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).
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:
#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".
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.
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).
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 (http://www.chicagomotorcoach.com) 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!|
These buses are superficially similar to those formerly owned and operated by RTD/MTA, but with a few differences:
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!