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NYC Subway and the Transit System

Updated on April 15, 2015

Introduction to the New York City Subway

Of all the attractions and spectacles in New York City, none is so exciting and practical as the New York City transit system. This is the first article in the "Subway Series" where you can find information about the transit system and plan a vacation to New York City, learn about the interesting history of the subway and find things to do all around the Big Apple.

Operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the combined subway, bus and commuter rail system serves over 7 million customers every day, working as the circulatory system of the great city. Everyone from tourists to toddlers sit together for a few moments on a bus or subway, sharing the sights and sounds of the city. Even the mayor of the City of New York rides the subway on his commute to City Hall in the morning.

Making connections to the communities outside of New York City, the commuter rail system also serves millions of customers every day traveling to destinations in Long Island and West Chester County and beyond. The Long Island Railroad (LIRR) goes to the furthest reaches of Montauk, Greenport and Port Jefferson, Long Island while passing station stops for Fire Island and the Hamptons resort communities.

MetroCard New York City

Reusable plastic fare cards

Subway tokens were phased out in 2003 in favor of the MetroCard.

Source

Using the turnstile

Swipe the MetroCard through the card reader. Look for the message light that reads OK and shows the remaining balance on your card. Then, you can push on the turnstile to enter the gate. A message appears if the cash balance on the card is low. NOTE: If you have trouble with the card reader, swipe the card through the machine again, either faster or slower, and clean the magnetic stripe on the back of the card.

Original subway tokens - Discontinued in 2003

  • Small "Y" cut tokens first used by the MTA in 1953 for 15¢
  • Large "Y" cut tokens. Size enlarged for a 30¢ fare in 1970
  • Diamond Jubilee token issued in 1979 for the IRT subway anniversary
  • Solid brass token starting in 1980 with "NYC" letter filled-in with brass for 60¢
  • Bullseye design from 1986 with a round aluminum slug in the middle for $1.00
  • Five Boro or 'pentagram center' token, cost $1.50 and was finally discontinued in 2003

Source
Source

Current MetroCard prices 2014

Subway and bus fare in New York City

$2.38 per ride with reduced fares described below. Travel to any destination for the same price — from Coney Island to Forest Hills, or just one stop — the subway is often the fastest way to get around town, especially during rush hour.

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$ 5.00 minimum: Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard (multi-user)
5% bonus added to the card when you pay $5 or more
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$ 30.00 : 7-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard (single-user)
$ 112.00 : 30-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard
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JFK AirTrain MetroCard (one-way or round-trip tickets)
$25 JFK 10-trip (Good for 6 months)
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$ 2.75 : SingleRide ticket (two hours only)

MTA vending machines
Buy new cards or add money to your existing MetroCard. When using a credit card to make a payment, the machine will ask for your five-digit zip code. If you are visiting from another country, enter: 99999 to authorize your transaction. Go to the MTA website to learn more about MetroCard Vending Machines.
NOTE: One dollar fee for metrocards (as of March 3, 2013) to cut down on the litter of cards that appeared at turnstiles since the card was introduced. No fee if the card comes from a newsstand or other outside vendor. If your card gets to the expiration date, you will be issued a new card for free.

Coney Island Beaches

Take the train to the new and "improved" Coney Island to see the famous Mermaid Parade celebrated in June! Featuring an illustration from the Subway Sun, the new "Reach the Beach" towel measures an impressive 59 x 35 inches and is made of 100% cotton.

My friend gave me the mermaid towel for Christmas and it's a huge, bath sheet size with a thick, deep-piled fabric. It's my best towel now at the beach and so I try to keep it in good condition. The directions say that the towel needs to be put into the dryer to set the ink. After that, the colors still look good after about four or five seasons.

Two kinds of MetroCards

Generally, there are two kinds of MetroCards. The 7-Day Unlimited Ride MetroCard is good if you need the card thirteen times or more in one week. For anything else, the Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard offers a 5% bonus (was 7%) when you spend at least $5. Go to the MTA website to compare the Unlimited Ride vs. Pay-Per-Ride (Regular) MetroCard. MetroCards can be refilled, but it's a good idea to get new card every so often to keep it fresh. Every card has an expiration date printed on the back.

