New York Transportation: Everything You Need to Know

ViaHero · May 28, 2019

If you’re visiting New York, you’ve got quite a few transportation options. We’ll break down the pros and cons of each, along with their prices, dos and don’ts, and some extra info on getting to and from the airport. Any questions after reading? Message us.

New York transportation basics

As cities go, New York is very compact. Translation: nearly everyone uses public transit on a daily basis, and those who don’t usually just walk. Here’s a list of your transportation options—we’ll break down each of them below:

  • The subway
  • The bus
  • Bicycles / Citibikes
  • Taxis
  • Rideshare apps (Uber, Lyft, etc.)

Note: Renting a car in NYC is a horrible idea. Parking is almost nonexistent (and absurdly expensive), and you’ll spend your whole trip stuck in traffic. Avoid it at all costs.

The subway

One of the best and cheapest forms of New York transportation is the subway

The New York subway system averages close to 6 million riders per day. Why? It’s relatively cheap, it’s incredibly extensive, and it’s the most practical way to get from place to place outside walking distance (if you don’t feel like shelling out the big bucks for an Uber or a cab).

While New Yorkers groan to no end about delays (and it’s true, subway service has never been worse) the fact remains that it’s an absolute necessity if you’re living in or visiting New York. Here’s what you need to know:

  • A subway ride costs $2.75 (or $3, if you only purchase a single ride). You enter by swiping a Metrocard, which you can buy from special vending machines at any subway station.
  • Once you’ve swiped your card and walked through the turnstile, you can take any subway line, anywhere in the city, and transfer indefinitely.
  • Almost all subway lines have local trains and express trains. Local trains stop at every station. Express trains only stop at certain stations. Lines are denoted by color.
  • Because so many people rely on the subway, there are numerous unspoken-yet-strict codes of train etiquette. Do not “hug” the poles—they’re for everyone to hold. Give up your seat if you see an elderly, pregnant, or disabled person. Don’t block the doors. Let riders out of the car before you try to board. Check out this article on the dos and don’ts of NYC travel for more.
  • Although the subway runs 24/7, many lines undergo evening and weekend service changes.
  • If you get on the wrong train or get lost, don’t panic—just ask someone for help! We New Yorkers are nicer than we look.

Pro tip: Depending on where in New York you’re staying, you may need to take the subway 3–4 times a day or more. In that case, it might be worth it to get a 7-day unlimited card instead of just topping your card up with cash as needed.

The bus

Once upon a time, New York—and Brooklyn in particular—had one of the best streetcar systems in the world. Sadly, it was demolished in the 1950s and replaced with a low-quality bus system thanks to lobbying by the oil industry (certain oil companies were actually charged with criminal conspiracy after the fact).

The upshot: the further you go from Manhattan, the more spread-out the subway lines become—and the more people need to rely on buses. Here’s what you need to know about them:

  • Like the subway, the fare for a bus ride is $2.75. It’s also paid via Metrocard or exact change.
  • Because of New York’s famed traffic and congestion, buses are almost never on time—and rides usually take much longer than Google Maps estimates (often twice as long or more).
  • Almost nobody rides the bus in Manhattan. In the other boroughs, they’re a little more necessary.
  • There are Select Bus Service (SBS) routes sprinkled throughout the city. These essentially function as express buses, and they cost $6.50 to ride. Very few locals use these.

Bicycles / Citibikes

Although many people ride bicycles in New York, it’s not known as a bike-friendly city. Many streets are covered in potholes (thanks to the large volume of traffic), bike lanes are often blocked by parked cars or delivery trucks, and the NYPD is notorious for ticketing bicyclists to meet quotas.

That said, if you’re willing to take the risk, New York does have a fantastic bike-share system: the Citibike. Just download the app, pay by the ride or by the day, and pick up a bike from any of the hundreds of stations around the city.

Taxis

Yellow cabs are a classic form of New York transportation

Ahh, the ubiquitous yellow cab! If you’ve never taken one, it’s worth it simply to say you did. Hail a cab by sticking your arm out and whistling (if you can). Cabs with their roof lights on are looking for riders; those with their roof lights off are already occupied. A couple of tips:

  • While lots of New York’s best things to do are located in Manhattan, you may have trouble finding a cab to take you to those that aren’t. Some cabbies don’t like leaving the island.
  • Taxi fares start at $2.50 and increase by time and distance. See a complete list of fare info here.
  • You can pay taxi fares with cash or card, but beware: card readers are often hit-and-miss, so it’s wise to carry enough cash to cover your trip if the reader is broken.
  • Be sure to tip! 15%–20% is standard.

Rideshare apps / Uber

Rideshare apps like Uber have become increasingly ubiquitous in New York throughout the past few years. Here’s our advice when it comes to rideshare apps:

  • Ubers can get really expensive thanks to high demand and traffic. Carpool functions (UberPool, etc.) are often a great alternative.
  • Rideshare drivers need to be licensed by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. That means you can trust that your NYC Uber driver has been vetted and approved.
  • Try using a non-standard ride service while you’re in town. Juno is known for paying its drivers a higher wage than its competitors, and Via is a cheaper (if somewhat sketchier) version of UberPool.

Bonus: Airport Transportation

There are different forms of New York transportation from LGA and JFK

When it comes to getting to and from the airports that serve NYC (JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark-Liberty), you’ve got a few options. For a more complete description of airport transit options, check out this NYC travel FAQ article.

John F. Kennedy International (JFK)

  • JFK’s AirTrain (airport tram) connects to the A/C/E trains. Taking the train from JFK to Manhattan can take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on what time of day you arrive or depart.
  • Cabs from JFK to Manhattan cost a flat fee of $52. All other rides (including those to JFK) are metered.
  • An Uber from JFK to Manhattan can cost anywhere from $40–$70, depending on time and traffic.

La Guardia (LGA)

  • LaGuardia does not have an Airtrain, but you can take several buses to and from the airport. The M60 bus, for instance, goes directly into Manhattan.
  • All cabs to and from LaGuardia run on metered fares.
  • LaGuardia is much closer to Manhattan than JFK is—hence cheaper rides in Ubers and cabs.

Newark-Liberty (EWR)

  • Newark’s AirTrain connects to NJTransit and Amtrak trains, both of which go to Manhattan.
  • There is a flat fee of $69 for cabs going to Newark from Manhattan. Rides back into Manhattan are metered.
  • Since Newark is located in New Jersey, Ubers from the airport are relatively cheap—whereas Ubers to the airport are a bit pricier.

Conclusion: get some local help

We know that the transportation options in NYC can sound intimidating, but believe us—they really aren’t. Our advice? Connect with a New Yorker for help planning your New York trip. They know the ins and outs of NY transportation because they literally use it every day—and they’ll have your back the entire time.

Plus, they’ll build you a guidebook and itinerary full of stuff you want to experience while you’re in town (no cookie-cutter trip plans here). And along with their local insight and knowledge of NYC’s best hidden gems, they’ll be available with 24/7 phone support if you have any issues while you’re in the city. I mean, you could travel to NYC with nothing more than some TripAdvisor tips and out-of-date internet recommendations… but why would you?

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Want more helpful tips for planning your trip to New York? Don’t hesitate to contact us. And for more info, make sure to check out:

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