Private companies originally managed rapid transit routes and surface lines. Abraham Brower established New York City’s first public transportation route in 1827, a 12-seat stagecoach called “Accommodation” that ran along Broadway from the Battery to Bleecker Street. By 1831, Brower had added the “Sociable” and “Omnibus.”
The next year, John Mason organized the New York and Harlem Railroad, a street railway that used horse-drawn cars with metal wheels and ran on metal track. By 1855, 593 omnibuses traveled on 27 Manhattan routes and horse-drawn cars ran on street railways on Third, Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth Avenues.
Toward the end of the century, electricity led to the development of electric trolley cars, which soon replaced horses. Trolley bus lines, also called trackless trolley coaches, used overhead lines for power. They first served Staten Island in the 1920s and were part of Brooklyn’s surface transit for three decades, beginning in 1930. However, motor buses had completely replaced New York City public transit trolley cars and trolley buses by 1956 and 1960, respectively.
The city’s first regular elevated railway service began on February 14, 1870. The El ran along Greenwich Street and Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. Elevated train service expanded and dominated rapid transit for the next few decades.
DID YOU KNOW? The IRT was not New York City’s first subway. Alfred E. Beach created a 312-foot tunnel under lower Broadway and ran a subway car from 1870-1873. The train was operated by “pneumatic pressure” – blown by a giant fan.
On September 24, 1883, a Brooklyn Bridge cable-powered railway opened between Park Row, New York City, and Sands Street in the city of Brooklyn.
New York City’s first official subway system opened in Manhattan on October 27, 1904. The Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) operated the 9.1-mile long subway line that consisted of 28 stations from City Hall to 145th Street and Broadway.
IRT service expanded to the Bronx in 1905, to Brooklyn in 1908, and to Queens in 1915. The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT) began subway service between Brooklyn and Manhattan in 1915. The Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT) took over the BRT a few years later.
Private companies also operated the city’s earliest motor buses. The Fifth Avenue Coach Company began passenger service between Washington Square and 90th Street with gasoline-powered buses and open-top double-deckers on July 13, 1907.
In 1932, the city’s Board of Transportation completed construction of the Eighth Avenue line and created the Independent Rapid Transit Railroad (IND), the first city-run subway service. When the city purchased the BMT and IRT in 1940, it became the sole owner and operator of all New York City subway and elevated lines.
In addition to BMT bus and trolley routes, the city acquired three other bus companies in the late 1940s that had operated in Queens and Staten Island.
On June 15, 1953, the New York State Legislature created the New York City Transit Authority (now MTA New York City Transit) as a separate public corporation to manage and operate all city-owned bus, trolley, and subway routes.