Subway, New York City
While New York is surprisingly walkable for a big city, you'll usually find the subway is faster. Before you start off, your best bet is to go to a subway station booth and ask for a subway map. It is an extensive listing of the entire subway system, including a list of which trains stop at which stations (bold means the line stops there all the time, while regular text means the line stops there sometimes). The back of the map even includes a schematic of the Metro North and Long Island Railroad commuter rail systems. Best of all, "The Map" (as it's called) is free. NOTE: While it is normally safe to consult the map while on the Subway (in fact, you'll find more than a few locals doing just that), use common sense and don't open the map in a situation where it might be dangerous if someone thinks you don't know exactly where you're going.
Fares as of March 2015
As for fares, a ride on the Subway or local bus normally costs $2.75. While it is possible to purchase a single fare card (Cost: $3), it's usually a better value to purchase a "pay-per-ride" Metrocard for $1. This will allow you to make certain transfers you will not be allowed to do with a single-ride farecard. In addition, if you purchase a pay-per-ride Metrocard worth more than $5.50, you will get an 11% bonus. Up to four people are also allowed to ride on a single pay-per-ride Metrocard; simply slide (or, in the case of local buses, "dip") your card once for each person.
For tourists who wish to make multiple trips over a short period, the Unlimited Ride cards can be a good value. The options are a 7-day card for $31 and a 30-day card for $116.50. (NOTE: The old 1-day "Fun Pass" and 14-day cards have been discontinued) As a rule, if you plan to stay in New York City for more than 3 days, the 7-day card is the best idea for a stress-free stay; purchase the card, ride the Subway (and local buses) whenever you want, and forget it. Note that, unlike a pay-per-ride card, an Unlimited Ride card is only valid for one person; the same card cannot be used twice at the same station within 18 minutes. Also be aware that these Unlimited Ride Metrocards are not valid on express buses, PATH Trains, or AirTrain JFK, though it is now possible to set up your Metrocard for both "Unlimited Ride" and "Pay Per Ride" simultaneously. See the website for details.
To use a Metrocard in the Subway, with the colored side facing you, quickly slide the card through the turnstile slot back to front in the direction of the arrows on the bottom of the card. To use a Metrocard on a local bus, be sure the colored side of the card is facing you and the clipped corner is pointed up. "Dip" the card into the slot and wait for the beep confirming the card was read properly. Bus drivers are generally reasonably patient helping tourists insert the card correctly.
Now, I am far from being an expert in how to get around on the New York subway system. I rode the subway plenty in my day (I used to take the Flushing train to Manhattan several times a week as a teenager) but that was decades ago. Even then, I would goof on occasion, ending up in all sorts of places where it was not really safe for a skinny blonde to be walking around on her own. But New Yorkers claim their city is much safer today, thanks to its 107th mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, whose get-tough policies are said to have reduced crime by half.
On visits to New York to visit my siblings, I have had opportunities to get back into a subway car and relive the steamy crush of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers frantically rushing around below ground. Only now I go armed with trusty facts and figures.
The IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit company), which operated New York’s first subway line, recently celebrated its centennial. It opened on October 27, 1904, and ran from City Hall to the Bronx. Today, the subway runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With 722 miles of track and 469 stations, NYC has the most extensive public transit system in the U.S. Trains run every 2-5 minutes during rush hour, every 10-15 minutes on off-hours, and every 20 minutes from midnight to 5 a.m. There are local and express trains. The “El” is the elevated line.
In the span of a century, fares rose 3,900 % – from a nickel in 1904 to $2 in 2004. Subway tokens were phased out by 2003. Now you purchase a MetroCard, which comes in various denominations. Reduced fares are available for students, seniors and disabled. This card is also good for buses. If you are like me, distrustful of vending machines, you might prefer to buy yours from a living, breathing human being - which, luckily, is still possible.
Remember: Once you go through a gate or turnstile, you have to pay again to get back in. So before you get caught up in the mad dash and go where everyone else seems to be going (as I did), make sure you are headed in the right direction…
Update: The fare for a single ride is now $2.75 (as of April 2015).
The New York subway is a wonder of engineering. Not only is it the largest network of its kind in the world, it links together the two islands of Manhattan and Long Island with the mainland state of New York across tunnels under the Harlem and East Rivers. It's also one of the oldest systems in the world, dating back to 1904. Today it runs 24/7 365 days a year with over 5 million passengers a day on weekdays.
It's convenient for getting around, and links up neatly with bus and ferry services, as well as the PATH trains that run to New Jersey. You can use the same tickets for all services. The most convenient system if you are staying more than a few days is the MetroCard which you can use at the electronic turnstiles. It saves you money and time - you can either buy the pay-as-you-go version which you can charge at the station, or unlimited trips for 7 or 30 days.
