New York City Subway Demystified

Automatic ticket machines take cash and credit card
Buy subway ticket at automatic machine

Have you ever looked at the tangled New York City subway map and thought, “Oh, my gosh!” To many, the subway system is confusing, especially if you happen to come from an area that does not have a subway system. It would all be so new to you! The subway is the most efficient way to get around New York, even if it can be loud, hot, crowded and dangerous at times. But most of the time, it is none of these things. Riding during rush hours provides safety of numbers; other times during the day are pretty relaxed, except late at night when you have to be aware of your surroundings. It’s one of the many adventures of New York.

Riding the New York City subway is not daunting. First of all, using Google Navigator, you can get directions about which subway line to take to your destination and where to make changes, if necessary.

There are also several apps focused specifically on the New York Subway. One is an official app. Some tell you if the train you want is running on time. I don’t find that information too useful unless you rely on a specific train to get to work on a daily basis. Why? Because even if the train you want is late, chances are another is not far behind it. As in other subway systems around the world, a neon sign on the platform gives the wait time until the next train, usually between two and 20 minutes.

The secret is to look at the subway map and identify the nearest station to where you want to go. Then you see which color line goes to that station from where you currently are. The color of the line will match a number or letter that is assigned to that line. You should follow the line to the end and remember the name of the station at the end of the line in the direction you want to go. When you get to the train platform, you will use the name of the last station to know which side of the platform your train will be on. The name of the last station will be on the signs underground and on the front and side of the train.

The New York City subway system uses a thin plastic card, the size of a credit card, with a magnetic strip, for access to the subways. You need to slide the card through the turnstile to gain access to the train platform. Each ride is $2.75. You can transfer between trains without additional charge as long as you don’t leave the train station. The subway map shows where trains converge for transfer.

You can get subway cards at a manned ticket booth — if there is one at the station — or at automated machines. The machines let you load the subway card with enough for multiple rides or for one ride alone. When you first get the subway card, you will be charged $1 for the card itself. The card will expire. Before that date, you can reuse the card to add additional funds. You can save yourself $1 by keeping a card without any money on it to load in the future.

If you add enough for multiple rides to the subway card, depending on how much you add, you will get a little bonus — encouragement to add multiple rides to your card as this picture shows:

Bonus dollars are added for multiple ride purchases
The more you buy, the more you get for a bonus

There are machines in the subway stations that you can use to scan your card to see the balance left on it. When you use your card, a small display on the turnstile will also tell you how much is left on your card.

You can use the same subway card to pay for rides of others with you. In some systems, the subway card must be scanned when exiting the destination station, so each passenger needs to have his or her own card. This is not true in the New York City system.

Anything new is intimidating, but after you take your first ride, it will all be very easy.

For a deeper look into the history of the subway, visit the fantastic subway museum. Click here for details.

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