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New York City subway – how it works

Updated on July 25, 2012

Metro Card - ideal for exploring the New York City subway

This may look like generic picture of a Metro Card - but it's not! It's mine.
This may look like generic picture of a Metro Card - but it's not! It's mine.

The way to travel in New York City – The subway

So, we’re in New York City for a week, and need to get around: the best way to accomplish this is with the subway. I’m no expert on this, but have been on the London Underground several times in my advancing years; and I’d read through “The Rough Guide to New York City” – so how hard can it be? Well, as I stood with my family on the platform at Times Square with bewildered look on my face, I realised it could be very hard indeed. Fortunately a native New Yorker pointed us in the right direction – a phenomena which happened more than once, and something I can’t imagine happening in London.

So how did the Subway work: the first big mistake I made was thinking that colour coding on the various lines meant something (like the London Underground). It doesn’t. All the lines have a letter or number. And nearly all trains go north/south – or uptown/downtown to give it the proper name. Once these two facts (number or letter and uptown/downtown) had been grasped, it all became clear.

All you need to do is look at the map and find out where you are, then find out where you want to go; is the destination uptown (north of your position) or downtown (south of your position). Then find out which lines run between the two. That’s it. Just two vital pieces of information, and travelling around New York City on the subway is a breeze.

Any Tips

We got on perfectly well (once we’d figured out what was going on). When travelling by underground we always use the same procedure. Mum gets on the train first, then the two children, followed by me. Using this method you’ll never leave a child behind if the doors close unexpectedly! There’s also the rule that states “If you get separated, get off at the next station, and we’ll come and get you!”

We’ve never experienced an unexpected door closure / separating incident – but it’s good to be prepared.


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