New York is the third city I live.
I originally came from São Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil, lived there for over 20 years. Then I moved to Paris, the biggest city in France, for 1 year. And now I’m in New York, the biggest city in the United States. In all those cities, my main means of transport used is the subway, so I can say that I am quite capable of judging the qualities and flaws of a subway system of a city.
To talk about how New York subway works, I will separate the analysis into 4 parts:
- Territory Coverage
- Density of Stations
- Access Logistics
- Payment Options
In most big cities, subway coverage is normally well-developed in the center of the city, and gets more and more sparse as it moves away from the center. In New York it’s no different, however it is not a city as round and symmetrical as Paris, for example. So “the center” of the city would be Manhattan. Honestly, you don’t need a car or a bus or a bike to go anywhere in Manhattan. The subway coverage here is so good, you can’t walk for more than 10 minutes without passing by some station.
The problem is when you get further from Manhattan. At Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens there are a few lines that crosses the region, but they don’t spread too much. Most of their areas cannot be reached just by subway, you’d have to eventually get a bus, a car, or a bike.
Density of Stations
As in Manhattan there are so many stations, one can expect that once in a train you will stop every 30 seconds in a new station. Which is true… having such a big density of stations may lead the transport to be slower due to the huge amount of stops. However, New York subway has this genius idea called “express lanes”.
Basically, if you live next to 125th station and work next to 42nd station, instead of taking the regular local C lane and pass by 10 station, you can take the express A lane and pass by only 3 station. The express lanes pass only by the most crowded station, making life easier for everybody.
I have to confess in my first weeks here I may have taken an express lane by accident… but it’s something you get used to quickly.
Definitely my biggest complaint about the subway in New York!
Why do many stations have entries that access only to one way of the lane? On my first week here, I lost count of how many dollars I wasted on subway tickets by getting into a station and realizing that the entry I got in only allowed me to get downtown lane trains when I needed to go uptown.
Also, when in a new area of the city, if you look at Google Maps where the station is located, it’ll show the way for one entry. If it’s not the entry that you need, good luck finding it.
Last but not least, I have to mention the biggest differential of New York’s subway system: you don’t ever need to buy a single ticket if you want. Every station here accepts contactless payment. So if you are a tourist that comes to New York and knows nothing about the city, you don’t need to know how to buy a ticket, as long as you have Google Pay or anything like it on your phone, you can pay with card directly.