How to Use the New York Subway

We had few days in New York earlier this year, and then a wedding in Connecticut (that in my head I can’t stop pronouncing the c, as in Connect-icut). Let me just start by saying in the nicest possible way, nothing in that country makes sense. We first realised this when it took us two wrong trains and about 10 dollars wasted trying to work out how on earth to use the Subway.

manhatta

Manhattan Web

  1. The Precedent – Forget everything you know about European city metro systems. You’re used to London, Paris and Madrid where all the trains stop at all the stations, platforms are normally colour coded per line, so all you have to worry about is getting one in the right direction.
  2. The Map – You arrive, you want to get out there seeing stuff as soon as possible! So let’s find out how to get there. This one is a mish-mash of numbers and letters and on the map we had we didn’t even have the end stations of each line to help us out. The Manhattan Island main section works on a very simple Uptown / Downtown system. Go Uptown to go North, and Downtown to go South.
  3. The Route – The numbers and letters show which trains stop at which stations, ie., the 1 stops at all of them, so is the Local train, but the 3 stops only at a few, so is the Express train. So not only have you got to find a route where you can change trains to get to another line, most times you have to go out of your way to reach your hotel.
  4. The Entrance – There are sometimes separate entrances for Uptown and Downtown, and really they are not very well marked. We found them quite difficult to find because there isn’t anything big and glaring alerting you to the fact that there’s a station here. One that we found was basically a door next to a big office building with the Subway markings on the wall rather than stuck out so that you know it’s there. The older ones that go straight down off the street tend to have two yellow lights on the entrance, but still you can walk past two or three without realising that that’s it, because nothing actually says “Subway”.
  5. The Ticket Machine – If you’re in New York for a day or two, buy singles at $2.75 each. If you’re there for a few days like us, get a MetroCard from a booth, it was about $30.00 for seven days and well worth it!
  6. The Platform – Find your platform, which is a challenge because it’s a maze of pillars, not nice spacious tunnels like in Europe and the A stops on this platform except for weekends when it stops over there, and the 2 stops on this platform unless it’s after 9pm when it doesn’t stop at all… And crap like that.
  7. The Train – The newer trains are equipped with an electronic display to show where you are and what the next station is, great! If you’re lucky you’ll find a busker, or a beggar, it’s generally quite quiet too, we didn’t see any trains that were too busy – but we weren’t travelling at rush hour and we were going to the tourist areas so probably this didn’t give us a true picture of the trains themselves.
skyli

The Skyline – a beautiful disused Subway track converted into a park

And then you’re off the train. Going back to The Precedent – New York doesn’t seem very proud of its subway. The European metro seems to be more like a brand. You see no end of “Mind The Gap” tat in souvenir shops in London, and the art-nouveau Paris Metro design conjours up romantic images of the wide leafy streets leading up to the Louvre or the banks of the Seine.

It certainly looks like the Subway’s Golden Age has been and gone in New York. While many stations retain the old mosaic street number markers on the platform, and the pillars spaced evenly are evident of the might of the city above, it seems that the Subway system has been forgotten in recent regenerations, he needs a lick of paint, improved lighting, signage and passenger information, especially for tourists. But he’s so integral to this city, work it out and he’s your best friend.

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3 thoughts on “How to Use the New York Subway

  1. Ha ha. My favourite is that the staff have no idea what is going on or how to use the system themselves. They are bewildered if you speak to them.

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