Text by James Bow and Robert Lubinski
- A Brief History of Orion Bus Industries
- The Orion I
- The Orion III / Ikarus Articulated
- The Orion IV
- The Orion V
- The Orion VI
- The Orion VII
In the early 1980s, the newly-minted owner of Ontario Bus Industries, Don Sheardown, was looking at ways his company could stand out from the competition. With the Orion I, he had already pushed the company’s design for shorter, more fuel-efficient buses than the standard 40-foot model. Now, he turned his attention to the market of public transportation for the disabled.
With a grant from the Canadian Ministry of Trade and Commerce’s Regional Economic Expansion program, Ontario Bus Industries launched a $2.2 million program to develop a cheaper and easier-to-use paratransit vehicle. Design work and prototyping took two and a half years before finally, on September 9, 1983, Don Sheardown, along with former Ontario premier John Roberts pulled back a red canopy to reveal the Orion II to the media.
An Accessible Bus
The Orion II was a significant step forward in paratransit technology. These buses were significantly smaller, with 21 and 25-foot models available, and typically had seats for 13 able-bodied passengers. The real innovation was how it handled wheelchairs, however. Previous paratransit vehicle designs had to contend with the high floor necessary to clear the vehicle’s wheels, requiring long ramps or heavy hydraulic lifts in order to get wheelchair passengers aboard. The Orion II had a low floor, just 12 inches off the ground, built between the wheel wells. The vehicle’s shorter design allowed it to come onto driveways, and its axles were designed to “kneel”, lowering the front door four inches, and the back a full eight, bringing the vehicle much closer to street level. At that level, short ramps could be employed to get wheelchair passengers aboard, and space was available for five such wheelchairs.
The Orion II entered regular production in May 1984, and transit agencies across Canada lined up. The TTC purchased about 140 of these models for its Wheel-Trans service (numbered 9500-9640), beginning in 1985. These buses were short and offered lift-access to allow for driveway pick-up and drop-off of passengers through a ramp at the back of the bus, and through a ramp on the side door of the bus. The Orion IIs were all retired by 2002, replaced by specially-built Ford/Overland ELF buses.
The TTC also acquired seven of the longer version of the Orion II in 1990-1991 (numbered 9700-9705 and 9706 acquired used in 2007, originally built for Long Beach Transit as 112 for its Passport service) for the 400-series of Community Bus routes, offering service between hospitals, seniors’ residences and shopping centres. These buses were retired in late 2012 with the introduction of seven of the new “Friendly” buses used for Wheel-Trans service modified for Community Bus service and sold to Autobus Laval in 2013.
The TTC Orion II Roster
Community Bus, sold to Autobus Laval (2013)
Community Bus, bought from St. Catharines
Orion II Image Archive
- Bus World Encyclopedia of Buses, Stauss Publications, Woodland Hills (California), 1988.
- Diesel City Bus, Toronto Transit Commission, Toronto (Ontario), 1991.
- “Orion International.” - CPTDB Wiki. Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board, 10 Mar. 2014. Web. 21 July 2014.
- Transfer Points, Toronto Transportation Society, Toronto (Ontario), October 1983.