Even though we were only in NYC for 4 days I decided to get a 7 day pass so I didn't have to worry about fumbling for money or topping up a fare card. If you think you are going to ride the subway or a bus more than 12 times, then it makes sense, single rides are $2.50 with a reusable fare card, $2.75 with case The pass is $30 plus $1 for the reusable fare card. You can buy at Metro card vending machines or at a ticket window.
Riding the subway is easy, the 1st thing you need to know is if you are going uptown or downtown, uptown is anything north of where you are, downtown is south. Next make sure if you are on a local or express train, express stops are marked with a white circle on the subway map, local with a solid black dot.
Great way to get around town. We bought a metro card and refunded it as needed. Both of us ended up with only a quarter left on the card. It's a great value and allows you to control you money. Also, there are stops all over the city, so nothing is more than a block or two from the station.
Never had a problem. Each day, we did get a bit of 'street theatre'. You know, the personalities that just stand out.
One day, it was a man sitting at the far end of the car. It was nearly empty. He held a newspaper in front of his face. It only moved to block his face from somebody moving in the car. He moved once, to be further away and back in the corner. He never turned a page and only got off (with the paper still covering most of his face and moved behind a pillar on the platform.
Another day, there were five people, talking loudly. On was very boisterous and continued to say to the entire car, 'adult section', kids keep away. They were having fun and verbally including everyone, but never bothered anyone else. It turned out to be three separate groups, acting out together. They split up and next station.
Except during rush-hour, the trains were kid friendly. Even then, it would only be because kids tend to be short and the trains tend to be packed. I wouldn't like looking at somebodies belt for 20 minutes.
1 day Fun Passes were phased out in 2010, now there's a 7 day pass but nothing shorter
I really enjoy walking so I've only taken the subway a couple of times before this trip but since I was walking around in an aircast, I eventually gave in and we bought 1 day Metro fun passes for $7 each.
When traveling around Manhattan, what's important to know are a few things. The first and most important is whether you are going uptown (north) or downtown (south) of where you currently are. Uptown/downtown are NOT specific parts of the city but what direction you are heading in. The 2nd is to look and see if the trains are express or local, if they are express they will be quicker but possibly not stop where you need to go. 3rd, it's important to know what line you want, the map in my guidebook was really hard to read, see if you can get a full size transit map.
The fare machines at the subway stations are terrible to use, the one we used didn't take cash, didn't print receipts, only read our credit cards if you held them in for a certain amount of time and most annoyingly only let us buy one at a time, even more annoying for the guy behind us as we had to buy 6 cards.
On a warm summer day, most of the stations were dreadfully hot, it was a relief when the trains came and at least pushed a little air through the station, even if it smelled.
I didn't miss driving one bit while we were in NYC. The subway made every trip across town fast and efficient. It wasn't difficult to get the hang of either.
My advice to making your transition into the NYC subway riding experience a smooth one, buy the weekly pass. You won't have to worry how many times your riding, where your riding too, or transfers. Also, try using the subway schedule on google maps on your phone, it really made it easy to find the right subway station and get on and off the right trains and the right stops.
So you are heading into the city from JFK on a weekday afternoon. From the terminal "loop" you've taken the Air Train to Jamaica Station. At Jamaica, you can transfer to Sutphen station and get an E Train directly into Manhattan. With any luck, the train will be fairly empty at Sutphen - it is very close to the end (or the beginning) of the E line. But the train will fill up with passengers as it gets closer to Manhattan.
Best subway app ever is HopStop. If you don't have a smartphone you can go old school like I did. Before we left home, for the trips I knew we would be making, I printed maps that showed which subways to get on and where to get off. You just put your starting and ending location and we didn't get lost once. Also if flying into JFK you can take the air train then the subway to Manhattan. cheap and doesn't take any longer than a cab. Jamaica station is a bit sketchy but no one bothered us.
Having no car nor desire to pay for a taxi, I had to simply grab my pooch and hope for the best at the subway terminal. As it turns out, dogs can be brought onto the subway IF THEY ARE HELD. I saw a woman being reprimanded by a MTA guard for not holding her dog. This is very important, since NYC subway is the best way to get around from park to park. Central Park is a great place to take the dog for a walk, for example.
Correction: In winter, sometimes pet may not be allowed. Right after NYC experienced Hurricane Sandy and then a noreaster soon thereafter, I tried to take my dog onboard. A loudspeaker told me to get off the train. I started to leave the station but the ticket guy waved me back. So, I put the dog under my overcoat and was then successful in boarding the train the rest of the day. This trick would have been hard if the dog were bigger than my 18 pound miniature Schnauzer.
