NYC Subway map

NYC Subway map

New to the subway system in New York? Well, there’s no time to waste and no patience to spare in the Big Apple. New York’s subway, also known as “the train,” is the longest underground railway in the United States. Workers, tourists, and families commute on the train 24 hours a day, seven days a week—and it takes practice for a beginner to get around on it. Try these steps to help you keep up the city-slicker pace.

1. Purchasing a MetroCard

The MetroCard is your ticket to the city, permitting you access to all subway stations in New York. Without it, you’re not getting on the train. You can purchase this pass with cash, a credit card, or a debit card at MetroCard Vending Machines located near subway entrances. These machines have user-friendly touch screens. You’ll pay $2.75 per ride unless you buy a week or month pass. Once you have purchased your MetroCard, it is polite to have it in hand before you reach the subway entrance to avoid holding up the lines.

2. Navigating the Subway Map

Paper maps are available in many subway stations, but there are great map apps that are as easily accessible and as reliable—if not more so. Most New Yorkers use subway maps, digital or paper, so you’ll fit right in with one in hand. It’s a good idea to map out your stops before you head underground. This will give you time to find your way and prevent a panic if your mobile app doesn’t work underground. If you have questions about your map, ask somebody. Most passengers are willing to answer your questions if they have a few seconds to spare.

3. Taking Local vs. Express

Local trains stop almost three times as often as express routes, so if you’re traveling a longer distance—from the Upper West Side to the Brooklyn Bridge, for example—you will want to take the express route. The subway should be able to get you anywhere in Manhattan in 30 minutes or less when navigated properly and when there are no delays. Also note that some express routes are changed to local routes on Sundays and in cases of construction. There should be announcements on the train to warn you of the more frequent stops.

4. Avoiding Empty Cars

If you see a train with many packed cars and one empty car, you’re seeing what is often called a “bum car.” Whether it’s the smell, a fight, or a broken heater or air conditioner, there’s a good reason no one is jumping on that open car. Just take one of the crowded cars or wait for the next train. However, if you do find yourself in a bum car, “you can walk in between cars,” says Kimberly Vartan, who works in Manhattan. “You’re not supposed to, but people do it all the time.”

5. Entering during Rush Hour

There is usually enough room for people to get on and off the subway simultaneously. However, during rush hour—when the boarding traffic is substantially higher—stand aside to let people off the car before you board. This may save you from colliding with other hurrying passengers.

6. Eating on the Subway

If you want to grab a snack on your ride from Uptown to Midtown, make sure your food doesn’t have a strong odor that might annoy the passengers around you. Even if you’re itching for some potent yellow curry, save it for later. Scent-free snacks like granola bars are a more courteous choice.

7. Giving Up Your Seat

Just as your mother probably taught you, it is good etiquette to give up your seat for elderly people and pregnant women on the subway. From there, use your judgment on when to offer your chair. Karene Torgerson, who lived in New York for six years, admires the courtesy people sometimes show on the subway. “I honestly had people give me their seat when I was in heels,” she reports. “And that was very nice.”

If you follow these steps, you’ll fit right into the brisk flow of traffic without causing any jams. From Yankee Stadium to Battery Park, and from Brooklyn Heights to Coney Island, the city that never sleeps
is yours.

—Lauren Bryce