It's all about the Neoplans And you thought that double-decker buses were only in London...

I first started riding Los Angeles public transit in Summer 1984. After a month or so, I noticed that some of the buses were...uh "better" than others. There were plenty of older buses that RTD was hanging on to during the Olympics, and a few not-so-great models from the 70's. Then there were the General Motors RTS's with the rattling windows.

And then there were the Neoplans. RTD had purchased 415 of them (all regular, single level, 40-footers) in early 1984, in anticipation of the Olympics. Most of these ended up in the San Fernando Valley, so when they occasionally ended up on a San Gabriel Valley route, it was a real improvement over the older buses (AM Generals mostly) that usually ran out there. They had smooth-running motors, working air conditioning, and a new-car (ok, new-bus) smell.

Nothing could compare, though, to a ride on one of RTD's Neoplan double decks. RTD had purchased two of these vehicles in 1975 as part of a demonstration project. In 1981, they purchased an additional 20 of these buses, making the largest double deck public bus fleet in the U.S.. However, I wasn't aware of them until mid-1984.

In August 1984, I was waiting at Alosta and Grand in Glendora for a local bus when I saw the double deck #498

I finally got to ride one in September 1984. Although I had ridden public transit many times before, this was my first trip on a public bus to Downtown LA. I had planned to ride #498 into Downtown LA, hang around there for awhile, then continue on Line #40 to Downtown Inglewood.

So, I waited at Grand and Alosta, until the double deck bus pulled up. I flashed my $4 student pass, and made my way upstairs. I noticed that the stairs were very steep, more so than normal stairs, and in fact a red sign on them said "Warning--High Risers". On the second deck, several similar red signs warned passengers of "low headroom". In fact the seats at the very front of the upper deck had "low legroom" as well, in order to make space for entering passengers and the driver. The lower deck, while it had fewer seats than a regular bus, did feature tables and "luggage racks" (in that hard-to-use space over the front wheels, since the buses were actually designed to have a low-floor).

  • Manufacturer: Neoplan,
    West Germany
  • Model: 122/3
  • Length: 40 feet
  • Width: 8.5 feet
  • Height: 14 feet
  • Cost: $225,000
  • Seating: 28 seats lower deck
    54 seats upper deck
    82 total seats

As the bus drove south along Grand, we were about to pass under the I-210 freeway overpass. I thought "Uh, oh, are we going to make it?" But of course we did. While riding, Eventually, we arrived at the Eastland Center park-and-ride lot, where the bus got so full that people were sitting on the stairs. Then it was the I-10 freeway and the El Monte Busway, zipping past traffic. We made the stops at Cal State LA, and at the County Hospital, then back onto the freeway for the trip into Downtown LA. I got off at Spring and First and continued my adventure.

So from then on, and throughout 1985, and until January 1986, my idea of a great transit adventure usually started like this:

  1. Wait at Grand and Alosta
  2. Board Line #498
  3. Ride to Downtown L.A.
  4. Connect with a bus route going elsewhere (Usually, to places like Torrance, Long Beach, Santa Monica or Orange County, but once I rode all the way to San Diego County, using public buses).
  5. Ride #498 back home. (Once I tried #495 to Hacienda Heights and transferred to #280 on Azusa. It was a longer trip)

#498 was also fun to ride on trips home from Santa Barbara; get off the Greyhound in LA, walk outside to an RTD #48 stop (or just walk up to Flower St), then catch the #498.

#495 and #498 were almost always guaranteed to have the double deck buses. (There were rumors that they were occasionally placed on other San Gabriel Valley express routes, but I never saw them on any other line but #495 and #498). Occasionally, however one or more would be in the shop, and we'd be stuck with one of the older buses. One driver commented "The double decker was low on oil, they'll put gas in them but not oil in them".


In February 1986, I was up in Santa Barbara, reading the L.A. Times one morning. There was an article in the paper, saying that "RTD might get rid of the double deck buses". In the article, there were the usual worries of buses hitting trees and breaking the windshield (known to happen) and possibly hitting a low bridge (never happened to my knowledge). But that article didn't tell half the truth about what really happened...

Going home to L.A, on break, I noticed that all the #498's were single deck buses. An article in the local Pomona paper described a fire in the bus yard that had totally destroyed two of the double decks, and one other bus. Later on it had been determined that the fire was caused by faulty wiring in one of the double decks (and not arson, as originally thought). On a quick trip by the bus yard, I saw one of the burnt-out buses, with all its windows melted out. A bus driver on the #498 said, "They'll never run again."

But the buses were to run again, they were just out of service for about a year so that their electrical systems could be checked out and updated.

1989: The return of the double decks

Eighteen of the double deckers (minus the two burnt-up ones, and the 1975 demonstrators, which had been retired) returned to the streets of Southern California in Fall 1988. Now they almost exclusively operated on Route #495 until Foothill Transit took over that route in early 1989. (Foothill had already taken over #498) After that, they were used on Line #497 (LA-Pomona)

Line #497 presented problems that #498 and #495 did not. Problem Number 1 was Kellogg Hill (on I-10 between West Covina and Pomona). Especially going eastbound, buses had difficulty climbing the hill. 18-wheeler trucks would pass the buses. That's slow!

There was also about 15-20 minutes of street running on #497 (along Wilshire Blvd from Downtown LA to Wilshire/Western). That was a pretty scenic ride, but since the buses didn't handle local passengers along Wilshire, anyone wanting to take it would have to travel to/from Pomona. (There were other buses that operated between LA and Pomona, all day and all night, though. In fact, for a short while in 1992, #497 operated bidirectional peak hour service, so someone could board a double decker in LA in the morning, then ride back before noon. Or, board in Pomona in the afternoon, and ride back from L.A. that same night).

1994: Last Ride of the 9900's

By 1994 these buses were 13 years old--about one year past "retirement age" according to the transit agency.

Also, Line #497, where these buses were exclusively used, was slowly but steadily losing ridership to this newfangled thing called Metrolink...

So after December 1994, all of the remaining double deck fleet was put out of service. For about a year, they lingered at the RTD yard just east of Downtown. Then they were sold to Chicago Motor Coach for use in their tourist service around Chicago. (The upper deck roof and windows have been removed, so they are now open-air buses). They advertise a "fleet of historic English and modern German double decker buses". Yes, those were L.A.'s "largest doubledeck public bus fleet", alright, painted red...

I saw a couple of the buses in my 1998 visit to Chicago, but two years later, the buses seemed to have disappeared. I looked for them at their usual stops--Sears Tower, Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue--not one to be found. The old Chicago Motor Coach yard (Madison and Halstead) was being torn up for another project, and their website ( no longer worked...

The mystery of "what happened to the buses" was solved when I arrived in New York a few days later. Gray Line of New York had bought the buses and was using them in sightseeing service in New York City! What a 3000-mile journey...from the L.A. freeways to the crowded streets of Manhattan!

The Double Decks Ride Again

In 1994, as MTA was phasing out its double decks, the Antelope Valley Transit Authority ( AVTA) had a capacity problem on its Lancaster-Los Angeles commuter route. So it ordered three double deck buses from Neoplan USA in Lamar, Colorado. The buses hit the streets in August 1996.

These buses are superficially similar to those formerly owned and operated by RTD/MTA, but with a few differences:

Two round trips (to L.A. in the morning and to Lancaster in the evening) are operated with these buses, leaving the third as a spare.

I haven't ridden these yet, due to the need for an overnight stay in Lancaster. But I might...and when I do, the trip report will be right here at this page!

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