In New York City’s Subway System

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Since we had decided to stay in Long Island, where hotels are cheaper and where we could park the car for free, we had to rely on NYC’s subway system to get to and around Manhattan. That didn’t scare me: I love public transportation systems, and it beats driving in a congested city.

Queensboro Hotel, where we stayed, was a ten- to fifteen-minute walk from the nearest subway station, right on line 7 Flushing-Main Street. We bought a 7-day unlimited pass for $29, and were given a MetroCard® with a magnetic stripe. I found the fare was a very good deal considering the extensive the system (468 stations and 337 kilometres of routes!). In Ottawa, a monthly pass in $96.24, and the service isn’t close to be as good—feels like a rip-off. The magnetic card didn’t always work though, and we sometimes had to swipe it several times to get in.

I’m usually a natural when it comes to navigating public transportation systems, but I found NYC subway confusing at first. First, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is a bit cheap when it comes to maps: they don’t give you a free pocket subway system maps (unlike in Paris), and there are few maps on the walls in stations—some are so worn-out that you can’t decipher them. The names of the stations can be confusing too, there are a lot of XXth (whatever number) street + whatever location, making the station names long. Adding to the confusion, each line seems to have a different signage system: some have digital signboards while others don’t have much but the worn-out line map in carts. It gets better once you understand the “uptown”/”downtown” distinction, though, and we never got lost.

I did appreciate the A/C, and I found NYC’s subway much cleaner than in Paris and less claustrophobic than the Tube in London. Passengers were quite normal too! We saw a couple of people begging but nothing like in Paris. We managed to avoid rush hour as well, although some lines was packed during the weekend when the service was drastically reduced.

Interestingly, there were a lot of bilingual Spanish/English ads in the subway, and service announcements were also in these two languages. I hadn’t expected Spanish to be so prominent in NYC, unlike in California for instance.

I was pretty hesitant to start taking pictures in the subway for various reasons, the main one being that I didn’t want to be mistaken for a terrorist—subway authorities usually frown upon on subway photographers—but no one seems to care. I actually found New Yorkers pretty relaxed security-wise! So I ended up with a nice collection of subway shots.

You can see the set of pictures taken in the U.S.A. on Flickr.

Our Station in Long Island

Taking the Subway in Long Island

NYC Skyline from the Long Island Platform

Graffiti in Long Island

Graffiti in Long Island

Graffiti in Long Island

Times Square Station

Times Square Station

High Street Station

Wall Street Station

Subway Cart

Subway Cart

NYC Subway

Subway Passengers

Subway Passengers


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Ah yes, the NY subway system; I have a love-hate relationship with it. The thing is, it is so old that it can be said to be historical, but also it is so old that parts of it needs refurbishment. Like you said, the signage is sparse, and whenever I find myself in a new station, it’s hard to find a map to see what line to take.

    And yes, New York has a huge Puerto Rican population, plus the other immigrants from Latin American countries too, so Spanish is quite popular. There are signs in English and Spanish, and in areas like Chinatown, there are even signs in Mandarin. I appreciate the fact that they care enough to provide signs in these languages, not only the regular signs, but also the notices of service outages and changes.

    • I actually liked the subway better than I thought I would, considering its reputation. I found it cleaner and more efficient than I had been told! And frankly, I’m so tired of Ottawa’s lame bus system that anything else is better 😉

  2. What tricked me in the NY metro were the express trains running on the same line as the normal train. One I was travelling only four or five stations but ended up uptown because of the express train 🙂

  3. Interesting observations, especially about the lack of maps. Given how popular the subway is in NYC, and how many tourists visit the city, I would have thought they would have made it really easy to figure out where you needed to go. I had no idea they were air conditioned, that would be a treat!

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