dimensions; 40 ft long and 102 in wide. Powertrains were a mixture of Cummins (C8.3, ISC, ISL, ISM) and Detroit Diesel (40, 50 and 6V92TA in early versions). Transmission options were Allison, Voith and ZF.
To be technically accurate, the D40LF was a “Low Entry” and not a true “Low Floor” bus. In Europe, Low Floor buses have a continuous low floor from front to back. A Low Entry bus, in contrast, has a low floor in the front three-fourths of the bus, with a raised section in the rear, over the engine and rear axle. In North America, buses with any type of low floor are generally characterized as “Low Floor” models.
King County (Seattle)
The D40LF enjoyed robust sales, being purchased by over 81 operators in the US and 39 in Canada. Given many CC’ers (and our founder) are from the Pacific Northwest, above are a few pictures of D40LF’s from that area…
Production ceased in 2010 when it was superseded by the D40LFR model; “R” for Restyled.
I’ve never ridden in a D40LF but I imagine many of our CC readers here who have transportation background have – I’d be interested to know your opinion of the bus.
In our next post we’ll look at several other models that helped usher in the “Low Floor” era…
I see you caught a Spokane bus. Those New Flyers are a DRAMATIC improvement over the previous GM buses in every way, not just the ramp. The previous fleet was literally burning up, with electrical fires daily and stalling several times per trip. Terrible machines. The New Flyers are solidly reliable and easier for everyone to board, not just the disabled. Many of those 97xx units (bought in 1997) are still running, along with newer generations of the same type.
Another advantage these have is getting luggage into them in a long-term or rental car lot at the airport.
Was left curious about how the Euro buses manage a completely flat low floor.
Appreciate this series, learned a lot.
Have a look at this MAN (VW subsidiary) brochure (scroll down):
Veddy… In-teresting, Danke.
Still a ton of these in use in Chicago. Most of the fleet used on the route I take to work every day (56 Milwaukee) are these or older Nova Bus LFS models (apparently the Nee Flyers are from 2006 and the Novas are 2000s.)
They are still very clean and well maintained. Only time I’ve ever been on one that’s broken down, we were stuck in wall to wall traffic due to stop lights being out at a six way intersection during a flash flood rainstorm. My guess is that due to the extremely heavy rain the electrical system became waterlogged.
(The picture is of the Nova LFS.)
I have really enjoyed the series. The low floors are easy to get on and off especially if you have luggage. The ride also seems smoother and quieter.
Retired maintenance employee here…Nice smooth bus to drive and quiet inside. Outside with the 4 cyl Detoit Diesel, was noisy as hell. We had water leaking problems through the HVAC unit on the roof and coming in behind the drip rails. Windshields easy to change being so low to the ground and you had to pull out the rear window on ours to lift out the cylinder head with a portable hoist. I always said if you told a little kid to draw a bus it would look just like a New Flyer Low Floor, all straight lines and 90 degree corners!
Yeah these are the busses I recall for most of my lifetime, I’ve only ridden in a few but I do recall the step up rear floors so it was probably one of these. Uneventful journey besides the smell of urine and what seemed to be vulgar gang members in the upper rear level – but that’s city bus riding for ya… The bus itself was easy to get in and out of, especially considering all I had ridden up to that point were school busses so the lack of step up was a big change, as were the wide doors.
Aesthetically though, bleh. Great industrial design that brought us the likes of the new look is a lost art, these things are literal hard edged rectangles, and the D40LFR is a hard edged rectangle with a goofy simile face. And, while this is hardly the busses fault, don’t get me started the liveries that plague these things like many of the pictured examples, especially when the wrap completely covers up the windows(how do passengers feel about that?)
Matt, at least on the CTA buses when there’s an ad wrap covering the whole bus, the window portions have pinholes in them, so the effect from inside is like a light window tint.
Right on on the styling- I was surprised to find out that the Nova buses, with their slightly more aero front ends and round headlights, were actually older than these New Flyers.
As for the urine and passengers, the 56 is mainly free of both unwanted bodily fluids and jerkoffs. In fact in days when the bus is super packed I’m surprised on how well everyone gets together. In that rainstorm ride from my earlier comment I was completely soaked when I got on the bus. I had to stand in a very crowded middle area and about a minute after finding a space I realized I was dripping rainwater from my coat onto an older lady sitting next to me. I apologized profusely and she was very gracious about it. It seems that most people understand that we’re all just trying to get somewhere. Sometimes, weirdly, the bad trips actually make me feel better about the general public as a whole.
