Before I started driving motorcoaches, I spent a lot of time looking out the windows of buses during my elementary through high school days.
I was one of those kids that looked forward to the ride on the coach more than the actual field trip destination itself.
Compared to a city bus and a school bus, motorcoaches are much quieter inside and definitely offer a much smoother ride. The seats were more comfortable and, of course, there were TVs and restrooms on board.
One thing that is different and people ask me about all the time is: Why can’t you open the windows on a coach bus?
In my latest video, I take a look at why the windows on a motorcoach are designed the way they are and why they are so much different than the windows of a school bus or a city transit bus.
My 8-year-old daughter, Leah, actually gave me the idea for today’s topic. And honestly, I tried researching this question on the internet, but I couldn’t find any answers as to why passengers can’t open the windows on a coach.
Keeping their cool
From the 1950s through the ’70s, long-haul motorcoaches were built with windows that could be opened. That was the only way to keep a bus cool when traveling on warm days.
But after coaches started being equipped with our modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, otherwise known as HVAC systems, coach manufacturers started designing motorcoaches with windows that don’t open.
So why is that?
Safety is the obvious answer. Motorcoaches today are much larger, with the ability to carry many more passengers and travel at higher speeds in comparison to their predecessors from back in the ’50s and ’60s.
With more passengers on board, sitting much higher above the ground due to the vehicles’ larger sizes, to me, It just seems like a liability to have windows that can open during transit, especially on the highway.
Now there are times that I really, really wished that the windows on my coach could open, maybe just a little tiny bit, like the way they work on city buses. When the AC stops working on a bus, you basically have to move passengers to a different coach because it gets unbearably hot and stuffy on board. It would be easier to just open some windows and keep moving.
Speculating on the subject
But I can understand why motorcoach manufacturers didn’t do it that way. Now, this is all my speculation, of course.
As I mentioned before, a coach bus is designed for comfort. Anyone who has ridden on one will probably agree that it’s one of the most comfortable ways to travel long distances, especially if you are traveling as a group.
Much of that comfort depends on the HVAC systems onboard. What most people don’t realize is that the HVAC system on a coach is always running when the bus is running. Coaches were just not designed to operate without HVAC.
The HVAC systems are kind of the Achilles’ heel of these giant land yachts. And no one is a happy camper when the AC or heat on a bus goes out in the middle of a trip.
Most of the passenger-side windows on U.S.-made motorcoaches actually can be opened to be used as an emergency exit. I’m actually planning to do a video about the emergency exits on a motorcoach. By lifting the sidebars of some of these windows, the window bottom becomes unlatched from the side of the bus, allowing the window to swing outward.
These windows are pretty fragile when they are opened like this. It’s solely for emergencies and not meant to be opened while the coach is in motion. As a matter of fact, it’s a U.S. Department of Transportation violation to have these windows open while the bus is in motion. So, if you decide to open one of these while the bus is moving, you could find yourself riding away in the back of a police car.
Here’s what some of you had to say on the topic:
Sterling O’Deaghaidh: I actually asked this very question to an old neighbor of mine who used to work for BlueBird. He said that the addition of HVAC really was the reason that openable windows went away. At low speeds and for trips where you spend your time mostly idle, it makes sense to have opening windows as it reduces engine load on the bus by not having to run the AC. The thing, though, is that coaches are almost exclusively used for long-duration trips, where most of the time the vehicle is running, (it’s) moving at high speeds, which doesn’t make sense to have windows that open. It actually decreases efficiency at high speeds more than the AC does. On top of that and the issues with littering and a few things you mentioned as well, it just became more sensible to opt-out of opening windows when the AC tech became viable enough.
Dru Huggins: James, great video as always. You are spot on. In my Coach USA days, I had to bring an empty bus back from Washington, D.C., that had the air conditioner go out. It was 107° inside with only the wing window and the roof hatches open. Like an oven on wheels.
MysticStarHF – Having windows closed on a motorcoach is also more aerodynamic for fuel savings. School buses and city transit buses aren’t traveling fast enough to produce the drag that an interstate bus would create with the windows open. Mythbusters did prove the open window created significant drag, lowering range. I think the answer is it is a combination of everything mentioned, with fuel economy leading the list.
Bus & Motorcoach News contributor James Wang is co-owner of Peoria Charter Coach Company and a bus geek who shares his passion for the motorcoach industry on his two YouTube channels, J Wang and Motorcoach World.
Read more James Wang’s columns here.