Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Activist Kid's Unauthorized Guide to the Bus Series of TriMet Part 1- Defunct Series and 1400s/1600s

Hey, all! Today TriMet announced that it was deploying 55 new buses for 2012 in the hopes of replacing the crumbling remnants of what we commonly call "The 1400/1600 and 1700-1900 series." That made me reminiscent and after blazing through a number of thoughts and memories (as well as... 4, 5 Twitter conversations with Adri) I decided to make a neato little guide to the bus models and types and what to expect from them. Complete with my own photography! (when I can find any. :P)

Defunct Models

Now I can't say much about these, because I don't remember much. I do remember them, though. I remember the big long articulated ones that didn't last very long, but very very vaguely. There's one of the ones with the rounded fronts- 900 series?- that I rode on the line 9 through Concordia. There's the older short ones that looked like tin cans- very retro. What I remember very well, though, were the 500/600 series that ran all over the place. Kind of like a cross between the 1400s and 1700s. They ran up till mid to late last decade- in fact, I remember the last one I ever saw was on a line 16 during 6th grade.

A note- assuming by what could be logic, the first buses from TriMet would be the 00s or 100s. If that's true, and the system started in the 60s, does it leave anyone else disconcerted that the 500s were around till 2006?

1400 series-Gillig Phantoms

These are the oldest buses remaining on the fleet- somewhere around 20 years old, I believe. I'll always remember the sounds of their engines, always. If you've heard them, you know what I mean- kind of bleak and sorrowful but very strong as well. Weird how that works, but oddly enough I always find myself taking my headphones off and listening to the sounds of the buss.

Their readerboards are pretty hard to see, what with thin lines and faded colors, but still they work better than a good patch of the New Flyers. They also have those bus burps where they spit out a huge gray cloud when it takes off. Very unpleasant.

Inside they are usually entirely uncomfortable- a good portion of the seats are the gray and red hard plastic shell whatchamacallits. And the ones that have a 'cushion' on it (note the use of quotation marks) usually are just as bad or even worse. They're usually a half centimeter thick, almost as hard as the plastic and given just a thin glaze of felt as actual comfort. It's hard to enjoy sitting down on those buses.

Now if you're out looking for the 1400s, you'll have a challenge. They're rarely, if ever, used intentionally on bus lines anymore. They're primarily used as emergency backup for any route that needs a bus to fill in for one that's out of commission. If you're really looking for one, you'd probably find them in East County, along line 25-Glisan or 87-Airport Way/181st or something of the like. But rarely are they used willingly.

EXCEPT, if you happen to catch a City of Roses tour bus. Those have the leftover 1400s that TriMet used. Good luck trying to track one down though.

The 1600s (pretty much everything I mentioned above, but smaller), on the other hand, are the go-to bus for routes that need shorter buses (excluding Washington County, that doesn't seem to have much more than the 1700 series and some 2900s.) You'll find them in Council Crest, Gresham, Troutdale, Milwaukie, Happy Valley, Wilamette, they're all over the place. Primarily, though, around Clackamas and Gresham. Every line 28-Linwood, 29-Lake/Webster, 80/81-257th Ave and 152 Milwaukie is bound to have one. It's like TriMet law.

Overall, these are a piece of nostalgia by now and will be only that by the time 2012 is over. For better or worse, though, they'll be remembered.


  1. I feel so honored to be mentioned! ;)
    Anyways, the 1400s and 1600s are 21 years old. They'll be 22 next year (they 'began' service in 1990, began being in quotes because the buses broke down so frequently[especially the 1600s]). The 17/1800s are 20 years old, only bought a year after the gilligs. The 1900s are either the same age or one year newer, I can't remember.
    I gotta remember to go through and get multiple good pix of these older trimet buses before they're gone...(although I've probably got a million already right now).

