The End of an Era: RTS Buses Are No More

May 1 · 4 min read

It was a familiar sight in New York City.

Often seen riding around town, the Rapid Transit Series fleet of buses were ridden by thousands of passengers a day, and observed by millions more from their cars and apartment windows, from pedestrians riding on bicycles, walking on the streets, and the like.

But it is inevitable that all good things must come to an end.

On March 22, 2019, it was announced that the MTA would retire all of their remaining RTS buses by May 10. By the night of April 30, they were all gone.

The RTS buses were organized by fleet numbers, with the buses coming in 4000, 5000, 8000, and 9000 number fleets. Most of the 8000 fleets were retired from 2009–2010, and the rest of the 8000 and all 9000 fleets followed from 2011–2018. This left New York City with only the 4000 and 5000 fleets.

The MBTA, Boston’s transit system, retired all of their RTS buses in 2017. NJ Transit followed in 2018, leaving New York City’s MTA the last major service to still have RTS buses in service. However, the MTA eventually followed suit.

The very first RTS buses, built by the General Motors Company in 1981, were eventually replaced by the second generation of RTS buses, built by the Transportation Manufacturing Corporation. Those entered service in 1994 and retired in 2010, but the wider-known buses that New Yorkers have come to love, the third generation, entered service in 1998, built by Nova Bus.

In an effort to modernize, the back panels of the remaining RTS buses, which were black in color, were repainted white in 2010–2011. However, only a handful of RTS buses were not repainted, leaving the few black-backed ones to serve as an ultimate reminder of New York City’s once great transit past.

Twenty-one years after their introduction, they would be seen resting peacefully in the Ulmer Depot, pictured below, unaware of their future fate.

It is a probability that almost all of these buses, which served their community and their city with the utmost pleasure, will be scrapped. Only a few will be preserved and possibly sold to buyers.

The future of the RTS buses is looking quite grim.

Starting in 2011, the MTA began to roll out New Flyer XD40 buses to replace the aging RTS fleet. Newer XD40s, with the MTA’s modern blue and yellow livery, along with free WiFi, USB charging ports, and automated announce–ments, entered service in 2017. These buses are said to be ‘keeping up with the times’.

These buses became a common sight throughout the decade, becoming more common as the years progressed, and more RTS buses were being retired. But now that all RTS buses are retired, the New Flyers have become more prominent than ever.

Some riders embrace the change, like former MTA bus driver of 30 years, Robert Stracquadani, who said of the RTS buses just a month ago, “those pieces of crap are still on the road?”

“Good riddance,” says high-school student and frequent passenger Alex Dmitriyev. “Those buses were so uncomfortable. The new ones are better.”

Nonetheless, many railfanners and passengers prefer the old to the new.

Long-time railfanner and passenger Antonio Monetti frequently rides the B3 and B4 buses to-and-from work. Of the RTS buses’ retirement and replacement by the future New Flyer buses, he stated:

No more RTS buses. It’s too quiet and boring now. Inside the [RTS] bus, you hear things no video can catch, like when the driver floors [the bus], it made a cool noise. I can never sit in the front now [of the RTS bus] anymore, since the front seats [of the new buses] will always be low. Now we got these fake low floors as buses. The end of a real bus.

It is worth noting that the RTS buses, along with the other buses of the time, were high-floor, containing seats above street level. This trend has died down in recent years, with newer buses being built as low-floor, which is said to make them more handicap-accessible. However, since passengers sit at street level on low-floor buses, the risk of death from accidents is much higher, making the older, high-floor buses such as the RTS buses statistically safer.

“Why does every good thing gotta go?” user @datrompboi stated. “It’s the end of the real bus era.”

A railfanner from Warsaw, Poland, who goes by the username Stilwater Transit, stated of the RTS buses’ retirement: “That sucks, I know how [New Yorkers] feel. One bus model in my home city is retiring now, and three [more] until the end of the year. We’ll be stuck with crappy modern ones soon.”

Mixed feelings regarding the retirement of the RTS bus clearly exist. However, there is no denying that its retirement paves the way for a new generation of buses, ending an era of transportation dominated by city buses from the mid 1990s until the late 2000s. The future buses now take the spotlight.

Go ahead, New Flyer XD40. Your move.

Chris6d is a writer and publisher who travels America, and loves doing it. He also loves pizza, video games, and sports, and can tell you a thing or two about each. Contact him by joining his Discord server, the Fear League Squad.


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