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Rules of The Subway

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I have not posted these in some time. I hope they are helpful.

Rules of the Subway

The NYC subway system is an amalgam of lines that were once privately owned and were purchased by the government to unite them. This explains why there is duplication in many areas and no trains in other areas. The line that King Kong destroyed is now underground.

With a few exceptions the subways in Manhattan run north/south. Almost all, except those that go to the Bronx, will eventually make a turn into Brooklyn or Queens. The two Manhattan trains that only run east/west are the shuttle from Times Square to Grand Central and the L train that runs along 14th street.

Even though a Metrocard is used for entry, no NY’er calls the subway the Metro, Tube, or Underground. It is either called the subway or the train.

Do not use or ask for a subway line using the colors on the map. They will have no idea what your talking about. NY’ers either use the letter or the number. Say, “Can you tell where to get the “R” train or the “E” train. There are few exceptions. NY’ers refer to the 4 or 5 as the Lex (Lexington Avenue) Express and the 6 as the Lex Local. And the train from Grand Central to Times Square is called the Shuttle.

There are green and red globes at the entrance to many stations. Green supposedly means open all the time and red means sometimes. Sometimes vary form station to station. Some have mechanical card readers without token booths others are just closed. But red is usually open during week day business hours. Got that.

Transfers occur at many stations. Some transfers are across the platform, others on another level, while others are an interminable walk through corridors which vary from extremely crowded to ill light and very lonely. The main transfers are usually madhouses at all times.

The subway runs all day, all night every day including Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan. If you are lucky there will be more trains during rush hour.

Do not expect to understand any announcement through the PA system. Do not expect an explanation regarding delays. And if they do make an announcement, do not necessarily believe them.

Many newer trains have peppy computer voices announcing the stations. Very un-NY. There are usually correct. On the newer trains there is also an electronic linear map showing the line and stops. That is usually right. There are, however, large lit arrows that show the general direction and they are often pointing in the wrong direction.

If you miss your stop, you will not die, even if you wind in Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx. Well maybe the Bronx. Just get off at the next stop but there is the rub. Not every stop has a corridor which connects trains in both directions so you may have to exit, go upstairs, cross the street, descend again and pay another fare. Although there are major exceptions, this is often true on the local lines where are there are few transfers.

There are basically two types of trains, expresses and locals. Expresses stop at designated stops while locals stop at every station. There are times when the local is actually faster. When there is a problem, locals can run on the express tracks and vice versa. Sometimes during extenuating circumstances stations will be skipped. If you are lucky an announcement will be made. (See above rule regarding PA announcements.) And during those times you might be standing on a platform watching a train pass you by. If a train blows its whistle as it enters the station, it often means it ain’t stopping.

Many students take the subway to school. Many travel as hordes when school lets out. 99.9% of the kids are just being kids. Do not be afraid. As I get older, I realize how frightening we were as kids to adults.

A serious note: Unfortunately, the subway system is not designed for the disabled. All stations have stairs and the few that have escalators or elevators are unreliable.

Never ask how to use the machines that dispense MetroCards beforehand. Always stand in front of the machine as long as possible so a line can grow behind you. Hint to tourists: If the person has not moved their hands in fifteen minutes, get on another line.

Always crowd the person in front of you at the turnstile. Not every turnstile works and pirouettes can occur.

The MetroCard turnstile swipe is an art form. Sometimes the first swipe will not work. (Although them seem to be working better later.) And do not be surprised that after multiple swipes, if you are charged for two trips.

You can get a MetroCard at almost all subway entrances, especially at the larger stations. Some entrances just have turnstiles. You cannot get one on a bus, even though you need one or exact fare. Currently the fare is $2.25, no matter the distance and you can transfer to one bus up to two hours from entering the subway.

Of course, all Metrocards have restrictions since they issued by a bureaucracy.

Getting Directions
New Yorkers who barely know their name know the subway lines in Manhattan but few know the subway in the boroughs, other than the one where they live. Always ask for directions, NY’ers are always proud to display their subway knowledge. Conversely, NY’ers only know the bus lines they use and have no clue where the other buses go.

Above each platform are signs that identify the trains which will stop at the station and the general direction. Do not be alarmed that the signs say, Brooklyn Queens, or the Bronx, it is the general direction. Downtown means south and uptown means, well you get the drift.

There are no subway maps above ground. So you will have to descend to into a station to read one.

Riding the Rails

Entering the train can be a bit of free for all. The victory goes to the swift. If you dawdle people will push in front and not many will say things like “Excuse me Sir/Madam, but may I get ahead of you.” At rush hours, people will push from behind and you can be carried with the tide. If you have children, hold their hands and make plans if you get split up. I do this with adults, who so not know the train if someone should miss their stop. (Not hold their hand but make alternate plans.)

Do not stare at people. This is not a joke. It can be interpreted as impolite or worse.

Do not emulate NY’ers who:
1. Lean on the pole so no one else can hold on. It has been known to hold the pole in a certain way so that the knuckles of one’s hand in the back of the slob.
2. Transport their refrigerator during rush hours. People carry all sorts of objects all the time.
3. Read the New York Times spread open, with their splayed open taking up two seats. (This is a male specialty.)
4. Stand with your bike and take up the room of six people. I will never understand, if you have a bike, why you are taking the train. I would, however, like to borrow their helmet sometimes.
5. Don’t shower and wear muscle shirts.
6. The subway is not your living room, move your butt to the wall if you want to speak on the phone.

You can do just about anything in NYC but do not block a subway car door. When the train stops, the doors open, and you are blocking them there are many choices: make yourself small, get off the train so there is room and then get back on, move to the center, or be prepared to be bounced and cursed. It is prime spot to stand, own it with pride.

Do not say to your fellow passenger, this is like being in a sardine can. We have probably heard that before.

There will be people selling candy, others God. It is your choice to engage them in conversation.

Getting off

It as important to know the stop before as it is to know the stop you need. The stop before warn all your friends and relatives. Know which side the doors will open. Most doors on an express open on the right. On the local trains, the doors usually open on the right on local stops and on the left on express stops. This is a rule of thumb.

Another rule of thumb regards, people not moving out of the way. Say, “excuse me,” loudly. If they do not move after the second “Excuse me” you have my permission to push your way through the crowd.

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