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New York Subway System Riding

Updated on February 10, 2010

New York City Subway Car

New York City Subway Car
New York City Subway Car

New York City Subway Riding

As a regular New York City subway rider, I thought I'd share my acquired knowledge and experiences to both tourists and NYC regulars.  The subway system is a magical underground maze that helps make New York City the great city that it is.  The ability to travel from one side of New York to the complete other side for $2.25 is pretty amazing to think about.  Of course, some people think the system is very confusing, or dirty, or dangerous, or even....perfect.  I wanted to share what I thought about a few of the important aspects of the New York City Subway system. 

First, let's talk basics.  It cost $2.25 for one trip on the subway no matter where you are going.  Tokens are a thing of the past since Metrocards were introduced a few years back.  You can (and people almost always do) put more than $2.25 on their Metrocard so they don't have to waste their time and pay every time they go into the subway.  You also get a bit of a discount when you add more money to Metrocards.

I would argue that the signage in the New York City subway system is pretty clear, so if you think you'll have trouble getting to your destination, just walk slowly and follow the signs carefully.  When getting to the platform to wait for the subway, depending on the time of day and subway station, it can vary from unbelievably crowded (i.e. heading to Citi Field or Yankee Statium) to eerily deserted (i.e. the Canarsie/Rockaway Parkway stop on the L subway line on Sunday night at 11:30pm).  If you riding the subway during rush hour, and you look EXTREMELY carefully, you will be able to notice the regulars.  The regulars, like myself, do not look different from anyone else, but you can tell who they are by the fact that they are in the perfect position when the subway stops in the station - with the door right in front of them.  See, regulars have markers that they follow in each of their personal stations, whether they be garbage cans, certain signs, or even other regulars (which is very rare). 

Once you get on the subway car, this is where the fun begins.  Do you hold on to the rail? Do you take a seat?  Do you take the seat next to the two overweight guys?  How much space do you keep between you and the people standing next to you?  Do you help people running for the train get on by holding the doors open?  All of these are great questions worth thinking about. 

My first choice on a New York City subway is to get a seat whenever you can.  It's the cleanest (you don't have a touch a potentially germ-infested rail) and most comfortable.  Now, I won't take the seat in between two overweight guys unless I'm exhausted, but most of the time if there is a seat available, I'm taking it.  There are other exceptions as well.  About once every 100 times you take the subway (and it depends on the time), you will walk into a car with a homeless person in it.  They always smell terrible and usually either seem drunk or crazy (i.e. talking/shouting to themselves and others for no reason).  In those cases, I immediately walk as far away as possible.  If the car is crowded and I can't walk that far away, I will make sure that I'm at least 5-7ft. away and at least 4 or 5 seats. 

Ok, back to other subway guidelines.  As mentioned, I generally try to avoid touching the rails with my bare hands.  If you think about it, the subway railings must be as dirty as the dollar bills in your wallet and the doorknob to the bathroom at your office.  So if I don't get a seat on the train, I try to find a spot where I can safely lean against the railing without having to grab it with my hand.  There are a few possibilities for this maneuver and it all depends on the type of subway car you are on.  Quick digression - there are a few different models of subway cars in the New York City system.  It's pretty clear cars are the newer ones and which are older.  If the car is relatively empty you can lean against one of the railings in the middle of the car.  But if it's crowded, the only real possibility, is near the doorway by the last seat in the row.

The next topic is one that's up for debate: people asking for money and how to react to them.  There are a few different types of people who ask for money.  You have the people who simply walk by with a cup and shake their change.  You have the people (often kids) who are selling candy to raise some money.  And you have the singers and comedians who try to entertain for their money.  From my perspective, I generally only give money to the singers/real entertainers because they are making the communal subway car environment a better experience.  I would also consider giving money to kids selling candy, but I don't eat candy, so easy answer there.  

Lastly, I want to let everyone know that I don't believe the subway to be a dangerous place.  Of course, you should always be vigilant and avoid the subway when very few people are around very late at night, but I've never felt uncomfortable in the subway before. 

With that, I hope everyone enjoys their experience on the New York City Subways! 


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