How to Ride the New York City Metro Subway MTA
Of all the things that would worry you the most about traveling to New York City, it’s the subway. Dirty, crowded and always delayed, things are about to get worse for the symbol of economic growth of this city with the lack of political will, corruption and unfulfilled promises from government. But you have to deal with it and this article will help you (as much as possible) navigate it easily like a native New Yorker. I lived in NYC for over two years now, enough to know how the system is. Yes, knowing the stops is extremely good and memorizing it at the top of your head helps, but knowing where the train goes helps even more. I am only writing about the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). There’s so many things to keep in mind about the MTA, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty much “common sense”.
1. Have the Map of New York City MTA subway with you at all times.
The Map of New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) – Mappa Metropolitana New York
Now, know where you are, where your Airbnb or hotel is and keep that as a reference point. If you find yourself in middle of Manhattan, or Midtown, New York’s MTA runs normally in two directions, for example, Uptown and Queens, Downtown and Brooklyn. Bronx is further up north and Queens to the right side of Manhattan (if you look at the map). Generally, this is already good knowledge.
2. NYC Metro Passes. Abbonamento Metro New York
Each ride costs $2.75. At the time of this writing, here are the prices of NYC’s metro passes:
7-day unlimited pass: $32
30 day unlimited pass: $121
Senior citizens (65 year old and above) can get some discount, but they can only be availed on some metro stations. Kids below the turnstile or that metal barrier ride for free. You can tell them to go under the turnstile.
The machines accept Cash, ATM and Credit Cards but sometimes they malfunction so make sure you have cash with you.
I usually purchase the 7 day unlimited pass whenever I have a lot of trips for the week, because I noticed the single fare makes me spend more money. If you make mistakes, you don’t have to worry about paying an extra $2.75. On the other hand, the 30 day unlimited pass is normally purchased by locals.
3. Uptown and Downtown entrances.
Keep in mind, not all subway entrances allow you to ride the train in both directions.
This subway station only goes Uptown & the Bronx. This means the next subway stations from Rector Street, taking the 1 train, are Chambers, Franklin, Canal and so forth.
This subway station only has trains that go to Downtown and Brooklyn. From 145th Street, taking the 3 train Downtown and Brooklyn, will lead you to 135th, 125th, 115th Street and so on.
This subway station has trains going in both directions. Clear?
What if you already swiped your metro card and you entered the wrong station, and you don’t have an unlimited pass? Just safely exit, and try to navigate your way to the other station. Pray that it has an attendant too so that the attendant can let you in through the emergency exit door. Otherwise, you can kiss your $2.75 goodbye.
4. Local and Express.
Local trains make stops at every stop in the train line direction. Express trains are express.
To make things easier, consider the BDFM lines. B and D trains are express, while F and M trains are local. Between West 4th and 47-50th Rockefeller Center (where Museum of Modern Art MOMA is located and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral), you can take B, D, F and M trains, noting that the B only runs on weekdays. If you’re coming from West 4th and going to 47th-50th St., the B or the D trains are faster because from West 4th, the B and D trains go all the way to 34th Street, 42nd Street Bryant Park and finally 47th – 50th Street Rockefeller Center. On the other hand, if you take the F or M, from West 4th, you will be stopping at 14th Street Union Square, 23rd Street (Flatiron), 34th Street, 42nd St Bryant Park then finally 47th – 50th St.
But sometimes, trains just go express even though it’s not really an express train. How do you know you’re on an express train? Aside from the fact, you can’t really hear whatever the conductor says clearly, you will have to rely on your instincts. And some trains are from the 1970’s so they don’t have the digital display of the train routes. And when they do, sometimes they don’t work. I once rode on an F train that keeps saying the next destination was 14th Street Union Square. Fun.
When the train pulls up at a station, and you don’t know where you are, it pays to know what kind of train it turned into.
If you find that there are only two tracks in the station, you’re most likely making a local stop or on a local train.
If you see the train pull up on a big station, with this middle platform, the station offers local and express trains. If you find yourself in the middle platform, the train became an express. If you find yourself in the outer platform, the train is a local train.
Still confused? One thing I would advise is to memorize a couple of stations, those that are major, interconnecting stations and small ones and try to use those as your guide. For example, the NQRW lines stop at 49th St Times Square, a major station. N and Q trains are express trains, while R and W trains make local stops. During weekends, the N train sometimes substitute as the R train, so don’t be surprised if you find the N in the local platform. If that is so, you can safely assume that the N is making local stops.
5. Which exit?
Honestly, just exit the station. It’s easier to navigate above the ground with your mobile data connection. Why bother whether it’s Southeast or Southwest? Of course, this is assuming you’re not bringing anything heavy, or you’re not with older people, otherwise, just accept that NYC is not an accessible city for the disabled.
It’s depressing to see a first world city like this, but you’ll get over it.
6. There’s a Transit Wifi in the station and that helps as your service, but some stations don’t have that.
6. Apps you need to download before you ride the NYC MTA subway
Download the official NYC MTA subway app on Google Play or iTunes App Store. I like this app because it works offline. Also, it tells you whenever there are planned maintenances, delays or other service status. It’s a great companion to your Google Maps app.
Citymapper is also a good app to download. It allows you to know which car in the train to ride so you can exit the train where the right exit to your destination is.
And that’s about it! If anything is unclear, drop a line in the comments section.