Rules of The Subway

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May 13th, 2011, 10:18 PM
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Rules of The Subway

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.


MetroCards
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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May 14th, 2011, 12:28 AM
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Hilarious and extremely helpful at the same time. Thanks for posting. It sounds similar to the Paris metro and to our peak hour trains here in Sydney.
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May 14th, 2011, 01:36 AM
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Thanks, it will be great help during our visit in September from the UK. Any such info on the buses?? or taxis/cabs???
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May 14th, 2011, 02:25 AM
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Wonderful stuff and so true.

The swiping of the Metro Card is indeed a luck of the draw. Just when you think you've got a handle on it, it won't work. Going with a group, at least 1-2 people had problems with swiping every single time. Why can't they just have a button reader like at our Swiss ski resorts?

Also, we found the signs in the Metro confusing. There are times when the words "uptown" and "downtown" are missing so you have no idea which direction to take. We once stood there for 5 minutes trying to figure it out. It then took 3 people before someone could give us proper information.

Riding the subway is a bit like Alice in Wonderland. It will take you places you weren't expecting and have you meet people you never thought you would.

Also: holding on to the pole is important. However, if you want to meet people, especially men, don't hold on to anything. I flew into at least 3 men's laps during my trip and began interesting conversations with them.
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May 14th, 2011, 03:40 AM
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Schuler - you did good! One should always ask 3 people in the subway and trust the person who shows you what they are talking about on a map.
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May 14th, 2011, 04:13 AM
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OK, you've just confirmed to me that I am going to have such a fun time on the trains in New York. I am also claustophobic which is not going to help my nerves at all lol! Is there any recomended times which are quieter than others that I should plan my trips around? Seriously is there?
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May 14th, 2011, 04:40 AM
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The trains are least crowded between 10 pm and 6 am. If you want to travel during other hours assume the trains will be either a little crowded (no seats in midtown) or very crowded (push to get in the door).

Rush hours are considered 7 to 10 am and 4 to 7 pm.

If you seriously have claustrophobia you may want to consider buses instead. In the subway you will be in a crowded car in a very small tunnel most of the time and trains often stop between stations for no apparent reason (rarely for more than a few minutes) and depending on where it stops the lights may go out - either briefly or until the train starts again.
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May 14th, 2011, 04:46 AM
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I do not have rules for buses and cabs, but I do have rules for the sidewalk.

Also, I took the 6 train at Spring Street yesterday and the sign read Uptown and The Broncks. The Broncks were the name of the old Dutch family Bronck which occupied what is much of The Bronx these days.
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May 14th, 2011, 04:51 AM
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Since Aduchamp reposted, I'll repost these step-by-step diection from 2009:

How the NYC Subway Works (Kind of)

Since the subway system was originally built as a number of independent companies, there is no uniform subway station setup, though there are a few typical types. The station is generally a block or two long underground, with an entrance at the station-name street. The entrance stairs are at the relative middle of the platform. However, some stations have entrances at each end of the platform, even though the station is called by the name at one end. For stations with two entrances, there may be MetroCard machines and/or token boots at only one entrance, which will be noted on above-ground signage. The major stations where many subway lines intersect have many entrances. It is only through constant use that one learns all the options available.

In some cases you must chose the uptown or downtown staircase while still on the street. In others, you make this choice once below ground in the station. Read the signs. and if you're still unclear, ask someone for help.

Typical subway ride: Find the subway station from which you will begin your journey. Read the signs that this stair serves the correct direction--uptown or downtown or both. These signs will also indicate if this particular entrance is closed during off-hours. Walk down the stairs. (Some subway stations have elevators and escalators . . . few and far between.)

Just down the stairs, you will find a "token" booth (still called this, though there are no longer tokens in use), MetroCard machines, and turnstiles. Also in this area are wall-mounted subway and local street maps, as well as--VERY IMPORTANT--small white signs that explain any route changes for construction and maintenance, which is very prevalent on weekends and at late night.

