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How to Use Public Transportation in NYC

May 24, 2022 By CityPASS

No tourist experience quite lives up to a New York City adventure. There's something truly special about this cosmopolitan environment, which is home to the world's best theaters, cuisine, fashion, museums, and so much more.

From the Empire State Building to Times Square, iconic attractions abound. The struggle lies not in finding ways to keep entertained, but rather in finding time to do it all—and determining how to get around.

It's common for tourists to underestimate how long it takes to navigate the city. These misconceptions can turn an otherwise enjoyable excursion into a logistical nightmare. Done right, however, NYC transit can be downright exciting.

Keep reading to learn all you need to know about exploring the Big Apple by train, subway, taxi, ferry, and more.


Tips for How to Use Public Transportation in NYC

NYC transit is a world unto itself. The Big Apple is famed for its vast public transportation system, which encompasses everything from buses and trains to the iconic subway and even several ferry routes. Keeping all this straight can be a struggle, particularly if you're already unable to tell the various boroughs apart.

To help, we've provided a thorough overview of the most utilized transit solutions in New York City, as well as tips for understanding how—and under what circumstances—to use various modes of transport.


Determine Your Route and Destination For Setting Out

Equipped with advanced navigation apps, many travelers assume they can simply plug in an address on short notice and let their smartphones do the rest. This is an incredibly risky approach, however, as it doesn't account for the many delays or other surprises that can get in the way.

Yes, navigation apps can be helpful, but they should be used in addition to—and not in lieu of—traditional route planning. A little research can go a long way.

If nothing else, planning your route can help you feel better prepared in the worst-case scenario. The better you understand your options for getting around, the easier it is to switch things up if unexpected challenges arise.


Consider Mode of Transportation, Rush Hour, and Travel Time

As you plan your route, you'll need to make a few basic decisions regarding your preferred mode of transportation. You may ultimately mix and match with several types of vehicles or routes, but it helps to understand which are desirable in various situations.

We'll touch on the main types of transit below—but for now, keep in mind that these categories will play heavily into your overarching plans for getting around.

Other key considerations? Travel time and rush hour, which are inextricably linked. What seems like a 10-minute commute can easily exceed half an hour if you depart at the wrong time of day.

In New York City, morning rush hour begins at approximately 7:30 am and begins to ease up around 9:00 am. Afternoon traffic picks up again at 4:30 pm, with local streets and trains often remaining jammed far into the evening.

As you start to calculate travel times between New York City attractions, consider whether it's possible to stick to a single borough each day. This will make getting around a lot easier, as you may even be able to walk between destinations.

Plan meals within a few blocks of your preferred activities; there's no need to spend an hour getting to a specific restaurant when dozens of equally amazing establishments are nearby. Don't forget to snag a MetroCard; as the official NYC public transportation pass, this makes it easier to pay fares on the go.


Transportation Options in New York City

Now that you're fully aware of the many challenges that can arise as you explore New York City, it's time to plan your itinerary accordingly. There is a seemingly endless array of options to explore—but in all likelihood, you'll find yourself relying on these main approaches:

Travel in an Underground Train With a Subway Ride

New York City's subway system is the stuff of legends. Opened well over a century ago, this transit system was well ahead of its time. To this day, it remains one of the largest and most-utilized transit systems on Earth.

If nothing else, taking the subway is worth your while simply because it's such a unique experience. If you want to live life as a true New Yorker, you won't pass up this exciting opportunity. That being said, you'll want to prepare thoroughly, as the subway system can sometimes be difficult for newcomers to navigate.

First, keep in mind that locals often mean 'subway' when they use the word 'train.' Subway 'trains' travel between boroughs, while commuter trains take passengers to and from the city.

Pay close attention to distinctions such as 'express' or 'local,' which determine whether trains skip certain stations. Keep in mind: trains that run local can switch to express (and vice versa) at unexpected times.


Keep With Tradition By Calling a Taxi Cab

Few transit solutions are as iconic as hailing yellow taxis in Manhattan. It's worth trying at least once if you want to feel like a full-blown movie star. Taxis can also be highly convenient for short trips, especially as compared to trains, buses, and the subway system. The learning curve is minimal; all you need to know is that shyness will get you nowhere when you're trying to attract the driver's attention.

Take a Bus Ride From a Nearby Departure Terminal

Buses might not be as exciting as taxis or subway transport, but they provide a great middle-ground for a reasonable price. When in doubt, head to one of the city's top bus stations or terminals, where you will find multiple routes leading to your preferred destinations. Scan lists of bus routes (or better yet, route maps) thoroughly in advance so you understand which routes depart when and from where.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal is one of the region's most recognizable transit hubs. Serving thousands of interstate buses, it's the largest terminal of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Penn Station also warrants a mention, as it is the Big Apple's main intercity train station.


Don't Miss a Single Attraction With the Right Mode of Transport

There's no shortage of transit options in New York, where navigating the city can be one of the most exciting parts of your itinerary. With such excellent options available, you should have no trouble hitting all the attractions offered via New York CityPASS.

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