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Next came the Post-war era (1945 – 1959) where rail was superseded by the diesel coach, primarily the legendary GM Old Look.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…