You can buy your MetroCard from a human being (who may also have subway maps for you to take) at the booth or on your own at a machine. You can buy as few as one fare if you like. The machines takes you through a relatively straightforward dialog. The only mysterious part is choosing "Unlimited MetroCard" (the 1-day, 7-day monthly passes for one person to use) or "Regular MetroCard" (as much or as little as you want, though the more you buy you are rewarded with bonus fares--regular cards may be shared). Unlimited cards may be scanned every 15 minutes or more, thus avoiding people trying to share them. Regular cards may be scanned four times in a row, so four people could share one card--it keeps track of the four transfers.

Now that you've bought the card, go to a turnstile and slide the card through the slot on top. It make take a few tries to get the speed right. If it doesn't work, DO NOT CHANGE TURNSTILES, or you may be charged again (or not be able to scan for another 15 minutes). When you slide correctly, a small screen will flash GO and you can move through the turnstile.

In some subway stations you may now be directly in front of the train tracks. In others, you may need to go down another set of stairs. Read the signs to make sure you use the stairs for the correct directions and trains. Larger stations may have a series of walkways and tunnels to negotiate to find the correct train.

Some stations have only one train that stops there. In others, more than one train may stop on the same platform, so watch the numbers on the front and side of the train to be sure it is the one you want. In others, the platform may have two sides, with local trains running near the wall and express in the middle--read the signs above the platform to be sure. Some platforms may have two sides, one uptown and one downtown--read the signs.

When the train arrives, stand back from the door to allow riders to get off. Don't dawdle about getting on the train--the full time the train doors are open may be only 15 seconds in less busy times.

Subway etiquette has been described by others in earlier posts. Newer trains will keep you posted with electronic signs and voices announcing where you are and the next stop to come. Older trains may feature announcements from the conductor, but are often unintelligible, plus there are no electronic signs reporting progress. As you pass or stop at stations, you can tell where you are because ALL the station columns next to the train feature station names, plus there are large wall signs.

Watch for your stop. If the train is crowded, it's a good idea to try to get near the door at the stop before yours since it might be difficult to squeeze through the crowd when it reaches your stop. Once the train stops, hurry to get off the train. Say a loud EXCUSE ME or GETTING OFF if necessary to get people to shift out of your way.

Read the Exit signs which indicate the street location each staircase offers ("NW corner of . . ." or the like). If you're not sure, it really doesn't matter that much, so don't overthink this. NYers who make these trips everyday like to figure the shortest route, but as a tourist it's less important.

This sounds much more intricate than it really is.
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May 14th, 2011, 05:08 AM
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From the same 2009 thread, since you asked about the bus . . .


How a NYC Bus Works

Buses are the same thing only different.

There are different bus routes on the "avenues." Since most "avenues" are one way, the same bus number travels uptown on one avenue and downtown on another. For example, the M15 goes uptown/north on First Avenue and downtown on Second Avenue. (M-Manhattan, 15-route number which sometimes makes sense and sometimes doesn't)

There are also crosstown buses that travel east/west on the major "streets" that correspond with the subway stops, every 10 blocks or so. Since these major "streets" have traffic in both directions, the bus route follows that street in both directions. The crosstown bus route numbers tend to make sense (M42 on 42nd Street, M34 on 34th Street . . .)

Since there are so few ways to go east/west on a subway, using a subway-to-crosstown-bus connection can be a good option.

Just as the subway has "express" trains which make fewer stops and "local" trains" which make every stop, buses have faster and slower choices. Local buses will have no special designation aside from the route number and will have bus stops about very two blocks. Bus stops are labeled with a pole that features blue signs for the different bus number that stop there. The same bus route may also have LIMITED buses. Limited buses stop every 8-10 blocks, usually where there is a crosstown bus connection. It will have the same route number and destination flashing on the sign over the front window, and will also flash LIMITED. The sign on the post will be in purple and state that it is a limited stop.

[There is a bus called an "express" bus, but it goes from Manhattan to the outer suburbs and is mostly used by commuters.]

Typical bus ride: Find your marked bus stop. Watch for the next bus, reading the sign above the front window to be sure it is the one you want. While people don't form a line while waiting, there is a certain sense of who arrived first and should get on first when the bus arrives. People are actually very orderly. When the bus arrives, stand back from the door in case someone is getting off. The driver may lower the bus (making the bus "kneel") to make access easier. The driver may also need to operate the wheelchair lift to help someone on or off.

