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from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

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from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

I had a few furstrating travel experiences my first time in Manhattan and I thought I would share in hopes of preventing some other complete NYC newbie from making the same mistakes. So far I have accumulated 3 experiences that all center around the theme of people assuming I should know something that is completely NOT made clear thru signage or instruction of whatever.

Tip #1: Don't change seat on the NJ Transit from Newark airport to NY Penn Station. Based on advice from TA (sound advice I might add), my wife and I bought a ticket for $12.50 at the Newark airport and caught the train from the airport terminal to Manhattan. The train was pretty full when we got on and there wasn't room for us to sit next to each other. So she shared the first empty seat with someone and I shared one in the next row. At one of the stops, the person sharing my seat got of the train and she came back to sit next to me. Picture two complete newbies in NY, first time on public transportation who are feeling a litte secure and don't want to be alone. Our tickets had already been punched and collected when we were sharing separate seats. After that stop, the ticket man came around to punch again. He reached for my ticket (I was still holding my return ticket and receipt in my hand). I stupidly handed them to him but called out just in time before he punched thru "Hey, that's my return ticket." He said our seat should only have one person in it or something like that. We found out quickly that in addition to punching tickets, they put these little white slips of paper in the seat in front of you to know how many people should be in that seat. So when my wife changed seats it caused problems. We quickly encountered our first rude NY-er (no offense intended please. Just stating my POV). He told us to look around - don't we see all the white slips, blah, blah, blah. I did look around and yes I saw the white slips but I could see no signs telling us what they were, how to use them, or not to change seats. Even now, I'm still not sure what the protocol would be if one wanted to change seats. Anyway, things were fine and he moved on after a small lecture. Just trying to save someone else the embarrasment.

Tip #2: The unlimited metro subway pass is not truly unlimited. Let me explain. My wife and I each bought a $30 7-day pass for unlimited rides on the subway. We didn't have much of a plan for our trip so at one point in our first evening there, I suggested that we pop down into a subway station just to get the experience of our first ride. It happened to be green and would go north to Central Park. So we swiped and went thru the turnstile. When I got down there, I noticed that the other side was going to Brooklyn bridge and consistent with our no-plan plan I changed my mind and decided I would rather go there. This happened to be one of the subway stations where you had to go back up to street level and cross the street to get to the train going south. So we did. However as soon as we got there the Brooklyn bridge train had pulled out and the sign stated that another one going there would not be along for 19 minutes. So again, in keeping with my no-plan plan, we went back up to our original side which was going north to Central Park. When we tried to swipe this time, we got a message that said "Just Used". I tried a few times, confused that my UNLIMITED pass wasn't working. Same message. Finally, we turned to the gate agent to ask what was going on. I explained the situation to him as best I could, complete with description of changing my mind twice. He said "You can only ride once every 18 minutes." I said "This is an unlimited pass." He said "You can't change your mind. You HAVE TO RESPECT THE LAW." (emphasis mine). I was completely surprised to be accused of not respecting the law having paid $30 to ride an unlimited number of times and was beginning to feel as if I wasn't fit to live or be a tourist in NYC. After all, this was my second time in less than 12 hours now to be accused of ripping off various transit authorities (first being on the NJ Transit). Anyway, the guy was "kind" enough to let us thru anyway, but I was stared to get frusrated with paying my money to do stuff and continuing to run afoul of various ordinances that were not posted, explained, or advertised.

At this point, I should pause and say that subway travel is definitely the way to go (even for newbies) in Manhattan IMO. However, it can be a little intimidating at first. Even with maps and apps, it wasn't always obvious to me which train was going which way. By that I mean some station have trains that go both ways (north and south), some stations have separate entrances across the street from each other which go north and south. It wasn't obvious to me when that was the case. Furthermore, the trains never say north and south on them. They usually tell the end of the line where they are going. So if you don't know that Brooklyn is south or Harlem and Wakefield, North, you don't know which train you should be getting on. Yes, NY-ers, I'm sure this is all obvious to you, but it was making me feel pretty insecure by this point. And I certainly didn't want to "break the law again" get on the wrong train going north and have to turn around go SOUTH. That might get me thrown in jail (or at least accused of breaking the law for the 3rd time). So I was getting very particular about making sure I did it right.

