How to tackle the New York subway

Mar 15, 2019
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It's the best way to get around the busy city. Source: Pixabay.

There’s a good reason people describe New York City as a concrete jungle. With the constant sounds of car horns filling the air, locals impatiently shoving their way through hoards of tourists and loud street performers on every corner, the city that never sleeps will be one of the busiest place you’ll visit.

However, New York is renowned for having must-see attractions on almost every block, so finding an easy, fuss-free way to dart from location to location is vital. This is where the trusty New York subway comes in. With an unbelievable 5.7 million riders daily, understanding the local transit system is a must-do before heading over to the Big Apple.

Getting set up

The first step is getting yourself a metro card. This is the card that you’ll load money onto and swipe each time you enter or leave a subway or bus station. The easiest way to set one up is to head to the booths or vending machines that are located at most stations.

Follow the prompts on the machine or speak to a booth teller to choose a card depending on the length of your stay. A SingleRide Card is good for a cheap one way ride at the cost of AU$4.24, Pay-Per-Ride allows customers to put a larger amount onto the card for multiple trips and finally an Unlimited Ride Card is valid for one month at AU$170 or one week at AU$45 and works out cheaper for those staying longer periods of time in the city.

Figure out where you want to go

Whether you’re heading downtown, uptown, Bronx-bound or Brooklyn-bound will decide which side of the tracks you stand on.

New York is broken into five boroughs: Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and the Bronx. Except for Staten Island, the geographical location of these areas will give you a pretty good understanding on where your train is heading as the subway is often bound for one of these four directions.

Signs hanging above subway entrances will also indicate whether the train is heading downtown (south towards Brooklyn) or uptown (north towards Bronx or Queens).

Understand the map

Although it might be confusing at first, the subway map will become your best friend. It shows in detail where each line heads but a key tip is to pay attention to letters and numbers rather than colours. Several trains will travel on the same line before eventually separating and possibly taking you somewhere you didn’t want to go.

Watch out for local and express trains as express trains don’t stop at all the stops on a line. On the map, local trains will have a black dot at each stop and express trains will have a white dot.

Each subway station is usually littered with maps for people to check their routes but an easier and more accurate way to figure out travel destinations is to use Google Maps. Type in your destination and your current location to see the directions and select the public transport option to figure out which train to hop on.

Look out for signs

Staying alert is the best way to make sure you’re getting on the right train. Signs on each station will tell you which stairs to head down for uptown or downtown as well as the specific trains that will come to that particular stop. When trains enter the station, the front and sides will all have either a number or letter that indicates whether you’re getting on the correct line.

Don’t worry

If you’re lost, locals are usually more than willing to help with directions and at certain stations there are usually people stationed in the booths to help out. However, once you hop on the subway more than a few times, catching on is easier than you would think.

One of the things you should definitely worry less about on the subway is crime. Despite its not-so squeaky clean reputation in the past, the New York Subway has definitely picked-up its act and now, with constant surveillance and police presence, is one of the safer areas in the city. But, like any holiday destination, pick-pocketing is still at large so make sure you hold on tightly to your belongings!

Have you been to New York? Did you ride the subway?

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