  2. First of all, the 1400s are not as rare as you say. I ride one every day. I can guarantee you that you'll see 1400s each and every day on the 94-Sherwood Express, the 1-Vermont, and several of the Marquam Hill expresses. You'll see 1600s guaranteed on the 39-Lewis & Clark route. You can go to Barbur TC and easily see five 1400s in one place, at one time - any morning or afternoon (weekdays).

    Second, the headsigns are crap. Almost none of the buses' headsign lamps work, so at night (which is anytime before 8:00 AM or after 5:00 PM this time of year) you cannot even see the sign unless you are ten feet away from it. At least the New Flyers' have the signs lit up.

    Historically the 14s and 16s were very, very rarely ever seen in Washington County as they were always Center and Powell buses. When I lived in Beaverton from 1996-2000 the only time I'd see a Gillig was on a holiday (the big six - New Years, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas), when all operations were out of Center Street. About the only place in Washington County you'll see those old relics are on 99W in Tigard.

  3. As for "Defunct Models"...

    In the mid-to-late 1990s TriMet had the following models:

    300/400 series - Flxible "New Look" buses that dated to the early 1970s. Also called "Fishbowls" for the shape of their windshield.

    500/600 series - Flxible Metro. Basically identical to the 1700/1800 series, just a few years older (1986-1989 era). Externally the only real difference was a smaller headsign (bigger than the 700s and 900s); internally the biggest difference was a large fuse panel directly above the driver's window.

    700 series - the Crown-Ikarus 286 Articulated bus. These entered service in 1981 and were retired in 1998 when Westside MAX was introduced. It was the retirement of these buses that also started the "Frequent Service" program, since many routes that used the artics couldn't deal with the passenger counts with the smaller buses on 20 minute headways, so routes like the 12 and 57 had to increase the number of trips with the 40' buses. Notorious for all sorts of problems, these were the first TriMet vehicles to have wheelchair lifts (mounted in the center door, not the front door) and were also quickly decommissioned when someone fell off a lift. These buses had unique cushioned seats that were easily vandalized - but they were cushy. Miserable on hot days. Engine was mounted ahead of the #2 axle (and ahead of the articulation joint) with the exhaust near the driver's window which made the vehicles unpopular with the Operators. Operators actually received extra pay for driving these buses.

    The 800 series were a group of renumbered GMC "New Look" or "Fishbowl" buses from 1973...I don't remember them and were retired by the mid-1990s.

    The 900 series are the GMC RTS-II buses. These buses were very popular elsewhere but not so much in Portland. They were a mainstray of C-Tran and Cherriots' fleet, and very popular in Los Angeles and New York. These were the last buses produced by General Motors (technically the vehicle is still in production today by a company called Millenium Bus...GMC sold the bus business to TMC which was a subsidiary of MCI (think: Greyhound buses, MCI was actually owned by Greyhound at the time), which then sold it to NovaBus (which is owned by Volvo), who then spun off the RTS business to Millenium. They are trying to update the design but have largely been unsuccessful. Very notable design, "futuristic" cap, curved body. ADA lift was in the rear door, not the front. Also not popular with Operators due to a cramped driving compartment.

    1000 series were built by AM General (think: Humvees) and were basically an American revision of a Canadian Flyer bus. Built in 1976, these were retired in the early 1990s.

    The 1100 and 1200 series were used for various GMC and Flxible "New Look"/"Fishbowl" buses and many were renumbered out of older fleet series. Many were one-off used buses. It looks like there were only a total of 43 buses between these two series. Most were likely retired sometime in the 1980s.

    No buses were numbered in the 1300 series. (Supersition?)

    Here's a great resource (covers up to 2002 and the ill-fated 2400 series):

  4. Ooh, thanks Erik, first off, for the neat-o little history there. I definitely didn't have any concrete research and this kept me occupied for a little while down memory lane.

    Which leads me to my next little point- I'm definitely not trying to be official. This is a mix of personal opinions, nostalgia and general transit geek fondness. Your info is appreciated but this is definitely unauthorized, as stated above.

    Thanks for everything, though!


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