The New York City subway was not made for dummies.
WTF is going on?
Taking taxis everywhere? Fuhgettaboutit! Ain’t nobody got money for that. New York City boasts a 24-hour subway system, and we’re ready to show you how to use it to your advantage. And yes, we said 24-hours. That means late-night trips when you’ve got the munchies, and of course, never needing a designated driver. So no more of that “Oh I don’t have gas money” excuse! If you’re a suburbanite who’s never been to the city before (and never taken a subway, let alone the New York City subway), then this NYC subway guide is for you.
TRAIN: New Yorker’s way of saying “subway,” “metro,” or “commuter rail”
EXPRESS: A subway train that skips subway stations in order to get you to your destination more quickly. Nearly every subway line has an express train.
LOCAL: A subway train that stops at every subway station along the line. Every subway line has a local train.
UPTOWN: A north-bound subway train.
DOWNTOWN: A south-bound subway train.
Other Lingo That May Come Up
LIRR: Short for Long Island Rail Road, which is a commuter train that transports people from 34th Street Penn Station to cities in Long Island.
NJ TRANSIT & PATH: A commuter train that connects Manhattan to cities
throughout New Jersey
METRO-NORTH RAILROAD: A commuter train that connects Manhattan with
nearby cities North of Manhattan (Connecticut, especially).
AMTRAK: A train that connects Manhattan to various states around the country.
The #1 Thing To Know
When you’re waiting for a train on the platform, it’s likely that a few trains will come by with different numbers or letters. It’s necessary to know if you’re wanting to take a local or express, which depends on if your destination is an express stop, a local stop, or both (easiest scenario).
When I first moved to NYC and was learning how to ride the NYC subway, no one understood why I was confused by which trains were express and which trains were local, as if we’re all supposed to just magically know that the A train is express and the C and E are local. You can’t just take “the blue line” and expect to end up at your destination.
Let me clarify each of the Manhattan subway lines for you:
LOCAL: C & E
EXPRESS: 2 & 3
EXPRESS: 4 & 5
EXPRESS: B & D
LOCAL: M & F
LOCAL: R & N
The above guide to express and local trains is only accurate 5:30am to midnight or 1am. If there’s track construction, forget about it. If there is a sick passenger on the train, forget about it. If there is an announcement from the conductor, forget about it. The trains will probably be all out of whack.
A Simple as F*ck Guide to Taking the NYC Subway
Step 1: Buy a ticket at a machine
The single-ride price is now $2.75, however, the price goes down to $2.50 when you buy two or more trips. Basically, you get more bang for your buck if you buy more upfront.
What you should know:
- There is no daily pass.
- If you’re taking more than 13 trips in one week then you should buy an unlimited weekly pass for $31.
- If you’re taking more than 49 trips in a month, then you should buy an unlimited monthly pass for $116.50.
Step 2: Swipe through the turnstile
That metal thing.
Step 3: Find your platform.
Uptown? Downtown? Express? Local?
New York subway signs tend to be super confusing and basically make it all a lot harder for tourists who have no clue what’s going on. The only part of the sign you need to pay attention to is the direction (uptown or downtown) and the number or letter of the train. The final destination is not important, for the last stop tends to be in the Bronx or Brooklyn, and as a tourist, you’ll most likely be staying around Manhattan.
If only they would just streamline the signs and write “N: local” and “Q: express”
Step 4: Wait for your train.
Different trains approach each platform, so make sure you know which train you’re getting on.
Optional Step 5: Transfer
Transferring inside a station is simple; just follow the signs to the next line. Transferring to a bus outside is a baby-step harder, but still pretty simple.
All MetroCards are good for one transfer within two hours of first swipe of your card. This means, you can transfer from subway to bus, bus to subway, or bus to bus. Subway to subway transfers are always free.