Mount the steps at the front door and put your MetroCard in the slot on the top front left of the fare box--there's an image there showing you the correct position. (You may also use exact change--coins only--to pay your fare. Coins go in the funnel on the top back right. Ask for a paper transfer to use to transfer to another bus if you use coins.) You can see your fare appear on the little screen on the top front right. Move into the bus away from the front door.

**One Exception: Since late 2010, the M15 bus has a SELECT bus instead of the Limited bus, and also has the usual Local bus. This Select bus has its own special bus stop within a block of some local stops. The big difference is that you must pay BEFORE you board the bus by dipping your MetroCard in a curbside machine and receiving a receipt, or paying money in another curbside machine and receiving a receipt. Keep the receipt with you as it might be spot-checked by officials. There is not fare box on the bus, so you can get on at any door. The idea is to save time, since riders won't have to wait as each pays on the bus. However, since many don't understand the new system, the driver is wasting a lot of time telling people to get off the bus and pay. This is a trial on the M15 route only.

Preferred bus etiquette is to get on at the front door (you must do so to pay the fare) but get off at the back door. Many people still get off at the front door anyway because it is closer, the bus is crowded, or they need to use the kneeling feature of the bus which is only at the front door.

The bus only stops if someone is waiting at the stop or if someone on the bus presses the yellow tape or pulls the cord to request a stop at the next stop. If the tape has been pressed for the next stop, you'll here a ping and a sign STOP REQUESTED will light--avoiding too much annoying pinging.

The back door will not open automatically, Once the bus stops at an official bus stop, the driver releases the back door and a light goes one at the door. Now you can press on the yellow tape on the door to open it--it may require a push. Bus etiquette says that you hold the door open for the people descending behind you since it might slam shut and lock if you don't do so.
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May 14th, 2011, 06:02 AM
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"The line that King Kong destroyed is now"

It isn't, because the 3rd Avenue El was not replaced by a subway.

"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."

You forgot to mention that it is $2.50 if you only go for the single fare card from the vending machine. If you are traveling with someone buy a card for $4.50 that way you each save 25¢.

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

What about elevated stations? I challenge you to descend into one of those.

"Entering the train can be a bit of free for all."

Agreed but you forgot to mention those who stand in the doorway and won't even acknowledge that people are getting on and off (mothers with baby strollers are the worst). Their personal motto is "Thou shalt not pass".

Above all, I say to tourists - Don't buy a subway map from a travel agent, bookstore or the like. Official subway maps in pocket (large pocket) size are FREE at any subway station booth that has someone inside of it (unless of course they ran out of them). The maps you buy can be a year behind (you don't expect stores to just throw away the old maps when they can sell then to unknowing people). The official subway map is issued about 4 times a year (so far this year there was one in January and March. The next one should be in June or July). However, on some subway cars the maps are from June of 2010 but 98% of the information is still valid (the errors that I told them about last year were fixed but I just told them about a few more - shows you how well they proofread them before they went to the printer.)

If you have a subway map from before 2010 (you;d be surprised how many people I have seen carrying maps from the 1980s and 1990s from the last time they visited NYC) - throw it a way (or put it back in the drawer) because things have changed on a number of routes (BTW - the words "routes" and "lines" can be interchangeable in conversation but the number and letter identifiers are routes. The tracks they run on are lines (Lexington Avenue, 8th Avenue etc).

