Explaining How the New York City Subway Operates
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Explaining How the New York City Subway Operates

Jul 9, 2024


Wild is the perfect word to use to describe the New York City subway. This system is the economic bloodline of New York City. Okay, it’s large and a bit confusing but let me show you a few things in this video that will make sense of the above.

History of the Subway

First, let us establish how this subway got to where it is. It was initiated around 1900; however, it was not a single system at the beginning, but three systems integrated in the 40s. It did not fully evolve into what it is today, which is now 472 stations across the boroughs and tracks that total more than 665 miles, for several more decades. It is quite an old and flawed system but if you happen to end up in New York, you are likely to be one of the five. 5 million daily riders.

The final challenge that Citibank faced was the Complexity of the System and this challenge remains one of the biggest points of concern in managing it.

If you get down to hardcore nerds, it may be a bit difficult to handle but the following basic or not very obvious rules would simplify it:

Understanding the Subway Map

First of all, let me indicate the placement of the map. Listing out all the options at every single station, especially, mapping the subway – all these are really tough things that can be done multiple times. The current prevailing map was made in 1979. Let it also serve as a testament to how hard and how long it takes to get anything altered and construction started in the subway.

Tip 1: Local Train v/s Express Train

Alright, let’s discuss three practical pieces of advice when you are employing the subway. First of all, the contrast between the global and local outlets. Come and have a look at this map. The first thing you will likely notice is that different lines are of different colors. Every color has several different trains on it. The train names shall just be a number or a letter. Thus this yellow one over here is the N, Q, R and this red one over there is the 1, 2, 3.

Historical Train Dimensions

Well, I do get how that can be somewhat sort of a confusing thing, but this is actually a leftover from the old subway systems. The numbered ones were one subway system, and the lettered ones were another and they actually had different widths and lengths of trains, so they weren’t able to combine them, and so they still have them to date.

Identifying Train Stops

Anyway, having looked at the ends of these lines, we can see that they split in different fashions. Thus for the main trunk of the line, the only distinction between these trains is where they halt. But do not rush, let me explain it, this’s not as difficult as it seems. When it comes to trains there are InterCity services and then there are Mainline services. So let’s continue to focus on the 1, the 2 the 3. If for a specific place on the map, there is a black dot, that is a local stop. If it is a white dot having a black circle around it, like this, then one can alight here which is an express stop.

Station Signage

The station is well staged to the extent that whenever you are in it, you find that everything is well labeled. Thanks to this you must only look at the signals around you. You will frequently find yourself asking whether the train coming is a local or express train and there will in fact be an announcement that will say something to the tune of: “This is the Bronx-bound local train…” However, the actual sound will be as follows…

Identifying Express Trains

So here’s a little tip: I thought that while taking the express train, you do not get down at the local stations, do you? That is how it is doing it through the middle track that is in between the two platforms at the local stops. That means, let alone at an express stop, the local train is more or less always in front of one of the walls. If the train is in the middle track then likely it is an express train Currently, there are two types of rail services available.

Tip 2: On the one hand, the concept concerns the transition from the Uptown to the Downtown area.

Okay, here’s my next tip, number two: urbanization poor rich northern versus southern the river the east side versus west side downtown versus uptown. When looking for a station, you’ll want to look for this: the green railing, the round light; there should be the bulb, the black and white subway sign and there should be uptown or downtown written. When these are at express stops you can just get onto any of them and then sort out which one when you are there because the platform is so large and you can cross over anywhere you desire. But at local stops be careful because it is not always possible to transfer to another line.

Directional Tips

You may then require information on which of the two is downtown and which one uptown before getting underground. Allows just to say you are here on 50th and you want to get to the 1 train station presumably heading to the World Trade Center. It is clear to you that the World Trade Center is downtown; therefore if you look in the direction of downtown then you would realize that you have to enter any of the subway stations on the right side of the road. This could be so since the trains, similar to automobiles, are right-hand-sided, and this is especially so at the local stops where one cannot change the side of the platform underground.

Fare Tips

If you do so and find yourself in an incorrect entry, either you have paid for that ride and have to alight, cross, and pay another fare or if you possess the unlimited card, which I will discuss later on, you swipe and a 15-minute wait will be needed before swiping that same card again.

Tip 3: Price and Practicality

Okay, on to my last point, number three: price and practicality. There are two main types of passes you can buy. There is an unlimited one, and there is one that you pay per ride, where you load up the card and you pay 2.75 cents per trip. The unlimited one can either be for a week or for a month. If you’re just visiting for a few days, it’s probably going to be most cost-effective to get the week unlimited pass.


And if you’re really concerned about being cost-effective, know that this is much cheaper than taking a taxi. If you want to prove to someone that New York has it all, just show them your MetroCard gold. There is a one-dollar fee for each card, so if you are getting the pay-per-ride pass, you should just get one and share it with the people that you’re with because you can go through the turnstile, pass it back, and then they can swipe and charge the same card.

Unlimited Pass Restrictions

However, if you’re getting an unlimited pass, you can only get one per person, because as soon as you swipe the card, there’s a 15-minute delay before the person behind you is able to use it, and it’s intended just for you anyway. The MetroCards that you’ll be using for the subway also work for the buses, and they also work for the tram that goes out to Roosevelt Island, which has a beautiful view.

Staten Island Ferry

If you are interested in going to Staten Island, there is a ferry that goes out there, which is totally free. You don’t need your MetroCard, and I hate that I have to say it, but you have to watch out for scammers because there are people who will try to charge you, and you don’t have to pay anything to get on that.

Online Resources

And lastly, let me recommend to you this website. You can find it by searching the MTA’s website and looking for their newest map. It will let you see how the system works, and it will let you zoom around to see trains moving in real time. It’s really nice because it takes into account construction and route exceptions, which often happen at night or on the weekends. Also, Google Maps is getting much better at real-time tracking and will tell you where you need to go if you just, you know, Google where you’re going.


Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for riding with MTA New York City Transit. Getting around smoothly in a new city can make all the difference when you have a super limited amount of time there. We know this, and so we do similar breakdowns like this in all of the courses that we make for different places. Tokyo, for example, we have a whole lesson just on how to get around Tokyo. We also have an entire course on how to get around London, and we break

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