How To: Navigate the NYC Subway

March 19, 2009 at 12:01 am 7 comments

Despite its shortcomings, New York City has one of the best subways in the world. Yes, the world. London’s tube probably comes in second place, but it’s London*, so like, who really gives a fuck? The trick to the New York City subway isn’t so much as making sure there’s a stop near you. It’s making sure it’s the right line. Since the MTA’s subway system initially consisted of a collective of companies such as the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT), the Interborough Transit Company (IRT), and the Independent Subway System (IND), their union through the MTA has been anything but smooth. With different sized cars, tunnels, and train-tracks, the MTA absorbed every companies’ different gauges and schedules. The result is what we have today: a series of interconnecting lines of varying quality and speed. 


So before you make the move to NYC, take heed. Getting around is an art, especially during a recession. In honor of the glorious fare hike about to take place, I’ll be giving you installments of how to work one of the quirkiest transit systems in the world, sans subterranean cellphone service.

 Known for being the city’s oldest train, the 1 line is usually a safe bet. However, if you live between 137th and Dykeman   street, then you’re probably fucked come the weekend. It’s not uncommon for the train to just miss uptown stops unannounced, for no reason whatsoever. This usually happens in the morning when everyone is going downtown anyway, and the realization is usually met by a couple happy fist-pumps from riders in the car as their commute just got 10 minutes faster. Sorry, Columbia.  You’ll probably figure out a smart way to get to class. 

 The 2/3 line is pretty hit or miss. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a an empty 3 train that began at 143rd st. If you’re having a bad day, you’ll get a 2 train, which has slowly been filling itself up since Westchester. Yikes. The nice thing about these trains is that they’re usually pretty fast. The bad thing is that, like the 1, when it comes to poorer neighborhoods deep in the Bronx or Brooklyn, it’s not unusual for the subway to skips stops with no notice. If you’re not from New York City and you’re reading this now, take note. Are you noticing a pattern?

 Ah, the UES express. The 4/5 train is a death-trap depending on what time you go. Since it’s the only train servicing the Upper East Side of the island, it’s definitely a gamble. If it’s at an odd hour, then great, you’ll have a smooth ride. If it’s during peak times, then your ride is going to blow. Fuller train = slower ride. Not because it’s heavier, but because people are stupid and will probably keep the doors open to shove themselves in. But when it’s the 3rd full train that’s passed you by, you’ll soon find yourself squeezing in, too. 

 Same as above, only slower, and probably even more crowded. Thanks MTA for following through on those 2nd ave plans that  you started on…nearly 100 years ago

 Unlike other trains, the 7 doesn’t have the luxury of servicing a large part of Manhattan. Instead, it travels mostly through Queens, which is an outerboro, which, omfg, is like “probably full of poor people!” Its lack of gentrification seems to make this train susceptible to just about any kind of service change imaginable, from not functioning in Manhattan, to skipping random stops in Queens, to just not working at all (god, that sucked). Good luck getting to Flushing on the weekend, friends. It’s going to be a wild ride. 

 Ok, so the 9 train doesn’t work anymore. But do you know WHY the 9 train stopped running?Trying to get the scoop on the 9 train’s murder, I visited Charles, the NYC Transit Museum’s tour guide and expert on basically every aspect of the subway imaginable.


Olivia: So, um, Charles. I’m here to find out more about the 9 train. There seems to be no evidence of its existence in any other part of the museum… Do you know why it stopped running? Was it a lack of ridership? Influx of working-class accesibility? Port-authority favoritism?

Charles: No. The reason the 9 train stopped working was because the skip-stop service from City College (137) to Dykeman street was too confusing. There were too many complaints of people getting on the train, only to realize it didn’t service their stop. 

Olivia: But, couldn’t they have looked at a map or something?

Charles: Yes.

Olivia: But…so…wait, what?

Charles: Basically, people were too stupid to use it. 

Charles’ friend:  Fo’ real. 

So that’s not exactly what he said, but the general message remains true: The 9 Train stopped working because its efficiency was baffling. I think that just shows how New Yorkers’ gung-ho pride for learning how to navigate a fucked-up transit system is brought upon ourselves, at least in this case. Thanks a lot, Washington Heights, for ruining this one for us. 

Next: The alphabet, and whatever the fuck the S line means. 

*London is gay.


Entry filed under: Fucking Crazy, How To, Olivia.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Betty  |  March 19, 2009 at 10:46 am

    That fare-hike is the one that’s already in place! So don’t worry; it’s not about to get worse in the near future, anyway.

  • 2. parkrangerolivia  |  March 19, 2009 at 10:59 am

    oops, sorry! I put up the wrong link. that was for the last fare hike. the 2009 MTA (and Port Authority, for that matter) budgets both indicate a fare hike, with the MTA’s in June. It’s definitely still on the table, and if it were to happen, would happen this summer.

    If you read the MTA’s budget proposal here it states that in 2009 “additional fare increases and/or service cuts may be necessary” throughout the proposal. “Increasing the paratransit fare from $2 to $4 and tightening the customer cancellation policy at NYCT are expected to generate savings of $26 million in 2009…”

  • 3. alisaurus  |  March 19, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    This is a great idea for a series of posts!
    And, another tip for iPhone users unfamiliar with the subway, there’s an app you can download called like NYCTransit or something that lets you look at the subway map even without an internet connection. I think it’s like $2.
    It saves you the hassle of trying to find a map while underground, and then the awkward situation of looming over whoever is stuck sitting in front of it in the subway car.

  • 4. A Bailes  |  March 19, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Yeah, Agnes has that app on her iPhone. It can use GPS to locate you and then tell you the closest station. Pretty sweet.

    But about the fare hikes. Did you guys see those posters on the subway trying to justify the fare hike? Something about how subway rides are still relatively cheap if you compare to 1985 rates and adjust for inflation. New monthly price is something like $103. It’s $81 now. BUT, I think I remember seeing something on NY1 about how their budget wasn’t approved and now they’re thinking about asking the Feds for money. Either way we get fucked if you ask me. Either comes outta my taxes or monthly transit expenses.

  • 5. A Bailes  |  March 19, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    P.S. The MTA Transit museum was awesome. I liked it! Heh. I went for a paper I was writing on Robert Moses and the Cross Bronx Expressway. They have subway cars from the 1920’s!

  • 6. parkrangerolivia  |  March 19, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Yeah, even if there isn’t a fare hike, we’re still going to get reduced service. As a stranger in the Tisch elevator so eloquently put it, “Man, I remember when this city was a piece of shit and it had no money. But the trains were never as bad as they are now.”

    The transit museum is my favorite museum in the NYC by far. Robert Moses is fucking insane.

  • 7. Betty  |  March 24, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Here’s the latest on that proposed fare hike:
    Set to be approved Wednesday. I seriously hope it isn’t; I’m not sure I can afford another $22 a month just for transit.


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