So the new Gillig buses have been rolling around Riverside County for a little bit, and I figure I'd best put out a review for the curious. Overall, they're still buses, but there are a few little improvements that will undoubtedly make life better for straphangers.
First off, the new seats are cloth, rather than the stubbornly cold plastic of the NABI fleet, and they have higher seat-backs. A small change, to be sure, but tall folks like myself will probably feel more comfortable on those long rides. Second, the new interior lights are all in white LED, rather than flourescent, making night rides just that much nicer. Third, the new, multicolor, high-visibility headsigns are even easier to spot than their orange predecessors, making riding in these dark winter months just that much nicer. Fourth, and probably most importantly, is the passenger power outlets. Two standard 110VAC (house power) electrical outlets are available at every row forward of the mid-bus stairs, so now you can keep that cell phone or tablet charged all the way to Tyler Mall. (Note that RTA press releases referred to these outlets as "USB charging outlets"-- they aren't, so bring your wall charger.) The new buses also seem to have a lot less engine noise than their predecessors, but that may be a function of age.
Possibly the best thing about the new buses, however, is that they're made here in California. Gillig makes their buses up in Hayward, while the last manufacturer RTA contracted with, North American Bus Industries, is located in Alabama. I still say it makes more sense to contribute to our local economy by purchasing products produced in the IE-- like, say, El Dorado National's full-size buses-- but I'd rather see my transit sales tax being used to create jobs in the Bay Area rather than on the other side of the continent.
So go forth, readers, and ride the new buses! Just don't forget your charger.