Visiting New York City is a staple on bucket lists for individuals of all ages. Since the large city isn’t very vehicle-friendly, many travelers opt to use public transportation instead. Subways, buses, and taxis are readily available across the Big Apple, but for first-time visitors, mastering the system is a bit of challenge. Luckily, these seven NYC transportation tips cover everything you need to know.
1. Purchase a MetroCard First Thing
The most affordable way to get around New York City is by bus and subway, which is why they’re the main travel style of the city. While you can buy pay-per-use travels cards at most subway stations, buses only accept coin payments in the exact change. To effectively use the two systems, it’s best to purchase a MetroCard as soon as you arrive.
You can use the vending machines at subway stations to buy one with a debit or credit card. For cash, you’ll need to use the manned booths. If you’re staying in town for more than a couple of days, the unlimited MetroCard is the most cost-effective. They’re available in seven-day and 30-day options.
2. Practice Proper Subway Etiquette
Using the subway for the first time is slightly overwhelming for most people, but you’ll quickly become a pro at it. However, there are a few unwritten rules you need to follow. First, wait until all the exiting passengers get off before hopping aboard. When you do enter the car, avoid blocking the entryway, and instead, move as far in as you can. If it’s particularly crowded and you’re stuck by the door, step out at the next stop to make it easier for other passengers to exit, and then simply get back on once it’s clear.
3. Leave Plenty of Time
Regardless of which travel method you choose, prepare for delays. New York City is a busy place, and both above and underground traffic experience backups. It’s also easy to catch the wrong bus or subway, which is likely to set you back at least 15 minutes. If you’re on a strict time schedule, leave at least an hour earlier than normal to ensure plenty of time for unexpected delays.
4. Avoid Traveling During Rush Hour
Running from around 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. every morning and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the afternoon, rush hour in NYC is intense. Fortunately, a little bit of strategic travel planning will keep you from getting stuck in the thick of the commute. Try to avoid booking activities during those timeframes, and if you already have an event scheduled, consider arriving before the rush hits. Even if you end up with a few extra hours to spare, use the time to peruse the area.
5. Opt for Taxis at Night
New York subways and buses operate around the clock, but the crowds dwindle as the night goes on. As the saying goes, there’s safety in numbers, and for that reason, sticking with taxis for late evening or early morning travel is a top NYC public transport tip for first-time visitors. Bonus: Traffic is minimal during this timeframe, so you’re likely to get to your destination much faster by car.
6. Keep Your Belongings in Front
In general, New York is a fairly safe place, but there’s a risk of theft wherever you travel in the world. The combination of large crowds and tight confinements on subway cars and buses creates the ideal setting for pickpockets. For that reason, you need to secure bags, backpacks, and purses in front of you as you travel. This arrangement ensures your belongings are in view at all times. It’s also advisable to travel with crossbody carrier styles because they’re harder to snatch.
7. Don’t Overlook Water Transport
If you’re traveling anywhere along the East or Hudson rivers, consider traveling by boat. The Staten Island Ferry connects Manhattan and Staten Island with free trips running every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the time of day. The NYC Ferry offers more route options around Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, and while it’s not free, a one-way ticket runs about the same as a subway and bus fare. Alternatively, transportation on a New York Water Taxi doubles as a sightseeing adventure, and they offer one- and two-day passes for a flat fee.
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