New York City’s subway system is one of the oldest and most extensive in the world. The subway lines wind their way through Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx 24/7. Because of the city’s size and density, the subway is the quickest and most economical way to get about town.
Each subway line has a distinct color, combined with a number or letter, which identifies the route. Most subway lines run north-south through Manhattan, directly below some of the major avenues; they then branch off into the outer boroughs. Most lines have both local routes, which stop at every station, as well as express routes, stopping at fewer stations. The express stops are identified on the subway map with white circles.
The subway fare is paid with a MetroCard. Swipe the card through readers at the turnstiles. MetroCards can be bought at vending machines at each subway station. Cash and debit or credit cards are accepted at the machines. Because the fare is subject to change, check the website of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for up-to-date information. Anyone participating in Walk About New York’s Five Squares and a Circle Tour and the Subway Art Tour must have a valid MetroCard. Subway riding is part of each of these tours.
Some stations, mostly near tourist sights, have staffed Information Booths; but the majority of the stations are unmanned. Subway maps and information are posted at the entrance, below ground level. This same information and maps can be found on the train platforms. An interactive subway map is at the MTA’s website; the map is in a downloadable, PDF format that can be printed.
Because several trains often run in and out of the same station, be certain to read signage carefully. Take note that the subway line and route, its direction (uptown or downtown), and a local or express train meet your needs. Generally, local trains run on the track closest to the walls; and the express trains travel on the tracks at the center of the tunnel. While waiting for the train, always stand behind the yellow plastic tiles at the platform’s edge.
Be aware that other passengers are behind you and around you. Enter and exit the train quickly, moving into the train as far as possible, and away from the train when exiting. You can get your bearings once you have moved out of the way of your fellow passengers.
If no seat is available, hold onto the vertical and overhead railings; trains start and stop with a lurching motion that could toss you into your fellow passengers.
Trains have subway route maps, as well as printed and electronic signs, showing the current and/or next stop. Sometimes the best way to know where the train is to watch through the train windows as the train pulls into a stop. A subway station often is spread out over several city blocks.
The subway is safe; it is monitored by surveillance cameras and the police. Incidents of crime are few. The most common crimes are pickpockets and what is known as “grab and run” theft; this concerns small electronics, iPhones, computer tablets, iPods, etc. The best defense is to be aware of your surroundings and your personal belongings. When riding the subway during off-peak hours, wait in the Off-hours Waiting Area, marked by yellow signs; these areas are monitored by cameras. During off-peak hours, choose the car with the conductor, seen at the train’s small command window, and avoid completely empty cars. There is less frequent service during off-peak hours, nights and weekends.
Because subway improvements are on-going, especially during the weekend, service interruptions can be expected. Notices about these disruptions are posted at the entrances, inside subway cars, and on the platform. Such changes in schedule could interfere with your plans; if you have theater tickets or must catch a flight, check the MTA’s website.
Because the system is more than 100 years old, accessibility to the subways stations can be a problem for some. While there are elevators and escalators at a few stations, stairs are the most common means of access. There are no public restrooms in the subway system.
Those who have a keen interest in the subway, its history and artifacts, including vintage train cars, can visit the NYC Transit Museum.
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