By Maureen Guilbot
I remember when I was first learning how to ride the subway, friends who had already stayed in the city before me taught me some tips and tricks that were very helpful to someone new to NYC. Some of those tips I have included for you, Dear Reader, to help you on your journey! I have also included some links to MTA websites that hold more information if you are interested.
- Viewing on top of the turnstile for the remaining balance you have on your Metrocard
When you swipe your card, you can view on the top of the turnstile how much the pass was and how much-remaining balance you have. This has been incredibly useful to me because I travel through the subway often, and being able to see when my card is running low lets me know when I need to put more money in – before the turnstile just stops on me!
- OMNY Metrocard App
Another fantastic tip is to utilize the OMNY feature for Metrocard. Using this, you can access your Metrocard through your phone. The Metrocard application allows you to refill your card automatically; therefore, you never have to stop to refill your card in the subway. It also comes with perks! One of the perks I will talk about is below.
- Ride 12 times a week and then the rest is free!
MTA has this pretty neat thing where if you have the OMNY app, you can get a fare cap. What this means is that all you have to do is ride twelve times using the same card, within the same week, and the rest of the rides you take are 100% free! Yes! For the new New Yorker, exploring the city may take you outside of Columbia University, which means you are likely to be traveling using your Metrocard a lot. Take advantage of wanting to explore the city using this feature. Do keep in mind that after the week is over, this starts again. You will need to ride 12 times again to access free subway rides. For more information, you can check out the information here.
- Position on the Subway
Another good tip that I received early on is that where you are located physically on the subway may mean the difference between having a crowded subway car and having one that is fairly empty. I have found that the back cars are usually pretty empty, which is really helpful considering that during rush hour, the subway can get pretty packed. Additionally, because the seats are empty, you may get a couple of seats to yourself – which is always nice!
- Bus Hacks
Taking the MetroBus is very much like taking the subway – except it’s above ground (duh!). When you take the bus, a hack I would recommend is to view the schedule ahead of time and then plan to be there around 15-30 minutes early. This is because traffic in NYC can be unpredictable, and you may experience delays or issues with the bus. It is always better to err on the side of caution and have plenty of time to be able to reach your destination. The bus is also a cool way to experience NYC because you are seeing shops and restaurants on your way to your destination – places that maybe you want to visit in the future!
- Train Hacks
I frequently have to use the train, and I find that having an app on your phone that can tell you the schedules of when trains will arrive, if there are any delays, etc., always comes in handy. I use NJTransit a lot; therefore, I have the NJTransit app that allows you to view schedules, track where you are during train stops, and buy tickets. This last point is especially helpful when I am running late and can just buy my ticket on the train before it takes off. Additionally, it is always good to check with your conductor to see if the stop you are getting off at requires you to be at a certain place on the train. For some stops, the train will only open the middle doors or only the front doors. You don’t want to miss your stop as the train takes off!
- Download apps!
All students swear by apps. And I do, too – these apps I will mention have been a tremendous help as I learn to navigate public transportation. Apple Maps is my go-to, particularly because I like that as I leave the subway, the app updates and tells me in real-time if there is any construction going on and the approximate time I will arrive at my station. Additionally, the myMTA app is fantastic for refilling your card and not having to carry around a physical Metrocard. Lastly, the City Mapper app. We all SWEAR by this app. It allows you to view all sorts of public transportation services in New York City and other places (such as the Bay Area, Chicago, LA, Boston, Toronto, etc.!). It calculates what form of public transportation will be the quickest and doubles as a map app.
- Go with friends!
We want our fellow subway/train/bus riders to stay safe. If you feel that you could benefit from the buddy system or from seeing someone else take the subway first, I would recommend going to one of the many events that Graduate Student Life & Development hosts. Typically, they offer free Metrocards for people to get to the event location, and everyone travels as a group. I know that for myself, this definitely helped me gain confidence in being able to navigate the busy subway system.
Safe travels, Dear Reader!