Achieving a successful and smooth ride in the city's massive, complex and bustling 24-hour subway system can elude everyday regulars and newbies, alike. But there are tips and tricks everyone develops in their routine train travels, whether it's how to optimize your chance of getting a seat, chop precious minutes off of a commute, or just make it through the system.
"In a busy station like this," Jefferson Hughes, 23, of Flatbush, said at Penn Station, "people are hustling and bustling. If you don't know where you're going, they'll knock you over."
Brian Gallagher, a 24-year-old California transplant living in Harlem , admitted to taking the wrong train on occasion.
"Hopefully, if I stay longer, I will learn more tricks," Gallagher said. "It definitely takes some getting used to."
We spoke with nearly three-dozen train riders, including a couple of transit experts, who shared their subway wisdom to help both beginner and seasoned straphangers.
They can be redeemed at MetroCard vending machines to avoid paying the $1 green fee. "I find used MetroCards on the ground. I've been fortunate enough I haven't had to purchase any." - Mario Scott, 34, Woodhaven, computer consultant. "I don't throw out a Metrocard. I keep it for a month so I can save a dollar." - Lanndin Hutaj, 25, Pelham Parkway, fire safety director.
Don't chuck an expired MetroCard
They can be redeemed at MetroCard vending machines to avoid paying the $1 green fee.
"I find used MetroCards on the ground. I've been fortunate enough I haven't had to purchase any." - Mario Scott, 34, Woodhaven, computer consultant.
"I don't throw out a Metrocard. I keep it for a month so I can save a dollar." - Lanndin Hutaj, 25, Pelham Parkway, fire safety director.(Credit: Charles Eckert)
Mind the gap at Times Square
The 42nd Street shuttle at Times Square has a noticeable gap. And while there are gap fillers on some tracks, they are beneath the platform.
"On the shuttle, there's a big gap going outside the train to Times Square. You can fall in the tracks. I always tell passengers to be careful." - Carol Brennan, 58, Far Rockaway, retired.(Credit: Caroline Linton)
Stake out a spot
Getting a seat on the train can be a New York rarity like a rent-controlled apartment or a late-night cab ride to the outerboroughs. But there are New Yorkers who know how to optimize their chances by staking out a spot on the platform.
"On lines that use the same model train, figure out a spot where the doors open when the train stops. It gives you a leg up for getting a seat or at least a space on the car." - Gene Russianoff, attorney for the Straphangers Campaign
"Every morning I stand in the same place and get right near the door. It helps a lot when I'm looking for a seat." - Sarah Polito, 27, Upper West Side(Credit: Rachel Senatore)
Shave minutes from your traveling time by prewalking in the station. If a rider knows they have to head north when they exit a station, the platform can be a guide of where to start walking. The MTA says train platforms are up to 525 feet long on the IRT lines, 615 feet on the BMT lines and 660 feet on the IND lines. That's roughly a few north-south blocks in many parts of Manhattan."I tell people that when you get on the subway, you have to understand that the train is about two blocks long. The front of the train will be two blocks less than the back of the train." -Francine Oro, 55, Upper West Side, commercial real estate broker.
"I know where to stand. I know the pole where the door stops. It also gets me by the closest stairs." -Lee Vinson, 30, Bed-Stuy, chef(Credit: Getty Images / EMMANUEL DUNAND)
Make use of the buses
Note the bus routes that can be used as alternatives if a train line has service problems. Buses can help a rider avoid a paid out-of-subway transfer.
"That's the best way to save money ... Subway-to-bus, bus-to-subway." - Waymond Scullark, 36, Harlem(Credit: News 12 Brooklyn)
PATH, Metro-North and LIRR
The PATH train in Manhattan is an option for West Side traveling. It hits stops like Christopher Street, 14th Street and Penn Station, plus the system takes pay-per-ride MetroCards at the same $2.50 cost as a single-ride MTA fare. Plus, PATH can be less crowded.
