For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Jan 08 2018
by Shelby Lenhart

A Freshman's Guide to New York Public Transportation

By Shelby Lenhart - Jan 08 2018

Living in New York City can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. With so many opportunities at your fingertips, getting around the city for internships, adventuring and most importantly, class is vital. Navigating the subway system, taking the bus and hailing a cab are all staples of public transportation in the city, but can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. Here's a quick guide to confidently getting on the subway and knowing with all certainty that you'll make it there on time. 

1. Taxis

Is it possible to name a movie or television show set in New York that doesn't feature someone stepping out into the street and hailing a cab? There is a sense of fulfilling something straight out of a movie the first time you wave your arm to signal that you need a ride. The image of the yellow taxi is so ingrained in the image of New York, yet it is not the primary method of transportation. Many New Yorkers will tell you that taking a taxi isn't completely common. They can be extremely helpful when the weather suddenly turns, or you decide that walking the next ten blocks is a foregone conclusion. The issue that many city-dwellers have with the taxi service is that fares are not necessarily consistent between cabs, and that the cost can add up fairly quickly. 

If you do decide to hop into a yellow cab, there are apps that can make your ride much better. The "Curb" app can help you pay quickly, as the pairing number in the cab allows you to simply tap a button as soon as you arrive at your destination. Similar apps like "Arro" function like Uber, as they allow you to order a cab, or make payment much easier for one that you are already in. 

Make sure that you are communicating with your taxi driver about which side of the street you would like to be dropped off on, or if you would like to be dropped off outside of a specific building. Take advantage of the ability to tip, as well. If your driver was polite, drove well and got you there on time, extend your gratitude by providing a tip. Many systems automatically calculate the average tip for you within the cab, but you always have the option of customizing that percentage. 

2. Ferries 

If you're commuting to or from Staten Island, you'll know that the way to go is the ferry. The Staten Island Ferry can be a bit intimidating the first time, especially if you've never taken a ferry as crowded as the one from Manhattan to another borough. It's important to know the schedule of the ferry, which is available on the Staten Island Ferry website. They have important information about when the commuter departures and arrivals are, detailing the times when the ferry will be most crowded. If you're going to Staten Island for a casual trip, try to avoid the commuter times as listed on their site. 

One of the most important things to know is that the ferry is, in fact, free, making it easier and cheaper for commuters. 

There are other ferries, as well, most notably the ferry to Roosevelt Island and Governor's Island. For Governor's Island, if you are coming from Manhattan or Brooklyn, check the Governor's Island website to see when the trip is free. Make sure you check when the last ferry is, so you don't get stranded! 

The NYCFerry app tells you about schedules, terminal locations and ticketing information, so make sure you download that or visit the NYC Ferry website for all of the information you need before you go. 

3. Buses

The buses in New York can be just as confusing as the subway if you're not accustomed to public transportation. There are not just the typical Septa buses, but there is also the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) bus system that runs throughout New York City, including the boroughs of New York. The MTA bus map can look like a bunch of colorful lines with no meaning, but the bus can be an incredibly valuable asset for travelling within the city. 

If you truly aren't sure which bus to get on, Google Maps or the Maps feature on your phone will always tell you which bus to take and where to get off. If the Manhattan bus map looks too daunting, just ask Google for help. 

The bus, unlike the Staten Island Ferry, is not free. For local rides, the fare is the same as it is for the subway, which is $2.75. You can pay in exact change in coins (without pennies), or you can use your MetroCard, which is available at street kiosks or in your local Subway Station from the MetroCard vending machines. For express rides, it is $6.50 with a pay-per-ride card. Confused about express versus local? Express is typically a "commuter" bus, and therefore goes across longer distances. Because it is going further, it makes less stops. The local bus makes more stops along the line, and isn't as common for a commuter bus. 

If you're not sure how long until your bus comes, make sure to check the sign at your stop, as times will be listed next to the bus number (similar to the signs that display when the trains on the subway will be coming, associated with the specific letter or number train). Apps are also available from MTA to check when the buses are coming, and if there are delays. 

