An Introduction to New York’s Subway and Buses
New York City has a very comprehensive public transit system. Run by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, also known as the MTA, there are very few areas within the city limits that are not served by trains or buses. In fact, many people find that it is easier to visit Manhattan when they leave their car at home, and there are quite a few life-long New Yorkers who have never had a driver’s license. Using this system is easy — all you need is a map and a MetroCard.
You should never pay for an MTA subway or bus map. These maps are available for free at several locations, including LaGuardia and JFK airports. You can also obtain a subway map at the token booths located in the subway stations. Bus maps of the borough you’re in should be available as well. These maps are also posted in each subway station by the token booth, as well as a map of the immediate area. In addition, subway maps are normally posted on the platforms, and in each car. A bus’ route and schedule is normally posted at each bus stop security bollards.
Regular subway and bus fare is $2.25 a ride, with free transfers between the subway and bus, bus to subway, or between one bus and another, within 2 hours. A reduced fare is available to seniors 65 years old and over. To buy a reduced fare card, seniors need to bring a photo ID to 3 Stone Street in lower Manhattan. Bus fare can be paid with a MetroCard or exact fare in coins, but to take the subway you need a MetroCard.
There are an assortment of MetroCards available for purchase. A one-day “Fun Pass” costs $8.25, and gives the user almost unlimited access to the subway and buses. It expires at 3 am the morning after the first time it’s used. For example, if you swipe the one-day Fun Pass for the first time at 8 am on Thursday morning, you can use it as many times as you wish until 3 am on Friday. Other unlimited ride MetroCards are a 7 day pass for $27.00, a 14 day pass for $51.50, and a 30 day pass for $89.00. These cards expire at midnight on the 7th, 14th or 30th day respectively. Unlimited ride cards are for use by one person only. Because of that, they are limited to one swipe every 18 minutes, meaning you’ll need to wait 18 minutes after using it before you can use it again.
Pay-per-Ride MetroCards are also available. You can buy or add any dollar amount between $4.50 and $80.00. If you add at least $8.00 at a time, you will gain a 15% bonus on your card. These cards are refillable, and can be swiped up to four times, for four different people at one time. There is no extra cost to purchase a card. Any of the above cards and passes may be purchased at a MetroCard vending machine located at the subway entrances. They are available for purchase elsewhere, but as a visitor to New York City, that will be the easiest place to buy and refill your card. Subway stations with a green ball on the post by the entrance have MetroCard machines, while entrances with a red ball on the post do not.
All MetroCard vending machines take cash, debit or credit. Be aware that if using cash, the vending machine will only return $6.00 in change, and it will be the dollar coins. Except for reduced fare and 30 day unlimited MetroCards, you should treat your card like cash, since it cannot be replaced. You cannot buy a MetroCard on a bus.
You can check the remaining balance, or remaining days, on your MetroCard at the token booths. There will be a card reader on the front of the booth, and you just swipe your card through it to see your remaining balance. No money will be removed from your card when you do this. The remaining balance on your card will also be displayed every time you use it at the turnstile, or on the bus. Pay-per-Ride MetroCards do expire — the date will be printed on the back of the card — but it is possible to transfer the remaining balance onto a new card. Just bring it to a token booth clerk within a year after the expiration date.
When using your card at a turnstile, you may see the message, “Swipe card again at this turnstile.” Just swipe your card again, and it should take your fare, and let you through. If you move to another turnstile, you may lose that fare, or if your’re using an unlimited card, you will need to wait 18 minutes before you can use it again. If it shows the message “Please swipe again,” then you may move to a different turnstile without repercussions. If you get the message “See agent,” you’ll need to go see the token booth clerk to find out what’s wrong with your card. Check to make sure you’re going in the correct direction before using the turnstile. The entrances to smaller stations often only allow access to the trains going in a single direction. This will be posted before you enter.
If you’re traveling with children, up to 3 children under 44″ per fare-paying adult are free. If you are using a stroller, you’ll need to enter the subway through the emergency exit gate. First, you will need to ask the station attendant to open the gate for you. This may mean standing in line at the token booth. Then, you will swipe your MetroCard at the turnstile closest to the exit gate, and spin it to take the fare. After you do that, the attendant will buzz you through so you can enter. You will also exit the subway through the emergency gate, as well. The MTA recommends you fold your stroller, and carry your child. During rush hour, there may not be enough room on the subway for an unfolded stroller. On buses, you will be required to fold your stroller before you get on.