Lets take a look at the various types of buses that each transit agency has. In no particular order at all, we’ll visit the older high-floor bus fleets, then onward to the newer low-floor models. Before we begin, I would like to thank those who allowed me to use their photos in this post (please note that those photos belong to their respective owners and are copyrighted).
First, the high-floor buses.
The Flxible Metro bus, was among HART’s original bus fleet, along with the GMC RTS (neither bus is pictured at this time). The Flxible and RTS buses were purchased in increments during the 1980s. PSTA also operated RTS buses during the 1980s and 1990s as well. However, after 2000, these buses were all scrapped in favor of Gillig models.
No, they aren’t ghosts, but the name does sound a bit spooky to some. I guess even the appearance looks a litte strange too. But nonetheless, the Gillig Phantom bus was considered a powerhorse for many transit agencies including the San Mateo Transit District (SamTrans), the Pittsburgh Port Authority, the San Antonio Transit Authority (VIA Transit) , and of course Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), and Manatee County Area Transit (MCAT). Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) also uses these buses, but they are in the process of retiring them.
This is the interior of a Gillig Phantom bus from HART. Many older models, like this one, had plush seating and rear door wheelchair lifts. Newer models had the wheelchair lifts in the front door of the bus. Gillig manufactured the Phantom from 1980 to 2008, when the company refocused their efforts on building low-floor buses. Today, the Phantom remains in use at many transit agencies, but during the years to come, they will be gradually phased out.
This photo shows a line of 6XX buses at the HART bus garage. These are part of a line of 30-foot Gillig Phantom buses that HART had already retired during the course of 2008. The three 6XX buses that remained in service until 2009 include #602, 608, and 609.
The mainstay of Gillig is no longer the Phantom, but rather the low-floor buses, like the one above of a 21XX by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). In fact, many transit agencies have turned to low-floor buses due to many factors, including ease of accessibility. With high-floor buses, one must travel up a set of stairs just to enter the bus. For a wheelchair-bound passenger, I see high-floor buses to be a nightmare of sorts because the wheelchair lifts take forever to deploy, thus increasing the boarding times. With low-floor buses, the wheelchair ramps deploy much more easily and decreases stop times, allowing the bus driver to focus more on making sure the passengers are safe and secure before moving on to the next stop, rather than have to hassle with those older lifts.
This is the interior of a Gillig Low Floor bus operated by HART. You can see that the higher level is towards the back of the bus, rather than the entire bus. This allows passengers who may have difficulty boarding the bus to sit closer to the front of the bus without having to climb steps. The seating arrangement differs vastly depending on the agency. With many newer buses that HART has purchased, the aim is to have front-facing seats throughout the entire bus, while SCAT & PSTA have opted for sideways-facing seats in the front and rear sections of their buses.
We see here that HART bus #2407 is ready to go to its next stop.
Now lets take a look at some more Gillig Low Floor buses…..
SCAT #612 is parked at the downtown Sarasota Transit Center.
HART #2316 at Britton Plaza.
HART #2015 at Britton Plaza, new livery. What makes the smaller buses better than the larger ones, is that the smaller ones tend to be more maneuverable in tight spots. #2015 is a notable exception of its entire sub-fleet, the 20XXs, which HART purchased back in 2000. From my understanding, #2015 was involved in an accident that put it out of service for months. Prior to it returning to service in August 2008, #2015 became the first HART bus to sport the current blue/white livery. All of the other 20XX buses will be retired in the spring of 2010 because they have reached the end of their useful lives. Because of the incident the put #2015 out of service, this lone bus will not be eligible for retirement until 2011, when the 35ft-9XX-Gilligs are slated to be retired.
The seating arrangement in HART’s 20XX fleet of 30-foot Gillig Low Floor buses is very odd. All the seats are facing sideways, with the exception of the last row.
Sadly, we have HART #2006. This bus reached the end of the line about three years early because the engine caught fire. The damage was quite extensive, especially to the back of the bus, where two windows were literally blown out, as well as a rear tire. I strongly doubt this bus was able to be repaired.
Finally, this is one of HART’s newest buses, #2903, a Gillig Low Floor 40 foot bus. They were purchased in 2009 with the help of federal stimulus dollars. Its a very good thing to see these in favor of the older Phantom buses.
And here’s #2912 at USF.
I should mention that PSTA also has a fleet of New Flyer buses that they purchased back in the 90s, PSTA is one of a few transit agencies in Florida that use these buses. I believe that the Miami Transit Authority also uses them. The Chicago CTA’s fleet is dominated by New Flyer buses, as well as the New York City MTA.
With that said, I would like to thank several people who have been very helpful to me. First off, I’d like to thank S. Bennear for allowing me to use some of his photos for this post, including the interior shots. Also, kudos to Tampa3170 for giving me timely updates on the retirement of HART’s Gillig Phantom buses, as well as the inception of their new buses into active service.