4. Uber and Lyft

Woke up late for class? Too cold outside? There is absolutely no shame in deciding that walking to class is simply too much effort. Taking an Uber or Lyft is absolutely normal, and can be incredibly helpful. 

There is little difference between taking an Uber or Lyft in the city versus anywhere else, although there are a few things to be aware of. 

Because driving in the city can be so stressful, understand that Uber and Lyft drivers are doing you a major service. You could always take the bus or subway, but they are driving you directly to your location so you don't have to take public transportation. This should be grounds for a better tip, unless your ride is unpleasant. 

As well as that, avenues and streets get blocked off very frequently due to filming, accidents, events or public figures being in the area. Sometimes, you will have Uber driver after Uber driver cancel on you because they simply can't get to you. If you've exhausted your options trying to get a driver, it might be time to try another form of transportation. 

5. Subway

Here it is. The most famous of all New York public transportation. The underground system that stretches through all of New York City and into the surrounding boroughs. The MTA Subway system can be the most terrifying experience for anyone new to New York. 

Similar to the bus, Google Maps can be your best friend if you are truly lost. Not all stations have service because they are underground, so look at the directions ahead of time and screenshot them if you need to. Google Maps is typically very up-to-date with delays and closures on the tracks, so it will inform you if a specific line or train is unavailable, and will try to find you a better route. 

Something that is almost a rite of passage for students moving to New York is getting on a train going in the wrong direction. Make sure you check the signs that are above most platforms and stairs to the train. If you are going Uptown (higher "Street" numbers or towards Queens or the Bronx), make sure that the platform you're on says "Uptown and Queens" or "Uptown and The Bronx." If you're going across avenues and aren't sure whether it's up or downtown, check Google Maps or try to find out if you're going towards either of the previously mentioned boroughs. If you're going Downtown, you'll be heading towards Brooklyn, so make sure your platform says 
"Downtown and Brooklyn." If you do get on a train going in the wrong direction, don't panic, just get off at the next stop and take the train of the same letter or number back in the other direction. 

Not sure if there's a delay or what the wait time is for your train? There are a plethora of apps available, such as MyTransit NYC, New York Subway, Citymapper and the MTA app. Many of them will tell you where delays are, which trains are down, how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B and when the next train will be there. 

Another important thing is to look at the signs on the platform to see how the trains run late night. Many trains operate differently after a certain time, so check your phone or the maps available to see how they run if that party ended later than you thought, or if that lecture went on for a bit too long. Make sure to stay safe if you are on the subway late. Bring a friend, or find an officer at the station if you don't feel comfortable alone. 

Also make sure you are aware of whether the train you're on is running Local or Express. Just like with the bus, "Express" means less stops and a further distance, so make sure you double check that your stop is available. 

Be courteous on the subway. If you see someone who needs to sit, it's polite to offer your seat if you can. Make sure to hold on tight if you are standing, and be aware that performers within subway cars appear very frequently. 

Machines are available in nearly every station to see how much money is on your MetroCard. Each swipe is $2.75, so make sure your card is loaded up before you leave. Do the math – if you're going to and from somewhere, make sure you have at least $5.50 on your card. Unlimited cards are $116.50 per month, but have a limited number of swipes in a condensed amount of time. There are ways to link your bank account to your MetroCard, so you swipe as you go and it takes money directly from your account instead of loading it on. Keep in mind that to load your MetroCard, the bigger vending machines accept cash and can distribute new cards, while the smaller ones do not accept cash and can only refill your card. Student MetroCards are available from eligible schools to eligible students. Visit the NYC Department of Education website for more information on whether or not you qualify for a student MetroCard. 

Public transportation in New York is incredibly important, as virtually no student drives within the city. Understanding how to take advantage of the multiple forms of transportation available to you will make your life in the city so much easier. 

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Shelby Lenhart - Marymount Manhattan College

Shelby is a freshman at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. She is getting her BA in Theatre Arts with a concentration in Playwriting. She also works with fellow writer Flynn Osman for the blog Barefaced (

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