NYC transit for beginners

Subways for beginners

The subways generally run on a nonstop schedule, usually around every 5-15 minutes or so, or around every 20-30 minutes during extremely slow hours in the early AM. So, there is no worry about “missing” your train, just grab the next one.

The lines run constantly in both directions, and they’ll generally stop at all the same stations either way. (So, if you take an uptown E train to go one way, take a downtown E train from the same station to get back to where you started.)

You’ll have to make sure you’re waiting on the correct side of the tracks to go in your desired direction, and that information is posted conspicuously above the tracks.

Since COVID, face-masks over your mouth and nose are required on all trains and buses as well as all subway platforms and other enclosed waiting areas.


The fare is $2.75 to get into the system, and once you pass the turnstile, you can go from train to train anywhere for that one price, not having to pay again until you actually exit a station somewhere. So long as you haven’t exited through a turnstile, backtracking is free should you need to.

The fare is payable with a MetroCard. MetroCards are magnetic cards which store cash for the transit system, usable on both subway and MTA bus, precluding the need for tokens. You can purchase a Metrocard for any amount of money, and you just swipe it through the turnstile to subtract $2.75 from the card’s total and enter the system.

The card itself costs $1, which will be deducted from the amount available on the card when you first buy it, but you can refill and reuse it as much as you like. All money used to refill a card you already have is available on the card, with no further surcharge. There are generally bonuses when recharging your card; the more money you put on the card at once, the more extra credit you’re given toward free rides.

Special MetroCards which offer unlimited rides for various amounts of time are available, but once you use it you must wait 18 minutes before it will work again on the same subway line, so no swiping all your pals through for free.

If your trip takes you from a train to a bus or vice versa, you will usually get a transfer; this means the second swipe of your card will not cost anything.

MetroCards are available at most subway stations, as well as some newsstands and other miscellaneous shops.

Inidentally if you wish to know more about the technical side of how the MetroCards work, check out Redbird’s excellent MetroCard article from the Spring 2005 issue of 2600.

The new contactless OMNY card is now also in use throughout the NYC transit system, and will eventually replace MetroCards entirely. Go to the OMNY site for more info.


You can ask for a free subway map from any human station attendants you might be lucky enough to encounter, or find one in any number of commercial maps, guidebooks, and PDA/smartphone apps. You can also download the official map from the MTA, or any of several free maps from Wikimedia. Or just look at the large maps posted on the station walls, usually next to the ticket booths as well as on the platforms and at least once inside every train car.

You can also download any number of official and unofficial MTA apps for your mobile devices.

Taxi cabs

For some extra cash you can simply take a taxi to get around. Frequent taxi use will get very expensive very quickly but they can be quite satisfactory in a pinch, and can actually be a bargain for groups of riders who split the fare. Here’s a decent guide for the non-savvy on how to use New York City cabs. For another automobile option, the big rideshare apps (Uber, Lyft, etc.) are out in full force throughout this city.

Further information

We’ll be adding to this page as we come up with more things, and as readers like you click that Contact Us link to ask us any questions you have that aren’t answered here.

For more info on the subways and buses, official maps of the systems, online trip planner apps, and more, visit the NYC Transit website.

Once you know how to use the local transit options, you might like to see our page of directions to some points of interest.