Subway Etiquette in New York City

Metro station in New york

Subway Etiquette in New York City

Here at Metro Tours, we love the New York City subway.

Sure, the trains might run late and feel like sardine cans sometimes. But our subway system is actually incredible and fascinating. Did you know that while mass transit systems in other major American cities were built with Federal aid, the NYC subway system was a completely local undertaking?

It has evolved today into a system that can carry you from the lower tip of Manhattan at Wall Street uptown through TriBeCa, Chelsea and Times Square to 72nd Street in 15-20 minutes – and all while passengers sit frustrated in traffic on the streets above.

Spending some time on the subway is a great way to get to know New York City as it’s an integral part of the everyday life of New Yorkers.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of the subway, we suggest spending some time at the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn. In the meantime, we have put together some tips to help you navigate the subways.

1. Before your arrival, download a Google Maps map of New York City using the offline feature. Within Google Maps, search for “New York, NY.” Then tap the three horizontal lines in the search bar (the top left of your screen) and tap “Offline Maps.” Tap “Custom Map” and select the area. We suggest selecting the whole island of Manhattan. Then tap “Download.” Use Google Maps as you normally would, and you will have access to the downloaded map area even if you are in a subway station without cell service or WiFi!

2. If you plan to travel throughout NYC by subway during your visit, consider loading a fare card with enough money for several trips at a time, or purchase a weekly unlimited card. This way you can avoid buying a single ride ticket each time. The lines for a fare card machine can be long and full of confused tourists.

3. While the colors help when looking at the subway lines on a map, we refer to subway routes by number or letter.

4. Confirm you are entering the station at the correct direction you are heading (or track side) before swiping your card. In many stations, you will have to exit the station, walk across the street, re-enter the station and re-swipe your fare card to correct this error.

5. If you are traveling to a destination north of where you currently are, you will need “Uptown” and if south then “Downtown.”

6. The subway lines/routes consist of both local and express trains. The express trains do not stop at every station along the route. A white circle on the map designates an express and local train stop. A black circle designates a local stop only.

7. Let exiting passengers off the car before boarding.

8. If you are carrying a backpack and are in a crowded car, it’s considerate to remove your backpack and place it at your feet/between your legs to create more room for those around you.

9. The poles are for holding, not leaning!

10. Move as far into the car as possible when boarding to make room for those boarding behind you.

11. The subway won’t move unless all doors on all cars are completely closed without obstruction. You may see others throw their arms or bags between closing doors in an effort to catch the train. The doors will re-open, but this can be anxiety inducing (“Will this be the one time the doors don’t re-open?!”) and painful. Not to mention, you will likely be met with a disapproving glare from those passengers on the car whose commute you have delayed. We recommend just waiting for the next train which should arrive momentarily.

12. Avoid empty cars on otherwise crowded trains… there is probably a good reason no one is in it.

13. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most New Yorkers will know how to get to the major landmarks you might be traveling to, and will be happy to point you in the right direction. You might even be lucky enough to get a “I am going in that direction, just follow me” in response!

14. Never walk between the cars! If you need to switch cars for any reason, wait until the train stops in the next station.

15. No need to swipe your card again to exit the subway or station.

16. If you are traveling with luggage or a stroller that won’t fit through a turnstile or rotating gate, you can ask the station attendant to allow you to pass through the emergency exit doors for access to the track. You can also use these on your way out.

Follow these tips and you will be speeding through the city like a local!

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