New York Transit Museum: ConnectedMotorbus Centennial

The year 2005 marks the centennial of motorbus operation on the streets of New York City. Enjoy some of the online activities within Education Station commemorating this historic transportation milestone, and learn more about the centennial below.
New York City Motorbus Centennial
When the Fifth Avenue Coach Company placed an experimental “gasoline-electric omnibus” in passenger service in the summer of 1905, New York City became the pioneering home of public motor bus transit in the United States. These and other trial runs along Fifth Avenue, between 88th Street and Washington Square, proved so successful that by 1907, Fifth Avenue Coach replaced its entire fleet of horse-drawn stages with 15 motor buses. Over the next decade the company created new cross-town and scenic uptown lines that used open-top double-decker coaches and charged double the standard five-cent fare for its “first-class” service.

Photograph of 5th Avenue Coach taken on Riverside Drive, about 1910.

Public transit motor-bus service has expanded greatly in New York City since these tentative beginnings a century ago. Motor-bus technology and design changed enormously, too — in response to mechanical innovation, new fuels, evolving public taste, standards of comfort, environmental and safety concerns, and demand for accessibility. Today, MTA New York City Transit’s Department of Buses continues to develop and promote improvements to its fleet, as it carries more passengers (760 million a year) and maintains more buses (more than 4,500) than any other system in North America.

Fifth Avenue Coach double-decker motorbus, No.1244, circa 1930.


A 2005 photo of a Fifth Avenue Coach Company double-decker motorbus, No. 1263, which was in operation on the streets of New York from 1931 to1953. Motorbus No. 1263 is now in the permanent collection of the New York Transit Museum.

To commemorate its heritage, MTA New York City Transit’s Department of Buses preserves, in concert with the New York Transit Museum, a fleet of vintage buses. The collection is comprised of twenty vehicles, dating from 1917 to 1981. Although far from a comprehensive selection of the scores of motor bus models that plied the streets of the City over the last 100 years, the vintage fleet is nonetheless impressive. Highlights include three Fifth Avenue Coach Company double-deckers, from 1917, 1931, and 1938; a typical 1949 City bus, identical to the one Jackie Gleason was photographed in as bus driver Ralph Kramden in The Honeymooners; and the first (experimental) air-conditioned bus in the U.S., from 1956.

The fleet is housed and maintained by the Department of Buses in various depots throughout the City. Opportunities to view the collection occur on a limited basis. The Transit Museum works closely with the Department of Buses to sponsor events, such as the Museum’s Annual Bus Festival, to showcase the vintage buses for the public. Individual buses are sometimes displayed at large community events, such as “CultureFest,” “Harlem Week,” and Brooklyn’s “Atlantic Antic.” Part of the Vintage Fleet is also featured at the Department of Buses annual Bus Roadeo, a special competition among New York City Transit’s own employees.

Learn More about Surface Transportation in New York City:
Visit the New York Tansit Museum

At the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, visitors can enjoy On the Streets: New York’s Trolleys and Buses, a gallery dedicated to surface transportation. The exhibit presents, in nine linked segments, a history of aboveground mobility for the last 175 years - from the early 1800s through the 21st Century. The central element of the exhibition is a simulated traffic intersection complete with traffic lights and coordinated walk-don’t-walk signs, parking meters, fire hydrants, and an array of other street “furniture.” Children of all ages will delight in a new, wheelchair accessible, twelve-seat bus; refurbished 1960s bus cab, and child-sized trolley.

Clearing the Air, a highly interactive segment of On The Streets allows visitors to learn about the evolution of fuel technologies and evaluate their environmental impact. At a series of interactive stops within the exhibition, visitors are encouraged to compare old and new technologies and explore the origin of various fuels used over time, as well as understand steps being taken by Transit’s Department of Buses to reduce harmful emissions.

On the Streets visitors also enjoy the new Dr. George T.F. Rahilly Trolley and Bus Study Center. The Center features over 50 detailed models of trolleys and work cars created by Dr. Rahilly, a trolley enthusiast whose painstaking depiction of every trolley that ever ran in Brooklyn, is a highlight of the Museum’s collections.