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Understanding the New York City Subway System

Once a dingy, hot subway system in the 1970's, New York's transportation system is now among the most efficient means of transporting people in the world. Completely renovated, the subway system is a comfortable, convenient, and safe form of transportation that goes between almost every area in New York City. Every day, there are more than 4.3 million individuals that ride the system and more than 1 billion individuals pass through the subway's turnstiles every year.


The MetroCard is a card that is thin and made of plastic. This card is used in order to pay for subway and bus fares in the city. Currently there are both cards for unlimited riding and cards for paying each time you ride. MetroCards can be purchased at subway stations in NYC and certain merchants sell them as well. The cards cannot be purchased on buses. Paying per ride costs $2.50 but if more than $5 is put on the card, the card owner gets a bonus of 5 percent. As many as four individuals can ride at the same time with a pay-per-ride card.

Unlimited cards are only used by one person and they have a certain time frame in which they can ride buses and subways as much as they want or need to. These cards can only be used one time every 18 minutes to prevent fraud and this rule cannot be overridden by station agents. Unlimited 7-day cards cost $30 and can be used until midnight on day seven. Monthly cards that have been stolen or lost and paid for using an ATM or credit card are insured. Cards can be purchased inside the stations at vending machines and the actual booths only accept cash payments.

Getting on the Correct Train

Street corners that have staircases that descend into the station are typically where an entrance is located. If you see a mark with a green, large ball, MetroCards can be purchased inside; if the ball is red, you'll need to have a card already. There are also maps at the entrances which should be checked out prior to leaving the subway. Many subway stations have separate entrances for trains that run uptown and trains that run downtown. Once the card is swiped there is no refund so it's important to check signs to be sure the card is being swiped at the correct entrance. Attendants are always available for help as well should you need it.

Subway Schedule

During rush hour the subway generally runs every two to five minutes. During the day it runs every five to fifteen minutes. After midnight until five in the morning, they run about every twenty minutes. Maps and schedules can be found on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) website. There are also phone apps available that can be used to find out when the trains run.

Safety Tips While on the Subway

When waiting for your train, try to stand close to an attendant booth or in an area where there are security cameras. If you see someone acting suspiciously or strangely, do not get into the train car with them. You should never run for the train as most accidents are due to falling or slipping. Be sure to stand away from the platforms edge so you do not fall on the train's tracks. When the train is moving, you should not travel between the train's cars. Do not take money out of your pocket, purse, or wallet and stay alert. Falling asleep on a train, especially late at night, is not a good idea.

Additional Tips for Getting Around

If there are no seats available, find a pole and hold it when the train starts to move to help you keep your balance as it stops and starts. It's difficult for other passengers to hold onto the poles when someone is leaning on them so leaning on them is something you shouldn't do either. Feet and belongings should be kept off the seats in order to provide places for other passengers to sit. The trains get crowed and when they do, you should go to the center of the train so other passengers have room. Inside the train is always the safest place to be but should something happen in which you have to leave the car, you need to know about the car's white and blue lights. The blue lights let you know where telephones, fire extinguishers, and switches to turn the power off are. The power should be switched off prior to picking up the phone. When you see five white lights on a bar or in a circle, you will know there is an exit.