12 Tips for Riding the New York City Subway

The turnstiles to enter the NYC subway

TripSavvy / Kelsea Watkins 

The subway is a fast, affordable way to get around New York City, but it's also one that has its own etiquette and set of rules. Learn some valuable tips for riding the New York City subway and you'll be traveling around like a local in no time.

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Interpret Subway Entrance Signs

Entrances are typically located on street corners with a staircase descending into the station. If a station is marked with a large green ball, you can buy a MetroCard inside; if a station is marked with a red ball, you need to already have a MetroCard to enter.

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Use Free Transfers

A MetroCard allows one free transfer within two hours of first swiping your card. You can transfer from bus to subway, subway to bus, bus to bus, or between select subway stations. (Free subway-to-subway transfers only apply when you are required to exit the station to make your connection.) If you take the subway one way and the bus back you can get two rides for one fare, but you can't transfer between buses going in opposite directions (i.e Madison and Fifth Avenue buses).

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Read Subway Station Maps

One of the most helpful things about New York City's subway stations is the maps located near the entrances. In addition to having a map of the subway system, there is normally a neighborhood map that shows the streets in the area in detail. It's a good idea to check out the map before you leave the subway, but it's also great to know that, if you're lost near a subway station, you can always duck in and check out a map to find your way around.

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Check the Direction Before You Swipe

At many subway stations, there are separate entrances for trains running uptown and downtown. Once you swipe your card, you can't get a refund, so be sure to check the sign to make sure you're swiping your card at the right entrance. This mistake is particularly frustrating if you've purchased an unlimited card: You'll have to wait 18 minutes before using the card again at the same bus or subway station. You can also ask an attendant for help if you're confused about where to enter.

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Head to the Front or Back of the Train

For your best shot at finding a seat, head to the very back or very front of the train. This works particularly well during busy events. After a Yankees game lets out, for example, nearly every rider congregates at the middle of the D train platform and waits for several trains to pass before boarding; if you squeeze through the crowds and walk to the front or back of the platform, you'll likely get on the next train and even score a seat. 

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Hold on to the Pole

If you don't get a seat, make sure you find a pole to hold when the train begins to move. It's difficult to keep steady without holding on when the subway starts and stops as it's not always as smooth a ride as you might hope. And no one likes it when you fall on them because you weren't holding on.

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Don't Lean on the Pole

Just because you're tired, that doesn't mean it's alright to lean up against a pole in the subway car. If you lean on the pole, you'll take up almost all of that real estate, making it impossible for others to hold on and making it more likely that they'll fall on you during the ride. 

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Keep Your Bags (And Your Feet) Off the Seats

Keep in mind that even if the subway isn't very crowded when you board it may get more crowded quickly, so you should keep your bags on your lap or on the floor in front of you if you're sitting down. Keeping your feet off the seat ensures that other folks have a clean place to sit when they ride the subway.

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Move to the Center of the Car

When trains are crowded, it's important to move to the center of the subway car to make room for other riders. Standing by the door, even if you move to the side, makes it difficult for people getting on and off the train. 

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Step off the Train to Let Others Board

If you're standing by the door on a crowded, rush-hour train, step onto the platform at each station to let others off of the train. You can step back into the car as soon as every rider has exited. This makes it easy for everyone to board and keeps trains from getting more delayed. 

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Let Riders off First

When you're waiting for a train, it's tempting to rush on and grab a seat as soon as it pulls into the station. But to facilitate orderly boarding, let any passengers off the train before you enter. They're making more space for you, after all. This is particularly important at busy express stops, like Times Square or Union Square, where nearly everyone in the car might be exiting. 

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In an Emergency, Stay in the Subway Car

The safest place is inside the subway car. In the event of a situation where you have to leave the subway car, you should know about blue and white lights in the subway car. Blue lights in the subway mark the spot where there is a telephone, power off switch, and fire extinguisher. Pick up the phone after switching off the power. Otherwise, power will be restored after about a minute. Five white lights in a circle or on a bar mark an exit to the street.

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