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Any secrets to mastering the NYC subway system? Give me your tips for getting the hang of it.

Any secrets to mastering the NYC subway system? Give me your tips for getting the hang of it.

Old Nov 30th, 2006, 08:17 AM
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Any secrets to mastering the NYC subway system? Give me your tips for getting the hang of it.

I've used public transportation in several major cities (DC, Chicago, Paris, Rome) -- but for some reason, the thought of using the NYC subway has me completely intimidated and overwhelmed. For my upcoming trip to NYC, I was planning to get tix for the Grayline hop on/hop off tour bus and using taxis whenever we (me, sis, mom and gram) want to get from point a to point b. But I'm reading other threads and hearing advice to stay away from taxis in midtown this time of year.

Other than studying the map of NYC, what do I need to know to master the NYC subway system and get over my fears of getting my group lost??? (And given the traffic, should we completely forgo the hop on/hop off tour bus idea for this time of year???)

I can be a navigationally challenged idiot at times. I'll admit it now.

Thanks-
Kellie
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 08:27 AM
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You will definitely not want to taxi it around new york at holiday time. The city is truly gridlocked now (especially midtown) and the taxi fares have increased. So - plan on walking wherever feasible and taking the subway all other times. I find that the police and subway employees are very, very helpful and polite. They always answer my (smiling) questions with a smile of their own. Once you get the hang of it you will not have a problem. Just enjoy- the energy level in the city at this time is invigorating and the city is beautiful.
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 08:28 AM
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I think one difference of the NYC subway system is that at some stations you have to go in a particular entrance in order to get to the line you want to take. These stations will be marked at the entrance (downtown/uptown, etc.)

I rode the NYC subway by myself for the first time last week and did okay (I rode as a kid with parents and as an adult with friends). Check out http://www.mta.info/nyct/general/index.html if you haven't already. That may help. Also check www.hopstop.com if you need specific point a to point b direction. You will do fine!
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 08:32 AM
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Ask.

That's all you need to do. Look for a person who seems amenable to a question and simply ask for help.

I generally have a smile on my face and I answer subway questions all the time.

My 2nd tip involves reading the MTA map -- find your destination first, then the closest stop to your destination. Say that stop says 4-5-6. That means those 3 trains stop there. Now go to your starting point. Find the nearest stop. If it shows 4 or 5 or 6, you're golden. If not, you'll need to follow the line to a transfer to a 4-5-6.

It ain't rocket science; you'll figure it out.

ASK.

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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 08:38 AM
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The first think I would do would be to relax! The holiday season is the busiest time, and the subways will be full of people who can help you find where you need to go. If you are in doubt, ask someone. I find that it is my karmic duty to help lost people on the subway, and I'm always willing to assist (within reason!).

There are attendants in almost all of the major subway stations that you'll encounter, and they can help you find your bearings and advise you of any service changes.

There are signs next to each track that will tell you whether the train is uptown, downtown, local or express. If you are unsure whether an express train stops at certain station, ride the local. It will take a bit longer, but you won't miss your stop.

If you do miss your stop, just get off the train at the next station. You can probably transfer for free to the train heading in the opposite directions. If you can't transfer in the station, 99% of the time, the train heading the other direction can be found by exiting the station and crossing the street.

Finally, Manhattan is extremely safe, ESPECIALLY parts that tourists visit. If you do get turned upside down, and feel lost, just use common sense and you'll be fine.

Have fun!
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 08:56 AM
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hire a New Yorker.

As a New Yorker, most New Yorkers will still gave you wrong advice, as the subway is so huge, especiall when headed to the boroughs...

Just add ten minutes per ride for mistakes, and make sure you take subways over the bridges too!

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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 09:18 AM
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The subway is a great way to see the city. They have been cleaned up (no graffiti) and reasonably safe but try not to use it very late at night (you can use taxis then). The buses take too long IMO.

I've always taken the subway but on my last trip to NYC, I took my kids with me. Being slightly distracted, I had mistakenly taken the"express" train which did not stop at the Museum of Natural History. Instead, we ended way up in the 100's in Harlem, and I needed to use the bathroom (badly). We had to get off and turn around and take the regular train (with all the stops) back to the museum. The lady there wouldn't let me in to use the toilet until I paid for my admission ticket into the museum. Moral of the story is, check to see if it is an "express" or regular train and make sure your train stops at your destination.