Unlimited Ride MetroCard

The 7-Day Unlimited card is what you want for a short vacation in New York. Get an unlimited number of subway and bus rides for a fixed price, and get a five percent bonus when you spend $5 or more. Choose a 7-day or 30-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard. Note: The Unlimited Ride cards are only good for one person at a time because the cards cannot be used again for 18 minutes at the same station or same bus route. A 30-Day Unlimited card is worthwhile if you plan to make 48 rides on the subway in a month.

Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard

Buy this kind of card when you're going to use the subway only occasionally. Get as many rides as you want from $4.50 to $80. A five percent bonus is automatically added to the card when you spend $5 or more. This is the only card that admits up to 4 people at one time. So, when you buy a $5 Pay-Per-Ride MetroCard, you can get a two people through the subway turnstile or onto the bus at the same time, and with the bonus, you'll have free credit left on the card for the next time.

JFK AirTrain

A separate MetroCard is used on the AirTrain to JFK International Airport AirTrain (opens in new window) for the ride between the subway and the airport. Receive discounted fares for the 10-trip or the monthly AirTrain MetroCard.

MTA subway / bus maps and fare information

NYC Bus & Subway Maps for Kindle Fire

Subway and bus maps for offline viewing (no Wi-Fi needed). Six maps of the bus routes in each borough and the Staten Island Ferry. Visit Google Play to get the app for other Android devices.

Maps and schedules are available at the MTA online for all subway and bus routes. Get free maps at ticket booths located at major stations stops in Manhattan and the five boroughs. Ask the bus driver for a free map showing the MTA bus routes, which includes a list of scheduled stops. Maps are also posted at bus stops, subway ticket booths and often on station platforms. Get copies of historic subway maps and read about the latest revision to the MTA map of the New York City subway.

Use your MetroCard on buses and subways, and get an automatic free transfer between subways and buses, or between buses (two hour time limit). This is especially valuable when you need to travel north or south AND across town to reach your destination.

Different types of MetroCards are used for the separate AirTrain service to JFK International Airport and for Express Bus service to the outer boroughs. The cost of a SingleRide ticket is $2.50. Pay for this paper ticket with cash only at vending machines and use the card within 2 hours of purchase.

MetroCard discounts

Use your MetroCard to ride on buses and subways, and get an automatic free transfer between subway and bus (or bus to subway), and between buses. This is especially valuable when you need to travel north or south AND across town to reach your desination.

Half-price "Reduced Fare" MetroCards are available for people over 65 years young or disabled. Reduced Fare is not available during peak periods, 6-10 AM and 3-7 PM.

You can also use your MetroCard for discounted admission to attractions around the city. See the MetroCard Promotions at the MTA website page for the latest discounts and deals that you get for using your MetroCard. You can also find a very good list of Top attractions in New York City, with links to official websites for all the major museums, parks, theaters, sports stadiums and more cultural listings.

Have you taken a bus, subway or train in New York City?

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Original posters from the NYC Subway!

Transit museum store

Beneath the surface, subway station platforms and corridors serve as a stage to musicians and street performers. Hundreds of shops conduct business underground, selling newspapers and magazines to waiting passengers. Above ground, city buses are the cheapest way to see the sights in New York City at a slower pace, rather like riding a large whale lumbering thorough the streets with schools of taxis weaving around obstructions.

These posters have traveled hundreds of miles on the tracks and roads of the busy New York City transit system. Millions of sleepy New Yorker's traveled to work or important meetings accompanied by these attractive images. The MTA sponsors the Arts in Transit program every year for artists to create signs like these for the transit system.

Source

Rendezvous Poster | New York City Transit Museum

One of the posters in the Arts in Transit series features this couple rowing on the lake in Central Park. The transit system goes through a constant cycle of maintenance and rehabilitation. In fact, there are more than 200 pumps operating around the clock to siphon the water out of the subway tunnels that sit below the water level of the surrounding rivers.