Pay attention to signs posted in stations. Subway construction/repair is always going on, especially during the weekend. When you first enter the subway from the street you will see on a wall (somewhere) large posters under the title of "Planned Service Changes" for weekday and weekends. This is a summary of work being done and how routes are affected. It may mean that you have to take a different train or take a train past the station you want to get off and then take another train back to the station you want. Smaller signs are posted at platform level either on the wall or on the support pillars. You don't know how many people I have seen waiting for an express train when the signs posted clearly say they are running on the local track. One even said to me when I pointed out the trains were on the local track, that "the sign hanging above the platform says the train stops here". The service change sign was on the pillar right in front of them.
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May 14th, 2011, 08:11 AM
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Love This thread since I will be in NYC 4 days over Memorial Day holiday. It makes me mad that they did away with the fun pass or whatever they called the 1 day unlimited pass, forcing one to shell out more $$$$$.
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May 14th, 2011, 10:18 AM
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Thanks for posting. Great info! Does make me very nervous to use it with my kids though, but we are going to. I will explain these things to them in advance.
Do this same rules apply to the PATH train? We are using it one day to go to Carlos Bakery. I was hoping to get to Carlos Bakery before 9:00 to avoid the lines but it now seem like we will be going right at rush hour.
Also, I have been using Google maps a lot to get the estimated travel times based on the times and day of week we are on the subway. Are these accurate? The time it takes barely changes at all if you change the time of travel from rush hour to non-rush hour. I wonder why?
Again, thanks!
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May 14th, 2011, 10:30 AM
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There are more trains during rush hour, every 3-4 minutes rather than every 10-15 minutes.
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May 14th, 2011, 10:40 AM
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At rush hours the trains run more frequently - but will be more crowded. If esp crowded you may have to let a couple pass by before there is one with room for you to get in.

If yuo are tkaing small kids on the subway hold their hands the entire time. For older kids (10 or up) , make sure they have the name and address of your hotel, your cell phone number and a phone of their own to use if tyou get separated. Naturally they also need money and a Metro pass.
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May 14th, 2011, 12:04 PM
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World Gallery,

PATH is different than the NYC Subway. First thing is that although the PATH turnstiles have the MetroCard emblem on them, they DO NOT accept the unlimited MetroCard cards. Only the regular Pay-per-ride version are accepted ($1.75 will be deducted).

PATH does not have booths like the subway does.

You can buy a $3.50 PATH MetroCard from small machines (cash only) at certain stations (such as 33rd St) or from larger machines (similar to the NYC Subway MetroCard Machines (cash, credit/debit). The same limit on transactions (2) per credit/debit card per day exists and the $6 maximum on change returned. The limit of 4 persons per MetroCard also apples here. If all 7 of you are going I suggest you buy a MetroCard (use the "Other amounts" button on the screen) for $14 to cover 4 of you (round trip) [***see NOTE***) and one for $10.50 [****see NOTE ***] to cover the other 3. You will have to insert each card in the turnstile 4 times (or 3 times) - once for each person. There will be some value left of the card once you are finished (the 7% bonus on transactions in the PATH MetroCard Machines also applies).

***NOTE***: Because you will get the 7% bonus if buying a MetroCard (even from a PATH vending machine) you can save some money up front (you can do this at any NYC subway MetroCard vending machine as well before you get to PATH):

For the $14 card put $13.10 (using the "other amount"). That will give you a value of $14.02 on the card. That will cover 8 round trips (for 4 people) and leave over only 2 cents.

For the $10.50 card put in $9.85 (using the "other amount"). That will give you a value of $10.54 on the card. That will cover 6 round trips (for 3 people ) and leave over only 4 cents.

I will assume you will take PATH from 33rd Street/6th Avenue. After you pay the fare the Hoboken train will be on track 3 (sometimes on the middle track). When you get to Hoboken exit to the street and walk away from the rail/ferry terminal for about a block or so to Washington Avenue. Make a right on Washington and walk to Carlo's (about 1 block).

One more thing about PATH - photography of any kind is PROHIBITED on PATH trains and stations.
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May 14th, 2011, 04:15 PM
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Thank you so much for this advice, timely for me since the family will be arriving in NYC after Memorial Day. I was looking at the MTA website and saw they have an app that can be downloaded to most smartphones at railbandit.com/wap. They offer a free five-day trial, which is perfect for short-term tourists. Anyone had luck using this?
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May 14th, 2011, 04:34 PM
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I always thought King Kong throw the trains from the 6th Avenue El. That's Hoolywood.
______________

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

What about elevated stations? I challenge you to descend into one of those.

Yes those are so easy to see especially the one at Smith and Ninth which is only 87 feet above the street.
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May 14th, 2011, 04:54 PM
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At what age do you have to pay for kids on the subway?
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May 14th, 2011, 06:32 PM
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Children pay according to size rather than age. Up to three children less than 44 inches in height ride free with each paying adult.
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