In regards to getting separated, I always instruct my kids to get off at the very next stop, or if they accidentally get off too early, to just sit there and wait, and we will come and get them. It is good advice for anyone (not just kids) who gets separated from the group, especially if they aren't carrying cell phones and aren't familiar with the subway. It has always been my fear that one of my kids would get separated at a train station in NYC or Tokyo, although it has never happened.

Years ago my husband and I got separated in the Frankfort airport sub terminal in Germany, and I nearly peed in my pants!
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 09:54 AM
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Just pick up a subway map when you get here and youíll do fine. Do you have some idea of the places youíll be traveling? You could get some help in advance that way. The 4 and the 5 trains will probably be your friend while youíre here! You mentioned a grandmother Ė how old and agile is she?

One tip I can give you is DONíT panic and hop on a train because itís leaving and you donít want to miss it. I think thatís how people get lost. As much as we all hate the subway there really will be another train coming shortly. Missing the right train is MUCH better than finding yourself riding over a bridge to someplace you donít want to be. The other tip I can give you is that there is a shuttle that runs from Grand Central Station to Times Square. It saves a lot of walking between the two areas and gives you access to different subway lines. It only goes between those stations Ė look for a grey circle with a white S.

And I would certainly tell you to ask for directions from the people around you. Most people DO know most of the system. If they donít know they will tell you ďI donít knowĒ, or just look at the map with you.

Those buses are awful and youíll have a much better time on the train. Have fun. Really!
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 10:23 AM
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thank you one and all. I've officially ditched the idea (and expenditure) of the hop-on/hop-off tour bus. We are going to use the Grayline bus for a holiday light tour. Will help us orient our first night in the city, I think.

vjpdlovesitaly -- thanks for the link to hopstop! I love that site! Just what we'll need. I don't think that this existed when I lived in DC -- but then again, that system is pretty straightforward.

I think I'll be able to get the hang of this. We are staying on 53rd, so I see that we'll be using the 50th Street stations as our starting points. I think we'll feel like we really got to know the city if we use the subway.

Great advice everyone. You've boosted my confidence and given great tips.

Should we pay per ride or get the one-day fun pass for $7?? I like the idea of having the card in our pockets for quickly getting to trains.

I cannot wait for our trip in just over two weeks!!
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 10:27 AM
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If you group your sites together, there shoudln't be any reason for getting the one day pass. Regular ride is $2. However look ahead at your schedule and see what works.

Personally I think you're selling yourself WAY short here. I've lived in NYC for a while and if you can get DC, Chicago, Paris and Rome metros down, it will be a piece of cake. All major metros basically follow the same basic principles. Good luck - you'll do great!
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 10:28 AM
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Get the Fun Pass! If you are here for more than 3 days, get the 3 day pass. Once you have the pass you won't feel like you've "wasted" a ride if you get off at the wrong stop or feel like taking the subway for just 10 blocks (vs. walking). All you have to do is just pay attention to the next stop to make sure you are going in the right direction.

Have fun!
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 10:30 AM
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Can I buy the metro pass in any subway station? Or do I need to buy it at a certain location(s)?
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 10:31 AM
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Kellbell---If you have maneuvered you way through the Parisian Metro, you will be fine with the NYC subway system.

I only used it for a few days, but I got the hang of it pretty easily, only going in the wrong direction, like, once.

But hey, I did that in Paris as well!
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 10:34 AM
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Keep a subway map handy. I think some of the magazines have a credit card sized subway map of Manhattan.
Watchout for repair work that is usually done on wkends and always affecting train routes.
On wkends. in particular, pay attention and always ask a person next to you or in the train before getting on as several trains are rerouted.
Even after living in the city for all these years, I still ask fellow passengers on wkends.
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 10:40 AM
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I had to chuckle when I read the post, having been hesitant to try the NYC subways after having fully embraced the Paris, London and Rome public transportation systems. Once you figure out what to do and when to do it, the NYC system is phenomenal.

I recommend the funpass (unlimited rides in a 24 hour period for $7) as a way of playing with the system. Not only good for the subways, also good for the bus system. The only limitation is that you can't use the pass more than one time every 18 minutes (ostensibly to cut down on more than one person using the pass.)

