1) Make the subway map your best friend
Always have a map of the subway system handy. If you don’t want to carry the giant map that the MTA booth agents give to visitors for free, download a pdf version to store on your smartphone (click here). You can also download one of those two helpful phone apps:
Mapway or MTA
2) Recycle your MetroCard
The first time you purchase a MetroCard at one of the automatic booths, you will be charged $1.00 for the card itself. When you refill your card, instead of purchasing a new one, just reuse your old card.
3) Stand on the right side of the escalator
We know you are here on vacation but New Yorkers live a fast-paced life and don’t like to waste time. When you’re on a subway station escalator, stand ONLY on the right side (the left side is for commuters who prefer walking up the escalator steps)
4) Learn how to swipe your MetroCard
Swiping a MetroCard at the turnstile can be a stressful moment whether you’re a local or a visitor. You swipe the card, push the turnstile and then…you’re blocked. When you swipe your card, make sure the GO sign lit up. If it doesn’t, your swipe didn’t work. If it’s rush hour, you might have angry commuters behind you wondering why it’s taking you so long. Don’t worry and try again until it works. That kind of moment happens to every single New Yorker at least once a week!
The NYC subway runs 24/7 and is very safe. However, like in every city in the world, one should exercise caution, especially at night. If you have a backpack, hold it in front of you (except if the train is packed) or at your side, and keep your bag/purse zipped close. Also protect any personal electronics. At night, if you feel uncomfortable, choose the subway car with the train conductor. You can position yourself on the platform by looking at the black and white diagonally striped board hanging from the ceiling in the center of the platform. The train conductor car will stop right in front of it.
Train conductors will often make announcements on the train (eg: the train is going express after a certain station, there’s traffic ahead of your train – yes that happens..a lot!) but speakers don’t always work. If you didn’t hear or understand what the train conductor just announced, don’t be shy and ask a fellow straphanger (that is New Yorker for “subway rider”).
7) Uptown Train vs. Downtown Train
Every single New Yorker has made the mistake of taking the wrong train at some point in their life. If you’re in Manhattan and want to go north, take the Uptown train and if you want to go south, take the Downtown train. If you’re in midtown Manhattan and want to go to the Bronx, you’ll have to use the uptown trains, or if you want to go to Brooklyn, you’ll have to use the downtown trains.
8) Local vs. Express Trains An Express train means that the train will skip several stations. A Local train will stop at every station on the line. When looking at a subway map, you will notice that there are black and white dots. The black dot means that it is considered a local stop and the white dot means that the train will stop there whether it is an express or local train.
9) Empty Train Car
When waiting for your train, if the car that stops in front of you is miraculously empty, do not go in! There’s always a reason why a train car is completely or almost empty, and you do never want to find out what it is.
10) Subway Etiquette
Step aside to let other passengers exit the train before walking in. Same goes when you’re already on the train, if you’re right in front of the doors when the train stops and you do not need to exit, step aside and let your fellow passengers get off the train.
For more subway tips check out this hysterical but useful video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIqqmtpidOU