Local Bus Routes of Manhattan

From nycsubway.org

By Joe Brennan.

This paper is a brief history of the private companies that operated local bus services in Manhattan between the end of the streetcar era and the start of "public" operation. Principal sources: Public Service Commission annual reports, Moody's investmenet manuals.

The Fifth Avenue system, which ultimately became MABSTOA, was started in 1886 with a horse omnibus line from 89th St via Fifth Avenue and West Broadway to Bleecker Street. Electric buses were used from about 1898 and later of course gasoline and diesel buses. It was the only motor bus company in the city until 1916. Fifth Avenue was the only major street in Manhattan that never had a street railway, because the politically connected residents prevented it, and the bus line charged twice the fare of street railways as a class distinction.

Operating companies of the Fifth Ave bus system were "Fifth Avenue Transportation Company (Limited)" 1885-1895, foreclosed, then "Fifth Avenue Coach Company" 1897-1954. The holding companies, the real power, were quite a tangle, and note the incorporations in different states. "New York Electrical Vehicle Transportation Company" (inc NJ) 1899-1936 took control in 1899, and changed its name to "New York Transportation Company" 1902. NYT was itself controlled as of 1922 by "Fifth Avenue Bus Securities Corporation" (inc DE) 1922-1936. That was in turn controlled by "The Omnibus Corporation" 1923-present (inc DE), which was named "Chicago Motor Coach Corporation" up to 1924 and named "The Hertz Corporation" since 1954 (yes, the automobile rental company). It came to light many years later that the Omnibus Corp was controlled by General Motors interests. This takes us to 1954.

The larger of the two Manhattan streetcar systems was the Metropolitan Street Railway system, approximately 1893-1911, which was a bit of a house of cards that broke up in part after bankruptcy in 1908. The core company became the New York Railways system, which passed to "New York Railways Corporation" 1925-1936, which was controlled by "Fifth Avenue Coach Company" (and therefore ultimately by General Motors). NYR acquired control of "Manhattan Surface Coach Company" 1925-unknown, named "New York City Omnibus Corporation" from 1930 to 1956. The streetcar lines were converted to bus in 1936, when NYR was liquidated and control of NYCO passed to Fifth Ave Coach and The Omnibus Corp. So as of 1936 the Fifth Ave and NYC Omnibus systems were under common control.

"Madison Avenue Coach Company, Incorporated" 1933-1951 operated bus service over the former New-York and Harlaem Rail-Road streetcar line after it was abandoned in 1935. It was controlled by NYR 1933-1936, then by NYCO.

"Eighth Avenue Coach Corporation" 1935-1951 operated bus service over the former Eighth and Ninth Avenues Railway after it was abandoned in 1935. It was controlled by NYR and Fifth Ave Coach 1935-1936 and then by NYCO.

"Green Bus Lines, Incorporated" 1925-present was formed by a group of bus drivers to consolidate former jitney services authorized by the City. It operated bus lines in Manhattan only 1933-1936, when its Manhattan franchises were turned over to NYC Omnibus in exchange for routes in Queens that it still operates-- a strange arrangement!

"Hamilton Bus Corporation" 1929-1935 operated one line 1933-1935, sold to "Triangle Bus Corporation" 1930-1942, which sold the route to NYC Omnibus.

The other major Manhattan streetcar system was the Third Avenue Railroad or Railway (at different times) System, TARS, which also ran nearly all streetcar and bus lines in the Bronx and many lines in Westchester County. TARS established "Surface Transportation Corporation of New York" 1924-1956 to operate bus feeder lines and eventually used the company to operate buses over its former streetcar lines, which survived longer than the NYR system, until 1948. ST was controlled until 1942 by "Union Railway Company of New York City" 1892-1942, the Bronx streetcar operator, which was controlled by "Third Avenue Railway Company" 1910-1970?; in 1942 TAR changed its name to "Third Avenue Transit Corporation" and took direct control of Surface Transit.

In 1954, New York City Omnibus Corp and Third Ave Transit Corp formed a subsidiary owned 66% by NYCO and 33% by TAT, named "New York Management Ownership Corporation", renamed "Gray Line Motor Tours, Incorporated" in 1955, and renamed "Gray Line Corporation" in 1962. The Omnibus Corp then got out of the bus business by selling Fifth Ave Coach and its part interest in NYCO to NYMO. So, NYCO owned 66% of NYMO, which owned about 33% of NYCO. But these companies all must have been the same group of people, and clearly Third Ave Transit was now pooling its interests with the NYCO group.

In 1956, NYCO bought out Third Ave Transit Corp and had Surface Transportation sell its routes to NYCO. For some reason, it then dissolved Surface Transit and changed Third Ave Transit Corp's name to "Surface Transit, Incorporated", which owned real estate and possibly buses. NYCO itself, strangely, changed its name to "Fifth Avenue Coach Lines, Incorporated", even though it now operated a large system in Manhattan and the Bronx. As Fifth Ave Coach Lines, this company operated until 1962, when, following a strike, the City condemned its bus operations, which were taken over by a new public corporation, "Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority", which still operates them.

Although this took Fifth Ave Coach Lines out of the bus business in Manhattan and most of the Bronx, it still owned Westchester Street Transportation Co, an old TARS property that operated bus lines in Westchester county until 1969 sales to Liberty Coaches, Inc and to Bus Associates, Inc.

Meanwhile, Fifth Ave Coach Lines had become heavily involved in stock investing, and that part of the business was not taken by the City. The company continued in business as an investment company until it was nailed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1967 for illegal business practices, not registering as an investment company. It and Gray Line Corp went into receivership. This was not the end. FACL registered with the SEC in 1968, got its final condemnation award for the bus lines in 1970, and emerged from receivership in 1971. In 1973 it changed its name to "South Bay Corporation" and shortly after that it became privately held (stock not publicly traded).

Loose ends: What ever happened to the South Bay Corporation? What is the relation of these companies to the Gray Line that runs tour buses in Manhattan today? What's the story with Green Bus Lines, which still has some sweetheart relationship with the City's franchise bureau? Will I sleep with the fishes if I pry into this? :-)

Other Systems

"East Side Omnibus Corporation" 1932-1948 operated routes formerly of the Second Avenue Railroad. The same owners formed "Comprehensive Omnibus Corporation" 1933-1948 operating a former jitney line. When this system failed in 1948, its routes were bought out by the City and handed over to the Board of Transportation, whence they passed to the NYCTA. These lines were never run by MABSTOA.

"Avenue B and East Broadway Transit Company, Incorporated" 1932-1980 operated former jitney routes, over former streetcar routes of the Dry Dock, East Broadway and Battery Railroad, the first big streetcar failure in Manhattan. This was the last private local bus operator in Manhattan. These lines went to NYCTA and not MABSTOA.


This is very generalized but made possible because most routes still correspond very closely to the original bus routes. The old routes are for two-way traffic on avenues, so sometimes two old routes were combined for one-way traffic on two avenues.

X = crosstown (east-west) line.  -- = no equivalent route today.

Old number                           Former private operator
      Current number                                         Streetcar it
           Route                                             replaced

1     M1     Fifth Ave               Fifth Ave               --
2     M2     Fifth-110th-Seventh     Fifth Ave               --
3     M3     Fifth-110th-St Nicholas Fifth Ave               --
3     M18    Fifth-110th-Convent     Fifth Ave               --
4     M4     Fifth-110th-Riverside   Fifth Ave               --
5     M5     Fifth-57th-Riverside    Fifth Ave               --
6     M30    72d St-57th St X        Fifth Ave               --
8     M5     Fifth-57th-Riverside    Fifth Ave               --
15    Q32    Fifth-Queens            Fifth Ave               --
20    M57    57th St X               Fifth Ave               --
--    M58    57th St X-York          --                      --
M1    M22    Madison-Chambers X      Green/Comprehensive     --
M2    --     Spring-Delancey X       Green/NYC Omnibus       --
M3    M50    49th-50th Sts X         Green/Comprehensive     --
--    M27    49th-50th Sts X         Green/Comprehensive     --
M4    M79    79th St X               Green/NYC Omnibus       --
M5    M86    86th St X               Green/NYC Omnibus       NY & Harlem
M6    M19    96th St X               Green/NYC Omnibus       --
M6    M19    96th St X               Green/NYC Omnibus       --
M7    M66    66th St X               Comprehensive           --
--    M72    66th-72d St X           --                      --
M8    --     Grand St X              Avenue B & E Broadway   Dry Dock
M9    M9     Avenue B-E Broadway     Avenue B & E Broadway   Dry Dock
M10   M21    Avenue C-Houston        Hamilton/Triangle/NYC Omnibus --
M11   M31    York Ave                East Side               2d Ave
M12   --     86th St-York            East Side               2d Ave
M13   M15    First Ave               East Side               --
M14   --     First-Second Aves       East Side               2d Ave
M15   M15    Second Ave              East Side               2d Ave
M16   M8     8th St X                NYC Omnibus             NY Rys
M17   M14    14th St X-Ave A         NYC Omnibus             NY Rys
M18   M23    23d St X                NYC Omnibus             NY Rys
M19   M34    34th St X               NYC Omnibus             NY Rys
M19   M16    34th St X               NYC Omnibus             NY Rys
M20   M116   116th St X              NYC Omnibus             NY Rys
M21   M102   Lexington-Lenox         NYC Omnibus             NY Rys
M22   M7     Broadway-Columbus-Lenox NYC Omnibus             NY Rys
M23   M6     Sixth Ave               NYC Omnibus             NY Rys
M24   M10    Seventh Ave             NYC Omnibus             NY Rys
M25   M1     Madison-Fourth Ave      Madison/NYC Omnibus     NY & Harlem
M41   M10    Eighth Ave              8th Ave/NYC Omnibus     8th & 9th Ave
M42   M11    Ninth-Amsterdam         8th Ave/NYC Omnibus     8th & 9th Ave
M100  M100   Broadway-Kingsbridge    Surface Trans           TARS
M101  M101   Third Ave               Surface Trans           TARS
M102  Bx15   125th St X              Surface Trans           TARS
--    M60    125th St X-LaGuardia    --                      --
M103  --     59th St X               Surface Trans           TARS
M104  M104   42d St-Broadway         Surface Trans           TARS
M105  --     Tenth Ave-Broadway      Surface Trans           TARS
M106  M42    42d St X                Surface Trans           TARS

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