The TMC RTS can trace its roots back to the early 1960’s, when a desire to replace GMC’s previous design, the iconic New Look ‘Fishbowl’ series of 1959, brought about the evolution of the RTX (Rapid Transit Experimental) Project of 1964. The RTX and later Transbus Project were part of a long-term evolution of a design that brought about a more angular style than the previous New Look model, a one-step entrance and a length of 45 feet for the Transbus.
In 1970 plans were altered so that a backup replacement for the Transbus could be available in the event of that project failing, and thus the RTS was born. The first prototypes left the factory in 1973, but further development was put on hold. 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.
The first generation RTS, the RTS-01, entered service in 1977, and made initial public appearances in California, Massachusetts and Texas. To begin with, entry into the major metropolitan areas was slow as experiments in service needed to be carried out and any flaws in the design highlighted during its early days of service. The design was lauded early on for being futuristic, looking very much like the Bus of tomorrow. Vehicles were originally assembled at Pontiac in Michigan, but after 1987 would move to Roswell, New Mexico. The buses were powered originally by either 6 or 8 cylinder versions of the Detroit Diesel Series 71 engine, but changes in design and customer specification would have Cummins and Caterpillar engines introduced later.
Following the warm reception of the RTS-01, the RTS-03 was launched in 1978, and was the first mass-produced version of the bus for larger metropolitan areas. The bus made its debut in New York with the City Transit Authority, and today has become a vital part of the NYC public transport scene. Modifications to the New York vehicles included the addition of a second door mid-way down the body to allow for easier loading and unloading, and this was soon a standard option for RTS customers. Plans were also made for an articulated ‘Bendi-Bus’ version of the RTS known as the RTS Mega, but this never went beyond the prototype stage.
In 1987, the RTS would prove to by GMC’s last Bus product as they sold the rights to the vehicle’s design to Transport Manufacturing Corporation of Roswell, New Mexico, a subsidiary of Motor Coach Industries. TMC and the New York City Transit Authority made a deal to prepare a new version of the RTS for 1986 known as the RTS-06, today the most common of these buses, distinguishable for a newer Detroit Diesel Series 50 Engine and changed suspension. The RTS-06 débuted with GMC, but production was handed over to TMC, and later by NovaBus, the next company to own the rights to the RTS from September 1994. Production under NovaBus continued until 2002 when NovaBus left the U.S. market and concentrated on its latest LFS low-floor design.
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. Today the RTS remains in production after nearly 40 years, and in that time has gone through 6 generations of buses, plus two prototypes. These vehicles continue to be the mainstay of many US and Canadian cities, being in operation with pretty much every City Transit Authority. So iconic is this vehicle that it frequently shows up in films and movies, usually for the purpose of being blown up, such as in Armageddon, the Siege and Transformers.