Tips for Using the NYC Subway

How to Use the New York City Subway

How much do you know about riding the subway? We’ve got tips to make your travels safe and easy.

November 11, 2015 | HF Healthy Living Team

The New York City subway, run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), can be confusing, especially if you’re new to the city. The letters and numbers on the subway map might not make much sense at first, or you may not know the best or fastest way to get where you need to go.

If you want to know more about how to use the subway to get the most out of living in this great city, you’re in the right place! We’ve got some important information and tips to make planning your trips even easier.

NYC Subway Facts
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*Figures accurate as of May, 2015.

How to Get to Where You’re Going

Uptown or downtown? Local or express? Read on to learn more about how to get to your destination.

Uptown or Downtown. In Manhattan, “uptown” and “downtown” are directions to indicate “north” and “south.” Uptown is north, and downtown is south. In Manhattan, the Bronx is north (uptown); Brooklyn is south (downtown).

So no matter where you are or need to get to, you can figure out what train to hop on by knowing whether you’re going north or south.

For example, if you’re at Canal Street and need to get to 72nd Street, you will want to hop on an uptown train, which goes north.

Even if your end destination is not in Manhattan, knowing uptown or downtown can still help you. For example, if you’re near Central Park on the Upper West Side and need to get to Queens, you will need to go downtown, or south, to get to a station where you can transfer to another train to get to Queens.

Local or Express. You may have been unlucky enough to hop on a train that skipped your stop because it was an express train, and you didn’t know it. We’ve all been there! Here’s a quick tip to remember: when looking at a subway map, a white circle next to a station is an express stop; a black circle is a local stop.

Let’s look at an example using the map above. If you’re at 42nd Street/Times Square, and want to get to West 96th Street, the fastest way there is to hop on an uptown express train, either #2 or #3. It’s only two stops (72nd Street and then 96th Street). However, if you want to get to West 86th Street, which is a local stop, you will need to get on the uptown #1 train, a local train that makes all stops, including express stops (59th Street, 66th Street, 72nd Street, 79th Street, and then 86th Street). Sometimes express trains go local or a local train will go express; listen to the conductor or read the signs posted in the station to make sure.

Making a transfer. If you use a MetroCard, you can get one free transfer within two hours of swiping your card. This works between certain subway stations, or when transferring between bus and subway or vice versa.

Staying Safe on the Subway

The MTA estimates that most accidents in the subway are caused by passengers rushing, which causes falls and slips. To arrive safely at your destination, protect yourself with these tips.

• Stand away from the platform edge, behind the yellow line
• Wait for the train to come to a full stop before approaching it
Never go down on the tracks—if you drop something on the tracks, tell train or station personnel or use a station Customer Assistance Intercom
• If you see something suspicious—an unattended bag or package, an injured person, or something else—tell train or station personnel or use a station Customer Assistance Intercom
• You risk serious injury by trying to keep the subway doors open when they are closing. Be sure that all of your belongings are safely inside the car, away from the closing doors. Do not walk or ride between train cars.
• Be decent to your fellow passengers. Especially on a crowded train, good manners are always welcome. Offer your seat to a pregnant, elderly, or disabled person—or even if you see someone struggling with bags or packages. Do the right thing and you can’t go wrong.

Getting Maps, Delay Notices, and More Help for the Subway

Now that you know the basics, you’re ready to go! To help you get started, the MTA has several tools you can try to help you plan your trip:
MTA Trip Planner—enter any two stations within the MTA system to find the best route between them
MTA Text or Email Alerts—get email or text alerts when the trains on your line are late or delayed
MTA Service Advisories—check on a particular train line before you go

We hope these tips are helpful to you as you get out and enjoy New York City. We’ll see you on the subway!



© 2016 HF Management Services, LLC.

Healthfirst is the brand name used for products and services provided by one or more of the Healthfirst group of affiliated companies. The information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice from your doctor.

“Subway Facts and Figures,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Accessed October 27, 2015.

“Riding Safely,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Accessed October 27, 2015.

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