My recent article on the ex-Lethbridge Transit GMC Fishbowl bus had me thinking, how many of these are left in Calgary? If any? I do know the city has been operating Fishbowls up until recently, as I have seen them occasionally pass by on a busy street near us. However I had not spotted any within the last month or so and I wondered if they had been finally retired. Or did some make it into 2013?
Some quick research showed that as of 2012, the most recent date I could find, these buses congregated at the Spring Gardens garage in the NE. This facility is the largest of the three bus barns the city has and its location allows easy access to a number of main arteries. In addition to the GMC Fishbowls, this base seems to be home to a high percentage of other older buses. Like the GM/MCI Classic and some earlier New Flyers, all painted in the now obsolete white paint scheme. Only a few new buses were seen, painted in the newer red and white or red/grey/white scheme, amongst the hordes of older models.
Before anything a brief history of the Fishbowl is in order. Officially called the “New Look” by it’s maker, it’s more often affectionately referred to by its funny moniker – a nickname that comes about due to the angular front windshield which gave a magnified fishbowl-like effect. Models for the USA were produced by GM’s Bus and Truck Division in Michigan. Models built in Canada (and including some US orders) were initially produced at the GMDD (General Motors Diesel Division) locomotive plant in London Ontario. After 1980 or so Canadian production was transferred to a factory in St. Eustache Quebec near Montreal. US production spanned the years 1959-1977 while Canadian examples were made from 1961-1986.
While we did not see a huge number of these buses we managed to capture three heading out and saw two inside the garage. One of the latter was still in the older blue livery and in fact it (number 1046) was the last operating bus in that scheme. This author has seen pictures of it on the road in 2011, but it’s unsure if it’s operated since then. It held the title as the last blue bus in service since way back in 2009.
According to data I have found it’s estimated that some thirty to forty of these buses are still on the roster, but it’s hard to get an exact count as they seem to operate sporadically, usually only at rush hour. Plus breakdowns change the number. They lack wheel chair access and such and so don’t get out much. When not in service they seem to be held out of sight in the garage.
Number #1046 by the way was built in 1980 and was one of 75 made to that order. It’s stablemate, number #945 in white livery, is a few years older, being built in 1978. It was one of 80 buses from that order.
Of the Fishbowls that actually hit the road, in order we saw #1010, #977 and #902. The former was built in 1979 and was one of 36 buses from that order. The other two were from the 1978 order mentioned above.
Number 902 left the garage and half an hour later passed by heading west, sans any passengers. It left the yard with a terrible list but when passing by it looked level. Perhaps it had some mechanical issues that were being worked on or road tested (airbag suspension?),
Some buses seen (#902, #945, #977) were delivered with the standard roller destination signs and were later being retrofitted with the digital versions. I noticed that none of those leaving had advertisements on their side, whereas all other bus models did. I guess since they are on the road for only a few hours a day there is not much reason to show ads to a such a limited audience.
It’s interesting to note that during the period 1977-1982 I lived in Calgary and being at teenager at that time and having no money, I of course took transit a lot. It’s quite possible I rode on at least some of the buses seen here.
It looks like Calgary may indeed be the last bastion for this model bus as research by this author has found no other major operators in North America. Some small cites have a few and in years past of course these were seen everywhere and every transit system operated large rosters of them. Saskatoon Saskatchewan may have been the last operator outside of Calgary, using them into at least 2011 or 2012, but they no longer show up in any roster reports in 2013. Experts chime in!
How long does Calgary’s Fishbowl fleet have? I have been unable to find any solid data but I would guess they’re likely to be retired at any time now. I’d be willing to guess they will not see 2014, or perhaps even summer of this year. I’ll keep an eye on the fleet and report should I know more.
The successor to the New Look was called The Classic and because of its significance we’ve included a picture of one. It was one in the parade of buses that passed us by. Actually while designed a successor, this model was produced concurrently with the Fishbowl for a number of years. The older model was still well liked by transit companies I guess.
The first Classics date from 1982 and they were made at the same St. Eustache factory that made the last New Looks. Produced by GM up until 1987, the design was later made at the same factory by new owner MCI (Motor Coach Industries) who took over the division. Later still, in 1993, the factory changed hands yet again, becoming a company called NovaBus. They are one of Canada’s big two transit bus makers, New Flyer being the other (Orion, a third company is now closed).
Nova continued to make the Classic until 1997. In site of looking different, the Classic actually shares a lot in common with the New Look – think of it as a re-skinned and updated Fishbowl. Calgary Transit Classics were only built by MCI.
New Looks and Classics are what’s known as high floor models and these have fallen out of favour. Newer buses, like the red and white NovaBus LFS #8101 seen in the one picture, represent the current trend of low floor design (this one is from 2010). This style gained popularity starting in the early 1990s. The Classic seen here, number 5099, dates from 1991/92 and was one of 50 of this model delivered from that order. It joined fifty five built earlier in 1991 and nine built in 1990 that came secondhand via a US operator.
While looking for Fishbowls something caught our eye and seen to the west of the main garage there are what appears to be two demonstrator buses. These are the latest model from New Flyer and they run on hydrogen fuel cells. I believe BC Transit has been operating similar units and it’ll be interesting to see how they fare here. That they are parked though might mean their demo tour is over, or maybe it’s hasn’t begun yet? I’d love to hear from anyone who knows. The very conspicuous hump on the roof is where the fuel is stored.
If you’d like to share your “Fishbowl” bus stories, by all means be sure to comment below.
Update: May 2013. We dropped by the bus barns to see if any Fishbowls were about. A row of them were seen sitting beside the garage but it’s not clear if they are in use or not. The following numbers were seen – 1148, 1154 and 114x – all built in 1982 and from Calgary Transit’s last Fishbowl order (68 buses). A picture is seen below.
Update: October 2013. Wow, we saw a Fishbowl in service in late October 2013! We were in heavy traffic and only got a brief look at it. We could not see the route, but it did appear to have passengers inside. It was number #977. We’ll be heading to the bus barns soon to see if any others are in service.
To see an earlier article on I did on an ex-Lethbridge Transit Fishbowl bus, click the link below…
The GMC Fishbowl.
To see an updated article on these buses, go here…
They Live! Calgary Transit GMC Fishbowls in 2013.
If you wish more information on these buses, by all means contact us!
Date: February, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.