Tip #3: If you take the red-1 to the South Ferry, ride in the 1st 5 cars. The next morning we decided to take the Staten Island Ferry to cruise by the Statue of Liberty. I was getting proud of myself as I was able to ascertain that I should take the 1 - Red down to the South Ferry stop. And this only my 3rd subway ride and I was already becoming and expert. Alas, my hubris was to be very short lived. At the Chambers street stop, we heard the conductor (?) saying something over the PA about the South Ferry and going acros the platform or something. To be honest I couldn't tell exactly what he was saying as the sound quality wasn't very good. I just knew that I was correctly on the 1-Red train to South Ferry and was proud of having placed my rear there so adeptly. And since I was so obviously correct in my placement, I assumed the conductor was talking to the people sitting on the benches outside the train. The train stayed stopped at Chambers for a few minutes (I assumed to stay on the correct time schedule) then we took off again. At the Rector Street stop, the same unintelligible PA anouncement was made, but this time, shortly thereafter a conductor-lady stuck her head into the car where several of us tourists were sitting and loudly asked if we were going to the South Ferry. We all said yes. She informed us that only the first 5 cars were going there and we had to move to the front of the train. This violated my notion of how trains work as I thought all cars went to the same place, but I promptly obeyed. As we were walking down to the front of the train, another conductor-man stuck his head out and waved up forward aggressively and told us to hurry. So I did. I ran to the doorway where he had popped back in to. When I did he came out of whereever he had been hiding and said/yelled "Get off the train" and motioned for us to go back out the door we had just followed him into. At this point I realized I was still not far enough us and went to yet another forward car and timidly entered into the doorway. It seemed as if this time I had it right and we completed our trip to the South Ferry uneventfully.

All these are somewhat minor happening and I am pleased to say the my future subway experiences and remained of time in NYC passed uneventfully. However at this point in my trip (3rd subway ride), I was begninning to despair of my ever learning the art of subway riding. There may be a number of NY-ers who can tell me a million reasons why I should have known better. All I can tell you is that I honestly did not. I was swimming in a see of information, signs, maps, etc and was bewildered and simply trying to get to where I was going. In each of these 3 cases, the authority figure made me feel like a law-breaker and fool.

Hopefully, the relaying of these somewhat humorous, but also heartfealt experiences will help another newbie not to make the same mistakes.

Brooklyn, NY
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1. Re: from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

Tip 1. This is true and probably not discussed much on the forum. If you change your seat w/o taking your stub, they will assume that you got off.

Tip 2. Discussed HUNDREDS of times. One of the many reasons that there is a 18 minute "lockout" on the card is so that someone can't buy a card and stand at the turnstile selling rides.

Tip 3. Also discussed HUNDREDS of times.

Just another tip(s) for tourists.....the NYC subway is never referred to by the color of the line. It is referred to by the number(4 or 5 train) or letter( A or C train.) The color isn't helpful as multiple trains have the same color.

Also, the system really runs(for the most part) uptown/downtown vs North/South.

Edited: 23 August 2014, 13:46
Staten Island, New...
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2. Re: from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

The Unlimited card is indeed unlimited. You cant use it at the same station twice (within 18 minutes) to prevent people from sharing a card. Normally, there wouldn't be any circumstances where you would use the card in the same station after a few minutes

New York City, New...
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3. Re: from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

#1. Can totally understand your side. No, I don,t recall ever discussing this point on the forum...surprisingly. On ANY commuter train, the conductor will leave a ticket on the seat in front of you so he can recall whether he punched yours. If you want to move, you should take the ticket he stuck in the seat in front of you with you to your new seat. It,s the same on the Long Island Railroad and Metro North.

#2 the 18 min. rule is to make sure more than one person doesn't use the same unlimited card.

#3 yes, we've talked abput this, but it IS almost impossible to undertand the announcements and if you didn't. know this, you would be lost.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.;)

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4. Re: from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

With the 18-minute rule, you are allowed to enter a DIFFERENT station at any time. So let's say you swiped in to Times Square, and then realized you were in the wrong station. You could walk down the block to Bryant Park and swipe in there immediately. It's only when you are swiping into the same station that you have already swiped into that there is a lockout period.

