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The evolution of Metro buses - video transcript

Photo of Seattle Transit Coach 158 - January 1948

Narrator Says:

They sit side-by-side in a concrete lot at Metros Safety and Training Center, and serve as a sort of physical history book about Metros buses of the past.

Bus technology has clearly come a long way since Metro began operating in 1973, but the buses at this so-called Bus Boneyard date back farther than Metro does.

The oldest bus in the yard was actually built in 1939, and was operated by what was then the new Seattle Transit Agency.

Michael Voris is a Vehicle Maintenance Supervisor at Metro, and takes us back in time for a look at some of the buses operated by Metro and its predecessor over the past 70 years.

Metro Transit Vehicle Maintenance Supervisor Michael Voris Says:


This is a 1939 twin coach motor bus, unrestored, obviously, that we rescued out of a field somewhere near Tacoma. Seattle Transit when they took over in august of 1939, needed to buy buses. And these were some of the first buses that were delivered, the first motor buses. This has a gasoline engine and a mechanical transmission. The trolley buses that Seattle Transit replaced the street cars and cable cars with started coming in 1940.

The front two seats are the original and that is the original Seattle Transit upholstery from 1939-1940, this is a Chase Velmo mohair seat. This bus has something none of our other buses have, a clutch pedal, [be]cause this is a manual transmission bus. This is the gear-shift lever, this is the parking break.


This is one of 100 1947-1948 twin coach buses that Seattle Transit purchased in those years to replace equipment that was thoroughly worn out during World War II. These buses are very light-weight, all aluminum. They have a Torselastic suspension which is again twin coach doing something different.


This bus 263, is one of 100 general motors buses Seattle Transit bought in 1955. They bought these after they had purchased 15 test buses in 1954, five of these, five flexible twins, and five MAC's. And this is a typical bus interior of the mid-50's: sturdy green vinyl seat upholstery, green pattern melamine on the side walls, green-painted ceiling panels, and again this is a 51-passenger bus.

And this bus also has a Detroit diesel, 671 two-stroke, diesel engine, with a two-speed automatic transmission. These buses were never meant to go on the freeway so they have a top speed of maybe 50 miles an hour.

Im turning the sign, it's a roller curtain. Theres 42 Empire, 41 Blue Streak, they actually put in Blue Streak roller signs, 39 Highland Park, 33 Ft. Lawton, 32 South Park, 31 Beacon, 30 Ballard-Laurelhurst. Some of these routes are still around and some are changed.


I'm standing in a 1959 gm old look that was originally purchased by Lake Shore Lines. That was a suburban operation in the Seattle King County area. When Metropolitan Transit consolidated three suburban carriers in the mid-60's, this bus was repainted into Metropolitan Transit colors, and that's the colors that it has today. When Metro took over on January 1, 1973, this bus continued to serve, it ran until about 1980. This is a GM Old Look, like the 200, but this is a 35-ft. bus and it's also 96 inches wide and only has a single door.

The original purchaser of the bus, Lake Shore Lines, specified all forward-facing seats, which doesn't mean the wheel houses disappear. Theyre still there, in a Transit bus, like the Seattle Transit GM Old Look; you would put aisle-facing seats over this wheel house. but Lake Shore Lines chose not to. There is a seat platform here, but not nearly enough to make these seats usable for an adult.


This is a 1963 flexible. Seattle Transit bought 100 of these, basically to start replacing trolley buses with diesel buses. They were delivered in green and white, but when the 700's came in 1968, Seattle Transit repainted them in the red and gray paint scheme, and so we decided to restore this one into its red and gray paint.

Green vinyl seats, green-patterned side walls below the window line, painted above. Melamine ceiling panels, standee windows, slanted side windows these are also called new look buses. And this bus was also delivered with 51 passenger seats. We reproduced the original Seattle Transit 'No Smoking' sign. Its a little man with a Seattle Transit logo that was used by Seattle Transit.


