New York today has the highest population of any American city, with more than 8 million inhabitants spread across five boroughs - Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Manhattan is at the heart of the New York.
Think of street transport in London and its iconic red buses will doubtlessly come to mind. Think of street transport in New York and your first thought may well be of bright yellow taxis. You will find plenty of them on the streets and avenues of Manhattan.
You won't find trams (or streetcars, as the Americans call them) in Manhattan. The last ones were replaced by buses as long ago as 1947, although they clung on in Brooklyn until 1956. New York does, however, have an extensive network of bus routes.
The main transport system
Most of New York's buses are operated by subsidiaries of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which co-ordinates city's public transport system.
Many of the buses operating in central Manhattan are conventional single-deckers. All are wheelchair-accessible, either with ramps or lifts. Route numbers are prefixed according to the borough in which they operate, with the letter M for those which operate primarily in Manhattan.
There has been considerable investment in clean technology in recent years. Of a fleet of around 6,000 buses acros New York, over 2,000 are powered either by compressed natural gas or diesel-electric hybrid power. By 2015, MTA aims to have 80% of the bus fleet running on clean technology. I didn't notice any CNG-powered buses in central Manhattan (at least, none which were obvious to me), but there were plenty of hybrids at work.
Some routes operate as limited-stop services at certain times of day. Generally this applies during the daytimes with buses serving all stops in the evenings and weekends.
As well as the standard single-deckers, there are a number of articulated buses. The older vehicles have two doors, the newer ones have three.
Services operating east-west across midtown and uptown Manhattan are generally numbered to match the street they serve. Thus the M14A and M14D operate along 14th Street, the M23 on 23rd Street and so on. There are exceptions to the rule, however, and no such principle applies to routes running north-south on the Avenues.
Routes M34/M34A, operating on 34th Street, and part of the service on route M15 on 1st/2nd Avenues, have been upgraded to bus rapid transit standards to provide faster, more reliable journeys. These services are branded as "+Select Bus Service". +Select bus services are limited stop. The buses carry a distinctive livery - and at the time of my visit, blue flashing lights either side the destination display. The use of blue lights has since been discontinued, allegedly because they did not comply with state traffic laws.
On +Select Bus Services, cash fares are not collected on the bus. Instead any cash fares must be paid into a roadside ticket machine. Boarding is through any door, with inspectors doing random checks to ensure passengers have a valid ticket or receipt for travel.
Not all buses on route M15 are part of +Select Bus Service. A conventional stopping service operates along the same route, using the same number.
Express services operate into Manhattan from Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. A few of these operate daily, all day, but most operate only at peak times. Premium fares are charged on these services. Three-axle high-floor coaches are used. These are fitted with a wheelchair lift at the centre door.
Some of the Express routes, including all the routes to and from Staten Island, are numbered with an "X" prefix. Other Express routes are numbered with a two or three letter prefix denoting the boroughs they serve. Thus routes with a "QM" number link Queens with Manhattan, "BxM" means Bronx-Manhattan, "BM" indicates Brooklyn-Manhattan.
Two of the Express routes from Staten island are operated by Atlantic Express under contract to MTA, rather than directly by an MTA subsidiary.
Staten Island lies across Upper New York Bay from Manhattan. There are no rail or subway links between the two. Express buses operate from Manhattan using tunnels to reach either New Jersey or Brooklyn then bridges to reach Staten Island. Otherwise the link from Manhattan is provided by Staten Island Ferry, which operates free of charge. The ferry passes close to the Statue of Liberty.
A simple fare system applies across the MTA bus and Subway systems. At the time of writing, a single journey costs $2.50 on the Subway and on local, limited stop and +Select buses, or $6 on Express buses. The fare allows one transfer between buses, or between bus and Subway, within 2 hours. Fares can be paid using the MetroCard, a stored-value ticket, or by cash (except on +Select bus services). When fares are paid in cash on the bus, they must be paid using coins to make the exact fare. No change is given and dollar bills are not accepted.
As well as the Subway, MTA operates three suburban railway systems. The Staten Island Railroad is a self-contained system on Staten Island, and fares (including transfers) are the same as on the Subway. The other two systems, Metro-North and the Long Island Railroad, both extend well beyond the New York City boundary. Different fares apply and these do not include transfer to/from buses or the Subway, not even for journeys entirely within New York City boundaries.
Other transport providers
Not all buses on Manhattan's streets are part of MTA's network.
Downtown Connection provides a free service sponsored by the Alliance for Downtown New York and the Battery Park City Authority, linking various business sites in Lower Manhattan. Minibuses-style vehicles are used - but I would deem these minibuses to be supersize!
NYWaterway operates ferries on the Hudson River. A free bus service provides connections into midtown Manhattan.
The NYU Langone Medical Center operates its own inter-site bus services. At peak times, a service operates into downtown Manhattan.
At first glance, this vehicle may look quite British. It was in fact built by Blue Bird, a North American manufacturer which was at one point in common ownership with a British bus manufacturer.
Seeing the sights
New York attracts many millions of visitors every year. Several companies offer open-top bus tours, including Gray Line, City Sightseeing, City Sights NY and Big Taxi Tours.
Three main airports serve New York. Although all three can be reached by a combination of either subway or suburban rail then local bus or airport shuttle train, direct buses also link them with Manhattan.
NYCAirporter operates to JFK and LaGuardia aiports, both of which are in Queens. Supersize minibuses are used. These have a luggage compartment at the rear.
Newark International Airport, in the state of New Jersey, is served by Newark Aiport Express. Full-size coaches are operated.
Manhattan also has a cable car, although this is referred to as a tramway. It provides a link over the East River to Roosevelt Island. It is not part of the MTA system, but charges the same fares and accepts MetroCards.