Mostly this is a problem because our metrocard is poorly designed (the card itself, I mean). Most cities have a turnstile that reads the card automatically (like London) or where the card is sucked into the turnstile and spit out again (Like DC, the NJ PATH, or even NYC buses). The fact that swiping into the subway is a guessing game of "did it swipe correctly?" is very frustrating. I've seen many people locked out simply because they weren't aware that one of their swipes had worked. At least the attendant can always unlock your card. And if there isn't an attendant, just hop the turnstile or have a friend open the emergency gate.

And yeah, if you were to judge us based on transit employees, you would think we're all pretty rude. Thanks God we don't all work for the MTA.




Hamilton, Canada
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5. Re: from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

Being an avid NYC forum reader/user & NYC visitor I was aware of all your tips except for #1. Thanks for bringing that to my attention. I'm sure plenty of people will find it helpful.

Whitestone, New York
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6. Re: from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

#1 is true on trains all over the United States. Amtrak conductors put cardboard slips above the seats when the collect tickets, and Long Island Rail Road conductors also punch slips with the number of riders on a seat and place them in the seat backs. After all, how else would a conductor know whether he had taken your ticket or not? If you want to change seats, you take the slip with you. For example, If you are taking Amtrak from New York to Harrisburg, PA, the train changes direction at Philadelphia (that is, what had been the front becomes the back, and all the seats that were facing forwards are now riding backwards.) If you get up to change seats so you can face the other way, you take the slip the conductor put above your seat and place it in the same spot above your new seat.

#2. The conditions of the unlimited MetroCard, and the 18 minute lockout (to prevent passing the card back, or selling rides) are fully explained on the MTA website, as well as the "how to ride the subway" pages on this forum. It's a shame you didn't read them ahead of time.

#3. I'm puzzled that you thought an announcement made inside the train was for people outside the train. I'm also confused as to why, when you were told only the first five cars opened at South Ferry, you didn't immediately start moving through the train to get into one of the first five cars. Since the whole train was being held (and everyone on it was being delayed) to allow you to move through the train, politeness should indicate that you need to accomplish this as quickly as possible, and not saunter or dawdle. If the conductor told you to hurry up, you should have increased your speed. If you tried to climb in the conductor's booth with him, when that clearly did not lead to one of the first five cars, that just held the train up even more -- and if he was irritated by it, that shouldn't be surprising.

Edited: 23 August 2014, 15:11
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7. Re: from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

I totally understand the confusion over all 3 items, even #2! It is obvious in retrospect that they can't let the same unlimited card be used immediately in the same station but it is not at all clear to me that this would be obvious to a newcomer

And re #3, I found these instructions very confusing the first time I heard them, especially since you can't hear them

Thanks for sharing this

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8. Re: from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

OK, so now you know you can't expect to be a real New Yorker in 24 hours! :-) It takes years! But at least you're out there trying and having some success and having a sense of humor about it.

So about the #1 to South Ferry (I'm feeling like a broken record on this): your first mistake is in thinking you should be able to understand the announcements in the subway. They are mostly unintelligible to everyone. The regular riders know what they're saying by Pavlovian conditioning so it will take awhile until you get the hang of it. Second, don't worry about not understanding what to do; you've actually dealt with it better than most. I've arrived at that Rector Street stop hundreds of times with a car full of panicky tourists who have no clue. I can say "go to the first 5 cars" in four languages. The strange thing is some of them just continue to sit there. That's why there are MTA employees on the platform to herd them to the front.

Whatever you do, *never* walk from car to car through a moving train! That is illegal and dangerous. Yes, people do it, but it's really dumb.

[if you're interested here's the story on the South Ferry station: once upon a time the #1 train couldn't fit into the South Ferry station, so only the doors on the first 5 cars would open. Then, they built a shiny new station that was big enough and all the car doors could open, and everybody was happy (it was a really nice station). Then Hurricane Sandy came along and flooded the nice new station, and it will take years to fix it, so we're back to using the old station again. This is temporary so maybe by your next trip you won't have to worry about it.]

Have a great time in NYC!

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9. Re: from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

Thanks its really good to know about the train and seating etc. It would have never accrued to me about moving seats. I guess due to trains in UK don't work like this.

The conductor usually know I guess, In all honesty not even sure in UK how the conductor knows but we can move seats freely without having to move a card in the seats.

Anyway thanks for sharing this tip as I've taken a mental note for my upcoming trip 😊


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10. Re: from a newbie to a newbie - Manhattan travel tips

You can move between seats here, just make sure you take white marker with you.