The True Story of Metro’s Last Diesel Bus

You may have noticed all the hullabaloo Metro made in January 2011 about retiring the last diesel buses in its fleet. Metro even gave the final bus a new paint job before it was ceremoniously towed away at the press event. Actually this was a bit mis-leading because some of the contractors that run selected Metro routes were at that time still using diesel buses in some cases, purchased for them by Metro. I believe even those buses have now been retired.

They all used to be this way, photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/metrolibraryarchive/5347865788/sizes/m/in/photostream/##Primary Sources/Flickr##

In any case in all the coverage nothing was said about the origins of these buses, which is a rather interesting story. I wasn’t able at the time all the noise was being made to dig into that aspect of it but hopefully late is better than not doing so at all. Here 13 months later is the back story.

After Metro signed the consent decree in Oct. 1996 it quickly found itself struggling to meet the load factor targets the agreement set. One problem was Metro’s fleet was aging, prone to break down and unreliable. Also obtaining new buses is a slow process. Once you order delivery often takes 18-24 months. When Julian Burke became Metro CEO in August 1997 one of his priorities was to address the condition of the bus fleet.

Metro staff at his direction began scouring the country to see if any buses suitable for transit use were obtainable. And by a lucky break they found 20 buses in the procurement pipeline that the original ordering entity could no longer use. ATC Vancom ordered the buses from New Flyer for use in Las Vegas where they had a contract to run bus service. While awaiting delivery they lost the contract, and thus no longer needed the buses. Metro contacted ATC Vancom and arranged to purchase the buses in July 1998.

Thanks to the special circumstances of purchasing equipment already being built Metro took delivery of the first bus on August 18, 1998 with the other 19 received and put into revenue service by the following month. Amazing! And while these were the last new diesel buses Metro purchased for the fleet operated from its yards, they also held the distinction of being the first low floor buses ever operated by Metro. They were assigned fleet numbers 3000-3019 and in later years were placed in Division 6 (Venice), which lacks CNG fueling facilities. This meant they only were operated weekdays, often found serving major streets like Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards. One unique aspect is they had a three person seat flush against the side of the bus opposite the rear door, a layout which no other Metro bus outside the contractor fleets ever had.

I’ll conclude by explaining my very careful wording of these being the last new diesels Metro purchased for operation by United Transportation Union represented operators. Sometime in the late 90s Metro purchased
14 diesel RTS buses that OCTA had discontinued using and put up for auction. The cost was so low (probably $1,000 a bus) it didn’t even have to go before the Metro Board for approval. The 14 buses were assigned fleet numbers 9140-9153 and run out of Division 5 (South Los Angeles). Scuttlebutt I heard at the time is Metro had carefully looked over what was actually a large number of vehicles OCTA was selling and picked only the cream of the crop in relatively good shape and well maintained. They ran until 2001 and here is a photo of one of them running service on Normandie in 1999.

And that is the story of Metro’s last directly operated diesel buses.

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Before this morning’s Metro board meeting, a coalition rallied for fully electrifying Metro’s 2,200 bus fleet by the year 2030. In March, Metro is expected to approve a procurement for 1,000 new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. The coalition is campaigning to block the expected CNG bus purchase. Organizations in the coalition include Food & Water […]