Like most residents of New York City, I am a subway commuter. I use the time to read a book, play a game on my phone, or sometimes watch a pre-loaded episode of my favorite TV show (which is Community, by the way). Since moving to New York City, I have lived in Brooklyn. I love it there and have no intention of leaving anytime soon (except for when I make my millions and buy a penthouse apartment on Central Park West). The common complaint by those who don’t live there is, “I could never live in Brooklyn, it’s so far!” Far is a subjective term, obviously, because “far” depends on where within a borough you live, but what they really mean is “the commute would be too long.” This is an important life decision for a resident of New York City how long a commute you’re willing to have, given the Subway has an unfortunate habit of taking far longer than it ever should. To understand what would make a commute too long, you have to unpack what it’s like to commute via subway in New York City. To help you out, I have compiled 10 truths for every subway rider to help them in their travels.
1.) Transfers are generally not quick and easy. One of the best feelings in the world is when you get off your train, cross a platform, and the train you need is either sitting there waiting for you, or just arriving. When you can transfer in under a minute, your commute is going to be significantly faster. YOU CANNOT RELY ON THIS! Too many people calculate their commute time based on if the other train is going to be waiting for them at the transfer station. Hint: it won’t. If you don’t calculate a good amount of time for waiting for the next train, you will be late to wherever you’re going.
2.) “Train Sabotage” can and will ruin your day. Train Sabotage is when a trip or plan is derailed by the MTA, usually by the scheduled train being extremely late with no trains in between. It can be prevented by good planning, knowing which trains are running and which are not, and limiting how many transfers you will need to reach your destination.
3.) Rush Hour should be avoided like the plague. When travelling at Rush Hour (roughly 630am – 830am and 5pm – 7pm) the amount of people on the train is comparable to the situation of sardines. Too many people are crammed into a small metal tube underneath the ground and sent rocketing through tunnels. It’s enough to make any good Claustrophobe’s skin crawl. Invariably you spend the time worrying someone will try to steal your wallet, or “accidentally” brush against you in a manner you don’t enjoy. Your day will be much happier if you can avoid traveling these times.
4.) An empty train cars is NOT your friend. I’ll admit, I’ve walked into a completely empty train car and found myself with a private car where I can sing to my heart’s delight. This tends to happen between 2am and 6am. If it happens at any other point of the day, be very, very wary of what you will find inside that sent other riders running.
5.) Train announcements are unintelligible. When a train stops unexpectedly in a tunnel, the operator comes on the radio to inform you of what has happened and how long they expect you to wait until you are moving again. Do not rely on understanding a word that is said. Most often the operator sounds like Marlon Brando with a mouthful of cotton balls holding the microphone directly pressed against his mouth as he tries to talk. That being said, the few times that you can actually understand the operators are generally highlight reel-worthy. I believe that when operators discover a working microphone they decide to get all of their pent up aggression at not being understood on other trains out. In these moments I have heard announcers threaten to “turn this train car around”, and “release the back car from the rest of the train if you don’t stop holding the doors”, and even heard one operator serenade us with improvised melodies about train updates.
6.) The 42nd st.-Times Square to 42nd st.-Port Authority transfer is awful. It looks so tantalizing on the map; all of those trains converging together to create a Mecca of subway transfers. That feeling is a lie. Transferring between the two stations underground takes a lot longer than coming up above ground, walking down 8th avenue, and then reentering the subway, and there are significantly more stairs in the underground version. Try to avoid a transfer at 42nd street altogether, there’s almost always a better way around.
7.) “Showtime” performers ruin perfectly nice train rides. These are not dancers. We could call them acrobats, maybe gymnasts, but I just call them a public menace. “What time is it?” “It’s Showtime!” Those words send all of my nerves off at once. I have seen these “dancers” hook their feet in the handgrips, only to slip and fall on people’s feet. I have seen a woman accidentally punched during a whirling display of something I can’t bring myself to call a dance move. I have also had one of these “Dancers” accuse me of not supporting the arts when I didn’t give him a dollar. When I recommended he go to an audition for a dance troupe, he laughed and said that he did “real dance” because he was a “real artist”. Don’t give them money unless they truly wow you.
8.) There are few feelings better than stepping into a mostly empty air-conditioned train car after spending over ten minutes on a sweltering platform. I think this one speaks for itself. When those doors open and the cold air rolls across you, you say a prayer of thanks to the MTA for bestowing you with this gift of air-conditioning.
9.) Most offline Subway map apps for smartphones are useless. They seem like they’re so useful for their low price of $4.99. “Featuring station to station routing! See how long your trip will take!” That’s great if finding your station was easy. But when you look at a list of stations that read:
– 14 St / 6 Av
– 14 St / 7 Av
– 14 St / 8 Av
– 14 St-Union Sq
the situation becomes incredibly grim. If you don’t know the subway system and know which trains are on which avenue, or know that your ending address is on 7th avenue, then there is no way you will guess which station is the one you are actually looking for. The difference between 14 St / 8 Av and 14 St-Union Sq is a pretty hefty above ground walk.
10.) The subway is your best friend until it isn’t. Some days, the MTA will be your best friend. The train’s not that full, the air conditioning working, the amount of unnecessary stops few and far between, and your transfers quick and painless. These are days to remember to get you through the dark times. Those times are also known as Weekends, when all the renovations happen and no one knows what train is running where, what train is running on a different line, which train discontinues service at which station, or does not stop at the station you want. The posted signage to help you sort out these renovations is entirely unhelpful. These dark times are also anytime any train line anywhere in the city experiences “signal failure”. Once you hear those fateful words spoken over the intercom, you know you’re in for a long commute. One signal failure at a station on the other side of the city that in no way intersects the train you’re on will still gum up the entire works. The Subway is a finely tuned machine that unfortunately needs tuning roughly every 1.5 days, so it rarely works as it is supposed to.
So there you go, 10 truths that go along with riding the NYC subway. Do you have any to add to our list? Leave them in the comments section, or on our Facebook or Twitter accounts! We’ll update as we receive them.