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Introduced in 2000, the Metro Rapid has brought panache to mass transit. Its red-and-silver color scheme and the calling card contour of its sun-shaded stops announce that this isn’t just a bus; it’s a brand. Stopping every three-quarters of a mile on major corridors (compared with every quarter mile for local buses), the Rapid is a favorite of commuters who prefer their buses to be like cars: driven with purpose.
Graphic by Bryan Christie
Each 60-foot bus can hold 75 passengers—57 seated and 18 standing. The Rapid system shuttles about 205,000 passengers a day, almost 42,000 of whom travel on the Wilshire Boulevard line, one of the busiest bus routes in the country.
Almost all of the 433 Rapid buses have low floors, so passengers don’t have to climb steps on entering. This expedites boarding and the deployment of the wheelchair-access ramp, allowing for quicker stops.
Most Rapid bus routes are overlays; they run on the same lines as local buses. Each Rapid is designated with the number 7 and then the number of the local bus on that route. Thus, the local that travels along Wilshire is the 20, and the Rapid is the 720.
Housed in the rear is a Cummins Westport engine that puts out up to 320 horsepower and a top speed of 65 mph. A layer of insulation in the floor, which is unique to the larger model, gives passengers a quieter ride than the 40- and 45-foot Rapid buses.
The Rapid fleet runs on compressed natural gas, a relatively clean-burning fossil fuel that costs less than $1 a gallon. This bus holds the equivalent of 220 gallons of gasoline and gets about two miles per gallon.
The trademark feature of the 60-foot Rapid is its massive hydraulic-powered hinge. Encased in specially coated vinyl over a cast-iron frame, it features a potentiometer that senses what the driver is doing. The joint locks at 54 degrees, making it impossible for the bus to jackknife.
The Red-Light Transponder
Bolted under the front bumper is a small electronic unit about the size of a hockey puck. It instructs detectors embedded in the roadway to hold a green light a little longer or change a red light a few seconds earlier.