This is 724; this is one of the 70 1968 general motors buses purchased new by Seattle Transit. Seattle Transit introduced the blue streak freeway express service in 1970 on the then new Seattle i-5 freeway. They bought these buses to travel at freeway speeds. And they also bought these to climb steep hills so they could continue replacing trolley buses with motor buses.

A new innovation, touch bar rear doors. When the driver would move the door lever to the rear open position, this green light would come on, you could touch this rod, and the door would be opened for you. Obviously this was changed after metro took over and you went to the downtown free zone where the driver had to be able to open the rear doors. Weve restored the touch bars to the rear door on this bus.


1122 here, is an example of the first fleet of motor buses that metro bought after metro took over the system. These came in 1976, these were made by am general, which is a company that went into the bus business in the early 70's, and basically was out of the bus business by 1980.

This bus has a much different look inside. The transit General Manager at the time, Carl Sally, was interested in a bus with as many forward-facing seats as possible and a bus without the Jungle-Gym effect of vertical stanchions. So as you can see this bus has seat platforms, which give you practically all forward-facing seats. And you see almost no stanchions in the bus.


1657 is a 1979 flyer bus, the company is still in business now called New Flyer. And we're actually taking delivery of 22 new hybrid artics as we speak. This bus is significant because it was the first fleet of buses purchased by Metro Transit that came equipped with a wheelchair lift. This was 11 years before ADA made wheelchair lifts mandatory on transit vehicles. This was a demonstration of metro's early commitment to accessible service. We bought several hundred of these buses in 1979-1980. These have a Cummins VTB-903 V-8 diesel and a 3-speed automatic transmission.


This is a 1987 man, 40-foot bus. We had two fleets of man articulated buses. in the mid-80's we bought these, we bought mostly diesel buses, we also bought ten methanol buses to try methanol as an alternative fuel. We ran them for three years and learned everything we needed to know about methanol and converted them to diesel. This 5132 is actually one of the converted methanol buses. And it's now in the historic fleet. Its wheelchair lift-equipped, it's a high-floor bus. it has an man six-cylinder engine and a rank transmission.

The standard metro interior of the mid-80's: brown seats, two wheelchair tie-downs, roof vents, opening bin windows. The engine is a six-cylinder laid over on its side, so basically you have seats clear back to the back window, which you don't anymore. So you get a lot of seats in this bus.

Narrator Says:

Fast forward to 2008.

Metro has just taken delivery and placed into its bus fleet these 22 new hybrid diesel buses, pushing its total to more than 230.

The hybrids cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 30 percent when compared to a regular diesel bus.

These 22 are the first of as many as 500 buses metro can buy as a result of the agreement it reached with New Flyer, GM, and Cummins Engine Company in May of 2007.

Todd Gibbs, a Transit Maintenance Analyst with Metro, says Metros buses just keep getting cleaner and more reliable as time goes by.

Metro Transit Maintenance Analyst Todd Gibbs Says:

They're pretty much the next iteration of our hybrid buses. Of course the engine is now cleaner, the old ones had to meet the 2004 EPA emissions, now there's a 2007 benchmark that has to be met, which these engines do, so they're exponentially cleaner yet than the old ones.

The drive unit, the hybrid drive unit, we don't expect to ever have to overhaul that over the life of the bus, whereas a conventional transmission, you probably have two or three overhauls over the life of the bus. You save money there. Same thing with the engines, the engines aren't being used as hard with a hybrid bus. So, chances are you won't have to do a mid-life engine overhaul, which you would with a conventional bus. So you start factoring those things in, plus less labor to maintain the buses, it's a pretty compelling argument to go with hybrid.

Narrator Says:

Metro is planning to order 100 more new buses in 2009, and will be implementing Bus Rapid Transit in 2010, to help ease congestion on five of the counties busiest corridors.

Updated: Jun. 3, 2008