I honestly never thought this day would come. When I started training back in early November, VIA was in the process of retiring the entire NABI fleet. They would stop the process later that same month, but have at least 20-30 buses in storage at the Madla Transit Center. The remaining 10 or so would sometimes enter service. As training progressed, all of my instructors made it seem like I would never get to train on the NABI’s at all. Low and behold today’s greatest achievement, I actually got trained to drive this bus!
My classmates today didn’t understand my love for this bus. Way back in 1999/2000 this bus was a big deal, to driver’s and passengers. These buses had so many new cool features that the old RTS fleet never had, one of them was being the first low floor bus in the fleet. The last remaining RTS buses lasted around 19-20 years (until 2010). I didn’t think that VIA would keep the NABI’s around for so long. Once they reached 14 years old, I kept my eyes on the news online looking for their replacements. Then 15 went by, and 16, and 17, and that’s when Nova won the bid.
Once the retirement process began, they were very quickly phased out. Most NABI’s served between 16-18 years, so that makes them the second longest running buses in the fleet (that I know of, I can’t speak of the older buses before my time). And while these buses have taken quite a beating, they are still running strong. Yes you can see obvious signs of age and wear inside and out, but the fact that VIA has kept this bus around for so long shows how great the maintenance staff treats these buses. It was a shame to find out that the 2003 New Flyers were retired at the age of 14, but I’ll save that for a different post.
Today’s training bus, #941, was built in 2001 and she still handled very well. The steering was surprisingly perfect (again not too loose or tight), the mirrors were adjusted nicely, it was pretty roomy in the seat, and it’s speed was amazing. At some point the engine was either overhauled or replaced with a new one. Either way it got up to speed very quickly, and while I’m not sure if the engine has a governed speed, I was able to get it up to 70 MPH. I didn’t notice I was going that fast until I looked down at the speedometer and was instantly surprised.
During my time in training I’ve talked to drivers about which bus is their favorite. NABI took a close second place, with New Flyer wining. The top comment from them was about how the interior AC worked beautifully, but the driver’s vents barely worked at all. They called the driver’s seat the “hot box” because you will literally sweat up there. Whether that’s true or not, today’s bus had excellent AC for me while I was driving, which was a great thing because it was humid and I swear it reached 80 degrees.
This bus had a tight turning radius. I swear I was going to hit the curb every time, yet I always cleared it with no problems. The wheelchair securement area is a little different from what I’ve seen before on the oldest New Flyers, but it’s manageable. The kneeling of this bus does take a bit longer than any other in the fleet, but it still does its job. The horn is super loud, however the button on the steering wheel was hard to press.
Despite its age, this was a fun bus to drive. My overall rating of buses would put NABI at 3rd place, with express hybrids at 2nd and Xcelsior at 1st. I’m super glad I can say I drove an old diesel NABI. And while I don’t know how much longer they will be in service, I can at least cherish them until their sad fate arrives. Until then, I just hope I can drive a few more.