Time has finally run out for Calgary Transit’s fleet of venerable MCI Classic buses and after some twenty five years of service they are being retired. In the last few years they’ve been used for peak service mostly and the number on the road varied depending on service levels and the like. All through the summer and even into September however, it was common to catch them out in the wild. By the second week of October that all changed, abruptly, and sightings became rare. Clearly the end was near.
Or had the worst already happened?
A quick call to a contact within the CTS organization and we knew more. A small number of them remained in service – great – fantastic – but they were likely to last only a day or two more.
We could still catch some, finger’s and toe’s crossed, but we had better act fast!
The next day, October 15th, right after lunch, we stationed ourselves at the exit to the Spring Gardens bus barns, the facility where almost all the Classics operated from, awaiting the afternoon rush. If one were to leave for service, it’d pass through these gates and we’d catch it. That’s pretty much guaranteed.
The hours pass and countless buses leave the facility, with not a single Classic seen. Well, not one operating that is. A large group of them, parked and looking out of service, can be seen to the south of the barns. An ominous sign.
Wait…is that a Classic coming out of the building? Yes, they live! Well…one lives! A single example was caught heading out. We had one! Hooray!
Sadly no, and an hour later with the rush-hour exodus over, our Classic count was still one. The bus we saw was the only one to leave, and as we found out later via our contact, the last one operating across the whole system on what turned out to be the final day of service for any of them.
The last Classic!
This model bus was developed by GM’s Diesel Division in Saint-Eustache, Quebec in the early 1980s. It replaced the well known and proven GMC “New Look”(affectionately called “Fishbowls”) one of the most popular transit buses ever produced. The two designs share much in common and in many ways the Classic was simply a redesigned New Look, with an updated skin and other modernized features.
In 1987, the company MCI (Motor Coach Industries of Greyhound Bus fame) took over the GM plant. In 1993, the factory changed hands yet again, becoming the firm Nova Bus. All the while Classic production continued – it ran from 1983-1997.
While Canadian made, they were so well regarded that many of these buses were purchased new by US operators.
Calgary Transit’s Classics, just over a hundred of them, were built in 1991 and 1992 across two separate orders. They also bough a few used examples from a US transit agency, in the mid-2000s, which were also MCI produced (1990-91). My understanding is whether from GM, MCI or Nova, they are all pretty much the same outside the nameplate.
These were some of the last “high floor’ buses purchased by CTS. Post 1992 orders, all coming from the firm New Flyer, which for the next eighteen years held a monopoly on CTS orders, were low floor models. This design, which has been adopted by all bus manufacturers, makes entering and exiting much easier, especially so for the elderly, the handicapped and those with children, baby buggies or packages.
With the Classics now retired, the CTS fleet is 100% low floor. The oldest buses now on the roster are from 1993, New Flyer model D40LFs. Time to keep an eye on them!
The one MCI Classic we caught leaving was #5066. Those that were parked, that we spoke of earlier, included #5020, #5032, #5034, #5038, #5051, #5058, #5067, #5077, #5079, #5090, #5092, #5096, #5101 and finally #5106. Many others are probably still on the property, parked in some back lot no doubt and out of view.
What will happen to these buses is not certain. Surely some will be scrapped but it’s also likely some will get sold, perhaps to other transit operators or charter firms. They could still have some life left in them, some of them anyway. We’ll keep an eye on what’s happening and will update our readers as needed.
A few other operators in Canada and some in the US still run Classics. They are not extinct everywhere. How much longer they’ll last is anyone’s guess. A local firm, Southland Transportation still has some for charter use and they are often seen shuttling people about the Spruce Meadows venue.
Nova still makes buses and Calgary Transit has some: various LF models built in the years 2010-2013. CTS seems to prefer New Flyer, based out of Winnipeg Manitoba, more however.
Around this same time last year, we captured some of the last CTS GMC Fishbowls in service. There is a link below to that article.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.