The Rapid Transit Series (RTS) bus is a long-running series of transit buses originally manufactured by General Motors (the last generation of that company's long bus heritage) during 1977, in Pontiac, Michigan, and is currently produced by Millennium Transit Services as the RTS Legend. Millennium had produced the buses from 2006 until it shut down production in 2009, only to be bought back into production in 2011. First produced in 1977, the RTS was GMC's entry into the Advanced Design Bus project (the other entry was the Flxible Metro by competitor Flxible) and is the descendant of GMC's entry in the U.S. Department of Transportation's "Transbus" project. The RTS is notable for its futuristic (at the time) styling featuring automobile-like curved body and window panels. That design has become as classic, though remains more contemporary as that of its predecessor, the GMC New Look which had a curved windshield, but flat side glass and body panels. Most current buses are now made by specialized coach manufacturers with flat sides and windows.
GMC sold the RTS design and patent rights to Transportation Manufacturing Corporation (TMC) of Roswell, New Mexico, a subsidiary of Motor Coach Industries in May 1987 though the two companies did a joint order for the New York City Transit Authority to prepare TMC for the production. TMC eventually sold the design and patents to NovaBus in September 1994 in the midst of an order for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Production under NovaBus continued until 2002 when NovaBus left the U.S. market.
The production was revived, however, by Millennium Transit Services, who tried to manufacture the bus in both high- and low-floor configurations. However, after poor sales and failure to secure awarded deals, Millennium ceased production on the RTS and went out of business in 2009. In September 2011, MTS re-entered the market and have showcased their latest RTS product at the 2011 APTA Expo in New Orleans. It also announced plans to introduce a 42.5-foot (12.95 m) version of the standard floor RTS, which would go into production in the near future.
The RTS was offered in 30-foot (9.14 m)-, 35-foot (10.67 m)-, and 40-foot (12.19 m)-long models and was built using a modular design that allowed the same parts to be used for all three lengths, the longest of which could seat up to 47 passengers. It was originally powered by either 6- or 8-cylinder versions of Detroit Diesel's venerable Series 71 two-stroke diesel engine channeled through an Allison V730 or ZF 5HP-500 transmission. Later models could be powered by a 6-cylinder Series 92, or the Series 50 engines.
The RTS is the descendant of GMC's entry for the Transbus project which in turn was the descendant of the RTX(Rapid Transit Experimental), an experimental model for which a prototype produced in 1968 with notes of its production dating to early as 1964. Both the RTX and the Transbus were similar in terms of design to the RTS though had major differences in having a less-rounded body design, a one-step entryway, and (in the case of the Transbus) a 45-foot (13.72 m) length.
Wanting a backup plan in the case that the Transbus project was abandoned, GMC decided to modify the RTX/Transbus design and in 1970 began the project that became the earliest RTS with the first prototype being assembled in 1973 at which point the project went onto hiatus. Though closer to its predecessors than the production models, the RTS name debuted with this prototype. After the project was revived in 1974, GMC would later withdraw from the Transbus project and focus their energies on the RTS.
Through the history of the RTS, there have been six generations of production plus two experimental variants (one of which not having made it beyond the prototype stage).
- RTS-01 (1977–78): Produced for a consortium of agencies in California, Massachusetts, and Texas, the RTS-01 was similar to the replacement RTS-03 only with some minor differences and a different style bumper.
- RTS-03 (1978–80): The first mass-produced version of the RTS that gained popularity among transit authorities. NFTA Metro of Buffalo, New York received the first order of 96" RTS-03 Buses (Serial Numbers 001-065), whereas Detroit's DDOT received the first 102" order (Serial Numbers 001-070). The RTS-03 featured a modular design, which became the hallmark of the RTS; seamless, un-openable side windows; sliding ("plug") front and rear doors; and a distinctive, sloped rear module. The New York City Transit Authority ordered two RTS-03's as test vehicles, and sold one each to Green Bus Lines Inc., Queens Transit Corp. and Steinway Transit Corp. after they used the data learned to make changes in their order of RTS buses which became the RTS-04 model.
- RTS-04 (1981–86): Introduced in the early 1980s, the RTS-04 eliminated the sloped rear end in order to house a larger air conditioning unit. The RTS-04 also introduced more pronounced side windows (and openable) that are similar to those featured in the latest RTS buses. These and previous models use independent front suspension. A 55-foot (17 m), 2 60-foot (18 m), and a 65-foot (19.81 m) articulated versions known as the RTS Mega were built, but never passed the prototype status. Most buses are given the option of tell-tale lights on each side of the destination sign; some were offered the lights on the backplate near the rear destination sign.
- RTS-05 (1987): GMC's attempt to move the RTS to a T-drive configuration. Rear module structure was heavily modified for the 'straight-in' arrangement, and would later be used as the design source for the Series 07.
- RTS-06 (1986–2002): The most common RTS found today and the only one made by three manufacturers (GMC, TMC, NovaBus). The RTS-06 is extremely similar to the RTS-04, except for slightly different rear ends found in later models that house the Detroit Diesel Series 50 engine. The front suspension for the -06 and later models was changed to a solid beam front axle.
- RTS-07 (1992): Experimental T-drive RTS; never put into mass production. The two models that were produced were for SMART in suburban Detroit.
- RTS-08 (1989–94): Front Wheelchair equipped RTS. The Chicago Transit Authority had wanted a bus with a front wheelchair lift and a back window, and contracted TMC to create such a bus. Fifteen 96-inch (2.44 m)-wide RTS-08s were also produced, all of which went to the CTA. After NovaBus took over production, the RTS-08 was replaced by the RTS-06 WFD (Wide Front Door), which are easily differentiated by the radically different front end and the presence of a slide-glide front door.
- RTS Legend (2006–present): The first Millennium Transit RTS, it is similar to the earlier RTS-06 with the differences of a T-drive configuration and a new front bumper. Wide-door models were reportedly available, but none were ever ordered. For a host of reasons, no more than 10 buses were built before the contracts were cancelled; rejected coaches were resold to Foxwoods Resort Casino, Somerset County Transportation, and Texas A&M University.
- RTS Extreme (Production set for 2012): The first low floor version of the RTS.
- RTS Express (Production set for 2012): RTS variant for "express" suburban use, with suburban seating and other features commonly found on motorcoaches.
Timeline of options
- 1978: The first 35-foot (10.67 m) RTS's are offered as is the option of electronic destination signs (as opposed to rollsigns).
- 1979: Rear door GM-designed wheelchair lifts were made available.
- 1981: With an order by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (for NYCTA and cousin organization MABSTOA), the option of a pop-open rear door is offered. This option becomes commonplace mostly in large cities as well as with the RTS-08. Also, a set of tell-tale lights were also offered; these lights can be found on each side of the front destination lights. The MBTA has green lights, while NYCTA buses have orange lights.
- 1984: A one-door suburban variant is offered for the first time, this is soon retired due to a combination of poor sales and decreased wheelchair access. It would be offered again in WFD form under NovaBus.
- 1986: Methanol-powered RTS's are produced in limited quality, these are the first alternatively fueled RTS buses.
- 1989: Compressed natural gas-powered RTS's enter production.