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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Goodbye to the fish bowl bus

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The New Look bus has been an essential fixture of the TTC fleet for 50 years. The model, discontinued since 1985, was once popular across Canada and the United States, but is now a rare sight — except in Toronto, where they're still in regular use.

To this day, the bus retains its charm. New Looks, introduced by General Motors (GM) in 1957, represented a major change from the design of earlier, boxy buses. Their retro space-age look mimicked some car shapes of the time. Slanted side windows gave the appearance of speed, while the large, multi-paned front window led to the nickname "Fish bowl."

The first of these buses, built at a plant near Montréal, were acquired by the TTC in 1959, and were continuously delivered to Toronto until 1983. New Looks dominated the TTC bus fleet through the 1990s, when maintenance crews at Hillcrest Shops completely rebuilt the buses as a stopgap measure when budget cuts precluded new bus purchases.

The New Looks are the PCC streetcars of the bus fleet — though perhaps not as central to the Toronto psyche as the Red Rocket. But like the '30s- and '40s-era streetcars, they have a long history with the TTC, and both vehicles are still prominent as the black icons found on surface transit stop poles. And just as the TTC purchased used PCC cars from US cities, the cash-strapped agency bought New Looks from other agencies like the Société de transport de Montréal.

There are still 183 New Look buses left, but the TTC expects them to be fully withdrawn by 2010. The new Orion low-floor buses — which are responsible for the retirement of the New Look — may be cleaner, accessible, and air conditioned, but they're charmless, boxy, and just don't swallow huge crowds like an old GM bus could. The New Looks, built so well, have outlasted many other bus models acquired, even the GM Classics, the New Look's successors.

The TTC currently has no plans for retaining any GMs for historical purposes, but will likely send one or two to museums for static display, like the Halton County Radial Railway in Milton (which has several former trolley buses from Toronto and Hamilton on its property). There might be an official send-off once the buses are completely withdrawn, but in the meantime the New Looks can still be found, albeit in diminishing numbers, across the city. Routes 6 (Bay) on weekdays, 58 (Malton), and 95 (York Mills) are good bets.

Toronto Archives photo: fonds 1567, series 648, file 85, id 5