Navigating the NYC Subway

There are a bunch of different ways to get around New York City. Although not always the fastest depending on where you are going the subway or as us New Yorkers simply call it, the train, can get you where you need to go in 4 out of 5 boroughs. There is plenty to know, but I will try to make this as simple as possible for the next time you decide to venture around NYC.

Price/Purchasing A MetroCard

Currently (Oct. 2016) it costs $2.75 to ride the train. Once you are on you can pretty much ride around all day to any train. Once you come out the turnstile and have to go back through that is considered a separate fare.

You need a metro card in order to swipe through the turnstile. If you don’t already have a metro card it now costs $1 to purchase one. Cards can be purchased at machines or from a MTA employee in the booth. Cash or a credit/debit card can be used at the machines. You can either choose already set increments to put on the card or load onto the card however much you want. Don’t forget to keep the card so that you can load more money on it and use it again!

Navagating the nyc subway © HollyDayz
Metro Card Machine ©2016 HollyDayz

There are also single fare rides (must be used within 2 hours,) 7-day unlimited passes where you can ride as much as you want for 7 days and then a 30 day unlimited. Keep in mind that with unlimited metro cards you can only swipe once and have to wait awhile before it resets to swipe someone else through so it is really only good for one person. If you purchase a regular metro card with however much money you put on it then you can swipe through as many people as money you have with that one card.

Navagating the nyc subway © HollyDayz
Metro Card ©2016 HollyDayz

TIP: If you don’t remember how much is left on your card walk up to the booth and you will see a place to swipe your metro card. It will tell you how much money you have left on the card. You may also see people offering to swipe their card for you, for $2. Don’t even bother.

Update as of 2021By 2023 the MetroCard will be phased out and there will be a new card that will be used if you don’t or can’t use your smartphone. Every station has been outfitted with this new technology!

Using The MetroCard

The common mistake many tourist make is how to swipe the metro card. The card should be facing you with the black magnetic strip on the bottom. If you swipe too fast or too slow you will get an error and have to swipe again. It will also let you know if you don’t have enough on the card to get through the turnstile.

Navagating the nyc subway © HollyDayz
Full body turnstile ©2016 HollyDayz

If you see a turnstile lit up green that means you can go through it. If it is red that means you need to choose another turnstile. If you have a stroller or cart there are doors you can go in and out of. Some stations you have to go through a full body turnstile that has bars from top to bottom. It may look intimidating, but all you need to do is push it to get in or out.

Getting To Your Destination

Once you have a destination in mind you need to know how to get there. The best ways to figure that out is to either research what trains are the closest to the destination, check out the map in the train station, ask someone, or you can use my favorite app, City Mapper. This app tells you where to catch the train, when it is coming, service changes, etc.

It is important to read the signs and know which direction you need to go in. That will determine which platform you need to be on. In the event you get on the train going the wrong direction or miss your stop you can always get off at the next stop and just catch the train going back the other way. There are maps on the platform as well as on the train itself. The train also has announcements and a sign that tells you what the next stop is.

Navagating the nyc subway © HollyDayz
Direction the train is heading in ©2016 HollyDayz

TIP: Although trains are color coded, don’t use colors to figure out how to get around or to ask someone. Use the number or letter associated.

Before even entering a train station it is important to read the signs. Some entrances will only be able to take you to a platform that goes in one direction only. Meaning in order to get to the other side you will have to cross the street to get to the proper entrance. If you go into the wrong entrance and there is no underpass to get to the side you need to be on, you just lost $2.75 swiping through the turnstile.

Navagating the nyc subway © HollyDayz
White and Black Dots indicating express and local stops ©2016 HollyDayz

Please keep in mind not every station and entrance has an elevator or escalator. Many only have stairs. Not all trains are underground some are elevated. There are also local and express train stops. When looking at a subway map the black dots indicate that particular train will stop at every stop. A white dot indicates it will only stop at certain stops. You can also listen to see if the conductor says its an express or local or simply ask those already on the train is this an express or local before you get on.

Riding The Train

Trains can get very crowded, especially during rush hour. It can be very hard to get on and off a train and people will push to make sure they can either get off or stack in like sardines. Always let people get off the train before you attempt to get on. If you don’t get a seat, there are poles you can hold on to, don’t lean on them. If someone’s bag is occupying a seat, you can politely ask them to move it if they don’t automatically do so.

Navagating the nyc subway © HollyDayz
Seats and Poles on the train ©2016 HollyDayz

TIP: If you see one empty car and the rest are packed, there is a reason that car is empty, so don’t . Usually it is because it smells horrible, there is no air conditioning or heat, or something else.

If you are checking the map on the train and someone is sitting in front of it, don’t stand right over them. Either tell them you would like to see the map or stand on the side and look at it. If you are awaiting a seat on a packed train, most people won’t get up till the train stops at their stop, not before. When that happens, that is your chance to play musical chairs and try to grab a seat before someone else does.

TIP: The walls and columns at every station tells you what stop you are at. This is very helpful if you can’t hear or see much, but can see out the windows.

Navagating the nyc subway © HollyDayz
Train stop information on the wall ©2016 HollyDayz

It is also important to keep in mind that after about 10/11pm the trains take longer to come. You could wait awhile before the next one comes. Service changes are also important to note. Usually they are signs that will alert you to any service changes. Using the City Mapper app with also alert you to that as well. Service changes can disrupt your travel plans. Trains may not run to certain stations or at all causing you to have to figure out another way to get to your destination or the place you need to transfer.

TIP: In the summer trains are very cold and the platforms are disgustingly hot!

Reaching Your Destination

The same way you went into a turnstile you will have to go back through them. Keep in mind some people may be trying to swipe threw as well creating all types of back and forth traffic of people. It is important to stay to the right if you are taking an escalator so that everyone else in a rush can walk up or down on the left.

There are typically several exits, especially depending which part of the train you got off of. Same rules apply when going up or down the stairs, you get to the side not in the middle! Also don’t stop in the middle of the stairs. There are several exits to go up to the street level. There are signs indicating what corner you will pop out on.

Navagating the nyc subway © HollyDayz
Exiting the station ©2016 HollyDayz

There is so much information about the subway I could be here writing forever. This is pretty much the basics of navigating the subway. It is overall pretty easy to use. It is important to keep alert, not just for safety purposes, but so that you don’t miss your stop. Many stations now have free wi-fi and areas your phone can get service. You may also get some entertainment on the train in the form of dancing, singing, and instruments being played. It also important to keep in mind Staten Island does have public transportation you just can’t take the subway there.

Have you ever taken the NYC Subway? What was your experience like?

Navagating the nyc subway © HollyDayz