Most city buses in Manhattan follow easy-to-understand routes along the island's street grid. Routes go north and south on the avenues and east and west on the major two-way crosstown streets: 96th, 86th, 79th, 72nd, 66th, 57th, 42nd, 34th, 23rd, and 14th. Bus routes usually operate 24 hours a day, but service is infrequent late at night. Traffic jams can make rides maddeningly slow, especially along 5th Avenue in Midtown and on the Upper East Side. Certain bus routes provide express or "limited-stop service" during weekday rush hours, which saves travel time by stopping only at major cross streets and transfer points. A sign posted at the front of the bus indicates limited service; ask the driver whether the bus stops near where you want to go before boarding.
To find a bus stop, look for a light-blue sign (green for a "limited" bus, which skips more stops) on a green pole; bus numbers and routes are listed, with the stop's name underneath.
Bus fare is the same as subway fare: $2.75. Pay when you board with exact change in coins (no pennies, no dollar bills, and no change is given) or with a MetroCard.
MetroCards allow you one free transfer between buses or from bus to subway; when using coins on the bus, you can ask the driver for a free transfer coupon, good for one change to an intersecting bus route. Legal transfer points are listed on the back of the slip. Transfers generally have time limits of two hours.
Several routes in the city now have so-called Select Bus Service (SBS) rather than limited-stop service. These routes include those along 1st and 2nd Avenues and 34th Street in Manhattan, as well as the M60, which travels between LaGuardia Airport and 125th Street in Harlem. The buses, which are distinguished from normal city buses by signs identifying the bus as SBS on the front, make fewer stops. In addition, riders must pay for their rides upon boarding with either a MetroCard, or before boarding with coins (but not pennies) at a machine mounted on the street. The machine prints out a receipt. This receipt is the only proof of payment, so be sure to hold onto it for your entire SBS trip or risk a fine for fare evasion.
Bus route maps and schedules are posted at many bus stops in Manhattan, major stops throughout the other boroughs, and mta.info. Each of the five boroughs of New York has a separate bus map; they're available from some station booths, but rarely on buses. The best places to obtain them are the information kiosks in Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station, and the MTA website.
Visit bustime.mta.info for real-time bus-arrival updates at any bus stop in the city.
Most buses that travel outside the city depart from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, on 8th Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. You must purchase your ticket at a ticket counter, not from the bus driver, so give yourself enough time to wait in line. The terminal is connected to the subway (A, C, E, N, Q, R, S, W, 1, 2, 3, and 7 lines), which offers direct travel on to Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal, and more. Several bus lines serving northern New Jersey and Rockland County, New York, make daily stops at the George Washington Bridge Bus Station from 5 am to 1 am. The station is connected to the 175th Street station on the A line of the subway, which travels down the west side of Manhattan.
A variety of discount bus services, including BoltBus and Megabus, run direct routes to and from cities such as Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C., with the majority of destinations along the East Coast. These budget options, priced from as little as $10 one-way (sometimes even less, if you book well in advance), depart from locations throughout the city and can be more convenient than traditional bus services.