See more original transit posters and images of great architecture in the Subway Series.

Experimental video of the subway map - Conductor (2011)

This amazing video animates the movement of traffic on the subway system in 24 hours. For the technically minded, this was created using HTML5, the new standard for web design. Listen to the soundtrack as the sun goes down during the evening rush hour!

"Conductor: www.mta.me" from Alexander Chen on Vimeo.

The "Subway Series"

New Yorker magazine cartoon by George Price from Allposters

Begin the tour of the transit system with an exploration of historic Maps of the New York City Subway that was redesigned and updated in 2010. Watch as the map goes through many transformations over the years as a reflection of the many changes to one of the largest cities in the world.

A Subway Guide covers the three original branches of the subway system that have been incorporated into the greater Metropolitan Transit Authority. The IRT subway network has the numbered trains 1 - 7. "Take the "A" Train" and you'll be riding on the IND subway system. The Q and R subway trains on the Broadway Line run on the BMT subway tracks.

Like any city, New York is made up of a wonderful diversity of neighborhoods. If you live in New York City or want to give someone an entire neighborhood, New York City Subway Station Maps are actual posters from the transit system that you will find outside every token booth and bus stop at every major station stop.

The MTA has taken up the task of completing a subway project that was abandoned many years ago. Get current news about the construction project for the 2nd Avenue Subway and express your opinion about this controversial transportation issue in New York City.

"Thanks for your visit to the New York City Subway and Enjoy Your Day"
    (The friendly announcement from the subway)

Comments about the subway & feedback - Your guide to the transit system

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    • profile image

      Eko 

      3 years ago

      I can't decide which would be worse, the mean MTA guy or not gniettg the English muffin that was supposed to make me feel better after dealing with mean MTA guy. Hope tomorrow begins brighter!

    • profile image

      Jennifer 

      3 years ago

      I have been looking the gogloe for this info and i wanted to say thanks to you for this post. BTW, just off topic, where can i find a copy of this theme? – Regards

    • dotpattern profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Moire 

      5 years ago from West Village, New York City

      @StillPlaysWithT: You are welcome anytime! I'm sure you would like the Transit Museum in Brooklyn with old train cars, or the other museum at Grand Central.

    • StillPlaysWithT profile image

      StillPlaysWithT 

      5 years ago

      I've never been to New York, but riding the MTA is definitely on my bucket list.

    • dotpattern profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Moire 

      5 years ago from West Village, New York City

      @anonymous: Thanks! I can't stop the fare hikes, though.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      5 years ago

      Very good information.

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 

      6 years ago

      I love the diverse subject matter of your Lenses; especially the New York stuff, I'm getting ready to take the tour guide test any day now, been studying for it quite a while now. Great information and graphics. Kudos!

    • dotpattern profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Moire 

      6 years ago from West Village, New York City

      @dahlia369: Thank you, thank you. Pixel Dust (My blessed Lenses) has a new addition!

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 

      6 years ago

      very informative, nicely done, blessed! :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      Fascinating read. Very interesting to learn about the NYC metro network. Thanks and good day!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      7 years ago

      Whew! I think I'll have to study this for about a week if I ever head to NYC, very nicely done and informative. Excellent!

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 

      7 years ago

      The New York subway must be one of the most fascinating and diverse places in the world. I'd love to visit.

    • David Stone1 profile image

      David Stone 

      7 years ago from New York City

      Great lens, and you presented the subway as it is to those of us who depend on it. I think you probably made it a lot easier for visitors who typically are a little intimidated ahead of their first visit to the platforms. Well done.

    • LondonWanderer profile image

      LondonWanderer 

      7 years ago

      Fantastic lens. The NY Subway pricing system is so much simpler (and cheaper) than London.

    • bradkirsch lm profile image

      bradkirsch lm 

      7 years ago

      Great Lens! I miss the old subway tokens

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