Good article and pictures, thanks. Den Oudsten (New Flyer’s then parent company) was founded in 1926 and was closed down in 2001. After WW2 the “hardware” for their public transport buses came from Leyland and DAF. Many of them were exported to other continents after their Dutch duty, there’s a good chance they’re still driving around.
The only bus builder we got now is VDL. Below their current Citea SLF-120 low floor model.
There is also a CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) version of the New Flyer low floor bus called the C40LF, which entered production in the mid 1990s. Golden Empire Transit in Bakersfield has all three generations of the New Flyer CNG low floor bus (C40LF, C40LFR and XN40) made within the last 10 years.
Nice article .
I got on the right line , wrong direction one of these units a few years back , the ride was nice , no urine smell , decent AC , somewhat jolting up shifts but that’s all part of riding the bus , right ? . it soaked up the bumps just fine , seats were kinda hard but decently shaped for back comfort over a day long ride (Oops,long story) .
It went East of Central Los Angeles and passed numerous Housing Projects , I didn’t have any problems although one fellow got *so* upset a White Man was riding ” his ” bus he eventually got off when he realized he couldn’t scare me off =8-) .
Similar to what Will Rogers (I think it was him) once said : to see what any town is really like , ride it’s Public Transport .(he actually said travel it’s alleys,good advice).
Los Angeles seems to be in pretty good shape judging by my forays on the ” Ghetto Blue ” trolly line and various Ghetto bus lines .
No need to be afraid , they’re mostly Working Folks like the rest of us .
Guess I will be the naysayer on this model. Been using public transit for my commute for over ten years. When I started there were still occasional RTS buses to be seen, but they were getting replaced by the New Flyer low floor model. I hate(d) seeing these buses pull up to my stop, and in summer on very hot days I’d let one or two go by at rush hour in the hope of a different model bus arriving. My route is partial surface street and part highway – and these buses are uncomfortable on both.
They are cold in the winter because the door seals are for crap – ‘specially at highway speed, broiling in the summer as the A/C seldom works, and chronically overcrowded (okay, I know that is not the buses fault)
New ones, old ones, they all were pretty much the same from where I sat.
They ride rough and I have never been inside a noisier bus in my life – they are a multi pronged assault in the senses. I imagine if GM built them folks would say they are so bad to try to push people back to cars.
The bus in the picture is a NABI LFW though (never been on one), not a New Flyer – those always seemed fine to me.
I am from Houston. and have been riding busses since I was a kid. and I have riding all. from the gm new look to Grumman flexible 870 gm rts one rts two and the crown ikarus 286 art that was in the old busses the new ones ikarus 40 ft new flyer neoplane Naba nova
“Sometimes, weirdly, the bad trips actually make me feel better about the general public as a whole.”
It’s why I never really mind taking the bus : it’s a reminder that life is uncertain and most of us here have it WAY better than the other Riders .
I’ve really enjoyed the bus features that have been posted on CC during the past while.
Good to see the low-floors get some time too. This style of Flyer is extremely popular in many Canadian cities and has been for well over a decade or two. I’ve ridden on them the odd time and enjoy their quiet and comfort very much.
The City of Edmonton rebuilds many Flyers on their fleet both bodies and engines making sure they get as much out of their buses as they can before they are retired.
I’m no expert but I’ve ridden these numerous times–NC State University (or, more accurately, the company who they contract with for bus service) replaced their entire fleet of ~20 buses with New Flyers in 2007. Pretty sure they were D40LFs, the photo should confirm.
I always thought they were quite nice, as buses go. Reasonably quiet, very spacious with the low floor design. The ride was somewhat rough but that was a function of the poor road surface, and better than the buses they replaced (late 90’s vintage Blue Birds with a motley assortment of supplemental buses to replace the several Blue Birds lost to fires). As far as I know they’re still in service there.
Great article, nice to read more about buses. My college transit still has a few D40LF’s around, but mainly runs D40LFR’s and some of the new XDE series. The D40LFRs have the ISL9/B400R and I think the D40LF’s have Series 50 detroit. These low floor buses ride nicely, except on speed bumps.
I believe these have the longest wheel base of any transit bus built. Believe it or not, these turn real well. Now we only have Series 50 and ISC powered D40LF ( Double Deckers ) and the Series 50’s sound much better, but the ISC’s got a slightly better take off.