NYC Subway System: The Basics

Info for new students

two young women riding NYC subway

New York City (NYC) is a sprawling metropolis, renowned for its vibrant culture, towering skyscrapers, and its extensive, 24-hour a day public transit system.

If you’re going to be a college student in NYC, learning the subway system can seem like an overwhelming task, but once you do it, you will feel confident and ready to explore everything New York has to offer.

This article is specifically designed to help you find your way around via subway while you're studying at LIM College. However, please note that NYC is also filled with buses, taxis, and ride share services, which are recommended if you are traveling late at night.

Understanding the Basics
Here are a few fundamentals of NYC's subway system:

  • Terminology: New Yorkers also call the subway “the train.” Stations are also known as “stops.” Routes are often called “lines.” All subway trains have 2 MTA personnel onboard. The train operator rides in the first car. The conductor rides in a middle car.
  • The Fare: For $2.90, you can travel anywhere in the vast subway system. That’s 427 stations! Unlike many other cities, the NYC subway system does not have fare zones and it spans 4 of the city’s 5 borough (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx). Your fare also includes a free transfer to an MTA bus when used within a 2-hour window.
  • OMNY: This is the easiest way to pay your fare. Just tap your credit card or phone at the turnstile and you’re ready to ride.
  • Subway Lines & Numbers/Colors: Subway lines are identified by either a number or a letter AND a color. Maps are available at stations, as well as posted on platforms and inside many subway cars, and digital versions can be accessed on your phone.
  • Apps: Use apps like Google Maps, Citymapper, or the MTA’s official app. These tools provide real-time arrival and departure updates, station information, and route suggestions and are used by locals and tourists alike.

Tips for Smooth Riding

  • Stay Informed: Service changes and delays are not uncommon, especially on the weekends and late at night. Use transit apps to stay updated on any changes that might affect your route and make sure to listen to announcements and read any signs posted about service changes.
  • Safety First: Always be aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes on what is around you. Don’t keep your eyes down on your phone, and if you’re using earbuds or headphones, keep the volume low. If you’re unsure about a route, ask a fellow commuter or MTA staff. It’s also often a good idea to ride in the middle car, where the conductor is located. Make sure to keep all your personal items where you can see them and don’t fall asleep on the train.
  • Ride with Friends: NYC is best explored in good company. Plan trips with classmates or friends to make getting around more enjoyable and safer.

Getting used to using NYC's subway system will not only make your college life more manageable, but it will also enrich your overall experience in this dynamic city. Once you master the NYC subway system, you will be prepared to handle any other public transit system in the world.

Happy traveling!