Fifth Avenue Bus Company’s double-decker bus. Image via nytimes.com
A guest editorial by Ken Kinlock, noted historian
Yes, New York City has had double-decker busses in it’s history! From the 1930’s till the 1970’s when bus service on 5th Avenue was operated by a private company: 5th Avenue Coach Lines. This was when bus lines were independant and not incorporated into the MTA as is today.
An iconic fixture in London, double-decker buses are known for their European charm. But in the early to mid-20th century, they were also a common sight around Manhattan (a few of which were on display at the NYC Transit Museum’s 2013 Bus Festival). Manufactured by the Fifth Avenue Bus Company, these double-decker buses provided transportation along the length of Fifth Avenue. They were eventually taken off the roads due to a lack of competition in the United States to improve the design and mechanics of double decker buses.
The two-tiered buses made a brief reappearance in 1976, when the MTA purchased eight buses from British company Leyland to be used in a pilot program. But like their predecessors, these buses experienced mechanical problems. Other problems cited were the cumbersome height of the double-deckers, causing them to bump into branches along Riverside Drive and to run into traffic lights. After a short two years, they were taken off the road once again.
NOW we are rediscovering them in a valid attempt too bring the bus operations up to subway standards (and raise their speed above 6mph)
For a city obsessed with trains, many of us forget about this vast network of public transit. While you may stick to one or the other, there was a time before the 1960’s when the bus systems were disjointed. A bus dropped you off at the subway, from which you continued into Manhattan. Each borough was a closed system, and outer boroughs only connected via subway.
It was not until the 1960’s and 70’s when inter-borough bus routes connected the disjointed city above ground, offering a express service without transferring to a subway. Because subways were not air conditioned, the more comfortable, cooled buses offered a better alternative for many. These express buses resembled the modern-day routes you would take from the Port Authority, with cushioned, raised seating, a single door at the front of the bus, and higher tolls.
Express routes were not the only opportunity for a higher standard, however. The 5th Avenue Coach Company ran a premium service in Manhattan along 5th Avenue, the only avenue not offering trolley service. Their fleet offered New York’s only twin deck buses in the history of public transportation, one of which was on display at the Vintage Bus Festival. Fares for this line were considered luxury, at twice the cost of a normal bus fare.