"Every time I've ridden PATH, I've gotten a seat. --Timothy Higdon, 53, West Orange, N.J., workforce development
Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North, meanwhile, can be useful to New Yorkers traveling to far-out places within the city. On weekends, the MTA charges riders $4 for a single fare that begins and ends in New York City, with Metro-North taking people between Manhattan and the Bronx, and LIRR between Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens.(Credit: News 12 New Jersey)
Stay sane on the train
As if navigating the subway system wasn't tough enough, fellow riders -- panhandlers, "Showtime" dancers, nail clippers and subway diners -- can test the nerves of the most seasoned and hardboiled New Yorker. Riders gave us tips about getting through the commute.
"I meditate on the train because its a 45-minute commute. It's a good time to relax and not let the rush get to you." -Jimmy Hickey, 40, Bed-Stuy, creative director
"Tunnel vision. Don't make eye contact with anybody. They might go crazy on you." -Leslie Ortiz, 19, Soundview, skate school coordinator
"Having a smartphone so that I can use it to catch up on my own work makes the subway ride more enjoyable." -Sharon Jackson, 47, Battery Park, screenwriter
"Always carry baby wipes. Clean your hands, a pole, a seat, or the ketchup you accidentally sat in off your pants." -Sarah Kaufman, staff analyst at NYU Rudin Center for Transportation(Credit: iStock)
Find the conductor
Tourists, newbies and experienced subway riders at one time or another will need help navigating system or understanding a service change. To find the conductor, stand beneath the black-and-white striped bar hanging above a platform -- that is the conductor indicator board.
"I always tell people to just ask for help. They're so intimidated and scared of asking. They don't want to seem lost." -Jack Strube, 51, Pennsylvania, MTA subway conductor
The bar also indicates the middle of the train.
"If they are heading somewhere new, get on the train at the location where the black & white striped bar is. This is the middle of the train, and when you exit, you'll most likely be near some signs that will tell you where to go." -Randy Gregory, designer and creator 100 Improvements to the New York Subway.(Credit: Flickr/ pamhule)
Load up on apps
For the smartphone-equipped rider, there are a host of apps armed with MTA data that can make traveling easier. While there are apps to let riders know about service disruptions and real-time tracking of buses and subways on the 1 through 6 lines and Times Square shuttle, there are others that can help riders on the rails.
"My best standby is Exit Strategy NYC. I use it to avoid trekking through snow in outdoor stations, to plot a quick transfer or to determine my best moves when I'm traveling with the kids in strollers." - Sarah Kaufman, NYU Rudin Center for Transportation
"Put a whole museum of subway art on your smartphone" with the MTA's Arts for Transit app. - Gene Russianoff, attorney with the Straphangers Campaign(Credit: Getty Images/ KAREN BLEIER)
Tips for riders in wheelchairs
While using the subway can be a challenge for any person, it can be an especially difficult and daunting endeavour for passengers who use wheelchairs or have mobility issues.
We spoke with Michael Harris, a freelance journalist who founded the Disabled Riders Coalition, for his suggestions on navigating a 110-year-old system where 25% of stations are accessible.
Harris said "EasyPay" lets riders manually or automatically reload a MetroCard using an account, instead of a vending machine at an inaccessible station. Also, he suggested logging ontothe mta.info to map an accessible route in advance using Trip Planner and to check if elevators areworking.. Mobility-impaired riders can get a card to independently open a service gate at many accessible stations that feature an "AutoGate" box.
"Two important things people with mobility impairments, particularly those who use wheelchairs, can do to make their commutes a little easier are to plan ahead and practice," Harris wrote.
He also suggested that riders observe their surroundings to know which side a door opens on a train and which inaccessible stations can be useful to riders who use wheelchairs. These include stations where a rider can transfer to another line or switch between a northbound and southbound train on a single platform.
He also said to keep a look out for signs that say "boarding area" and have a wheelchair logo.
"This area is generally higher than the rest of the platform, helping to reduce the vertical gap between the platform and the train. It is also where the conductor sits," Harris said.
Harris recommended that riders using wheelchairs get the Map for Persons with Disabilities, which emphasizes accessible stations and parallel bus routes; and the Accessible Station Card, a fold-out business card that lists accessible stations by line. Both documents are available at the Customer Service Center at 3 Stone St. and by calling NYC Transit ADA Compliance at 646-252-3053.(Credit: iStock)