Once you have your pass, figure out where you are (every station with an attendant will give you a free map) and where you want to go. Use the MTA website to download maps, schedules, etc.

http://www.mta.info/nyct/maps/index.html

Certainly the best bang for your transportation buck in New York. I use the subway every time I go there, and am never disappointed. After I have used my funpass for six or so hours, I find some poor soul who is about to feed money into one of the machines and give him my pass so they can use it until it expires.

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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 10:40 AM
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Secret? No secret, just follow the rules given: be polite, allow extra time for mistakes, and enjoy the experience. To me, getting around a city is as much part of being a tourist as is seeing the famous sites.

Honestly, maybe I look pathetic, but I've never had someone be rude to me when I ask for help. Even in Paris. Please and Thank you are universal.

While in NYC two years ago I wound up getting cut off from my family due to a metro card snafu. Couldn't get in, and if they went out we'd have to pay all over again.

Nice lady walked me UP and over the street to show me the correct entrance I needed to meet my kids and husband.

Which is why I NEVER send my kids through without a parent there, too. ;-)
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 10:58 AM
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A couple of issues that cause the most confusion:

There are local and express trains, but they are not clearly marked unless you happen to know which number is a local and which is an express. So you must check to see that the train you're about to get on will really stop at the stop you want, even though the map will clearly show it is on the right line. This mainly has to do with the stops on the marks being open circles or filled in circles. And even then, which trains will stop sometimes varies with the time of day.

Another problem is that various lines use the same tracks. This is confusing to those of us who use many subway systems throughout the world where that is not true -- where usually once you get to the right track, all trains that stop there will take you where you want to go. This is complicated by the fact that sometimes it is difficult to impossible to figure out which actual track the train you want will stop at, as they may change depending on the time of day or the day of the week.

Also be sure to look at the front of the approaching train for the line number. Some trains seem not be marked on the sides, or else the doors open over the numbers, so once it has stopped, you don't know if it is the right train or not.

I've learned never to ask directions at the ticket booths. I have yet to get an answer I could hear or understand. What language do those people mumble anyway? But you will have great luck asking nearly anyone along the track who looks like a local. Locals seem to love showing their knowledge of the system -- even though some have sent me the wrong way.
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 11:05 AM
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As someone who goes to NYC a lot and uses the subway, my advice is:

- realize there is an express and local. When in doubt, take the local because at least you know that the train is going to stop at every stop.

- pat attention to where you enter so that you heading either uptown or downtown.

- realize that even if you make a mistake, you aren't going to be stranded somewhere. I recently was meeting friends in Williamsburg for brunch. I'd been before. I looked at the map and ended up on a completely different line and at a completely different station than I had used before. The thing is, they were near the exact same area so I didn't really walk any further. In Manhattan, even if you end up on the wrong line, you usually aren't that far away from where you were heading to begin with.

- The subway actually has great signage and maps. Look for signs on the posts that tell you exactly where the train is going. Many trains also have electronic indicators telling you where the train is heading.
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 11:15 AM
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Ok, I just read NeoPatrick's post and I think you touched on everything that freaks me out about the NYC subway!!! (multiple lines on on track, can't see the numbers on the train clearly, can't understand the answer you get from the person you ask to help you. . . )

Ah, we'll figure it out. I think you've all pointed out the potential pitfalls, and I'll watch out for them. I'm sure we'll get lost more than once -- but that is what makes for good travel stories!! Luckily we all have a sense of adventure, a sense of humor, and we are all extremely polite and friendly guests of new places.

(And I never said that I mastered the Paris subway system. . . but we gave it our best shot!!! My husband let me attempt to do all the talking. It was very humorous and we never did get lost.)

Are there many above ground spots? I know when riding the metro in DC, there were a few times you'd daylight and be able to get a view of the city. Someone mentioned taking the subway over the bridges. . . I'm assuming for the view?
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Old Nov 30th, 2006, 11:16 AM
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ilovetotravel - you can buy metrocards in almost all stations. There may be some cases where you can only buy them on the "downtown" or "uptown" sides of the track. This will be marked, and you shoud be able to figure it out pretty quickly. The machines are touchscreens, and they accept cash, debit, or credit cards.

If you do decide to take the bus you can either use your metrocard, or you need 8 quarters. There is no place to buy metrocards at the bus stop, and the driver won't accept bills.
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