“Scattered in little surprises.”
—Tom Otterness (1952- ), how the artist describes the arrangement of his art installation
At the 14th Street and Eighth Avenue subway station platform (where the A, C, E, & L trains can be caught) some of the most whimsical and entertaining public artwork can be found. “Life Underground” was commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Arts for Transit project in 2001. Created by Tom Otterness (1952- ), an American sculptor, this sight-specific, permanent public artwork cost a tidy $200,000. That was bargain because Otterness delivered more than four times the number of figures that he was originally commissioned to produce. He was thoroughly involoved with the project. The complete installation includes more than 100 individual pieces. The entire project took 10 years from commission to completion.
The installation is made up of whimsical miniature bronze sculptures, rendered in a cartoon-like style. The characters include people and animals in difference scenarios. To add credence to the oft-repeated urban legend, “Life Underground” includes a bronze alligator climbing out of a sewer, swallowing a passer-by.
Otterness acknowledges his debt to the 19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast and the way he drew New York’s Boss Tweed, along with the corruption of Tammany Hall that was rampant when the subway was first under construction, as his inspiration. This work is very New York! All ages can delight in these charming figures.
“Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts symbolizes an increasing interest in America in cultural matters, as well as a stimulating approach to one of the Nation's pressing problems: urban blight.”
—President Dwight D. Eisenhower at the groundbreaking ceremony for Lincoln Center, NYC, 14.May.1959
Lincoln Center has been at the heart of New York’s performing arts scene for more than 50 years.
The subway station that serves Lincoln Center has its walls decorated with mosaics. The images bring to mind Giuseppe Verdi’s 1871 opera “Aïda”.
Ride the New York City subway. It is safe. It is clean. It is the least costly way to get around the city in the most efficient means possible. It is also entertaining.
The New York Subway is also very convenience means of transportation in the city. Even if you do not really plan to use it too many times, maybe just once for the historical experience is fun. I used it few times for connections to the center as it useful to avoid the traffic. But the Subway system also is very old and not as modern as in most of Europe, you need the gate to be open for you and sometimes it did not and if you had only one time ticket, then you lost it and no one to complain to.
(work in progress)
Most cities with Metro rail systems have developed highly distinctive logos that are clearly visible from a distance: think of the instantly recognisable London Underground logo or the elegant Art Deco 'Metropolitan’ notices in Paris. However, for some reason that escapes me, New York seems to take an almost perverse delight in concealing subway stations from the tourist and finding the entrance to your subway station can be quite a challenge.
Subway station entrances are at best cryptic, and at worst, almost impossible to find, at least until you've 'got your eye in'. The logo is displayed, but it is an undistinguished little blue ’M’ in a small box on a white background. These seem almost designed to blend into the background in a city chockful of lights and distractions, and it is frustratingly possible to walk straight past an entrance without seeing it, even if you’re specifically looking for it.
Once you've found the entrance, you can't get too complacent, as you next need to confirm that it is the correct entrance. Because Manhattan Island and the surrounding areas are essentially flat, the New York subway stations are very shallow and have a very simple ‘cut and fill’ construction. Designs were kept as simple as possible to constrain costs, and at many stations, there are separate entrances to the two platforms, which means that there are no underground connections between the two. So be sure to read the signage carefully so that you don’t use the entrance to the ‘Downtown’ platform when you’re intending to head Uptown: otherwise, you’ll have to schlep back up to surface and cross the road to the correct entrance, which is a particular pain if you’re in a hurry or carrying heavy baggage.
(work in progress)
I am usually wildly enthusiastic about metro train systems, but of all the metros I’ve encountered, the New York subway is my least favourite by a good way.
Access to most subway stations for those with limited mobility – and in this, I include people pushing prams and pushchairs (strollers) and carrying heavy luggage - is challenging at best, and a nightmare at worse. So much so that I seriously considered placing this tip under the 'Warnings and Dangers' category.
Few stations have escalators and access to stations and/or platforms is often via steep flights of stairs that will challenge even the moderately fit carrying a suitcase. Whilst some stations have lifts and/or escalators, these are certainly not the norm and should be considered as an unexpected bonus rather than a given.
In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that if you are someone with limited mobility, then it would be foolhardy to rely on the subway system: if you fall into this category, then rather opt for the buses, for which you can use the same Metrocard as for the subway (USD29 for a week at the time of writing in October 2012).
Based on excellent feedback from VT member 10028, the newer buses are equipped with a flat boarding platform instead of steps, whereas the older buses lower their chassis to street level at stops, making it easier for people with limited mobility to board. Follow this link for the bus map of Manhattan