When it comes to getting around New York, you have your pick of transportation in almost any neighborhood you're likely to visit. The subway and bus networks are extensive, especially in Manhattan, although getting across town can take some extra maneuvering. If you're not pressed for time, consider taking a public bus; they generally are slower than subways, but you can also see the city as you travel. Yellow cabs are abundant, except during the evening rush hour, when many drivers' shifts change, and in bad weather, when they get snapped up quickly. If it's late at night or you're outside Manhattan, using a ride-sharing service such as Lyft or Uber may be a good idea. Like a taxi ride, the subway is a true New York City experience; it's also often the quickest way to get around. However, New York (especially Manhattan) is really a walking town, and depending on the time of day, the weather, and your destination, hoofing it could be the easiest and most enjoyable option.
During the height of weekday rush hours (especially from 7:30 to 9:30 am and 5 to 7 pm), avoid Midtown if you can—subways and streets are jammed, and travel time on buses and taxis can easily double.
Subway and bus fares are $2.75 per ride. Reduced fares are available for senior citizens and people with disabilities; there are some restrictions during rush hours on express buses and the Long Island and Metro-North railroads. Kids under 44 inches ride free with a paying adult.
You pay for mass transit with a MetroCard, a plastic card with a magnetic strip. (The MTA is also planning to introduce electronic contactless payment options beginning at select stations around mid-2019). There is a $1 fee for any new MetroCard purchase. (There is a $5.50 minimum card purchase at station booths; this minimum does not apply at vending machines.) A Single Ride Ticket (sold only at MetroCard vending machines) is $3. As you swipe the card through a subway turnstile or insert it in a bus's card reader, the cost of the fare is automatically deducted. With the MetroCard, you can transfer free from bus to subway, subway to bus, or bus to bus, within a two-hour period.
MetroCards are sold at most (but not all) subway stations and some stores—look for an "Authorized Sales Agent" sign. The MTA sells two kinds of MetroCards: unlimited-ride and pay-per-ride. Seven-day unlimited-ride MetroCards ($33) allow bus and subway travel for a week. If you expect to ride more than 11 times in one week, this is the card to get. Unlike in most other cities, there are no single-day unlimited MetroCards.
Unlike unlimited-ride cards, pay-per-ride MetroCards can be shared between riders. (Unlimited-ride MetroCards can be used only once at the same station or bus route in an 18-minute period.)
You can buy or add money to an existing MetroCard at a MetroCard vending machine, available at most subway station entrances (usually near the station booth). The machines accept major credit cards and ATM or debit cards. Many also accept cash, but note that the maximum amount of change they return is $6, which is doled out in dollar coins.
Open subwaytime.mta.info for real-time updates on train arrivals in individual stations (and FYI, subway stations now have cellular access).
The subway system operates on more than 840 miles of track 24 hours a day and serves nearly all the places you're likely to visit. It's cheaper than a cab, and during the workweek it's often faster than either taxis or buses. The trains are well lighted and air-conditioned. Still, the New York subway is hardly problem-free. Many trains are crowded, the older ones are noisy, the air-conditioning can break, and platforms can be dingy and smelly. Homeless people sometimes take refuge from the elements by riding the trains, and panhandlers and buskers head there for a captive audience. Although trains usually run frequently, especially during rush hours, you never know when some incident somewhere on the line may stall traffic. In addition, subway construction sometimes causes delays or limitation of service, especially on weekends and after 10 pm on weekdays.
You can transfer between subway lines an unlimited number of times at any of the numerous stations where lines intersect. If you use a MetroCard to pay your fare, you can also transfer to intersecting MTA bus routes for free. Such transfers generally have a time limit of two hours.
Most subway entrances are at street corners and marked by lampposts with an illuminated Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) logo or globe-shape green or red lights—green means the station is open 24 hours and red means the station closes at night (though the colors don't always correspond to reality). Subway lines are designated by numbers and letters, such as the 3 line or the A line. Some lines run "express" and skip stops, and others are "local" and make all stops. Each station entrance has a sign indicating the lines that run through the station. Some entrances are also marked "uptown only" or "downtown only." Before entering subway stations, read the signs carefully. One of the most frequent mistakes visitors make is taking the train in the wrong direction. Maps of the full subway system are posted in the middle of every train car and usually on the subway platform. You can usually pick up free paper maps at station booths.
For the most up-to-date information on subway lines, call the MTA's Travel Information line or visit its website. The MTA Weekender, MTA TripPlanner, and Citymapper apps and websites are a good source for figuring out the best line to take to reach your destination, as is Google Maps. Alternatively, ask a station agent.
Although the city is working to retrofit subway stations to comply with the ADA, many stations, including major ones, are not yet fully accessible, and they are unlikely to be so in the near future. Accessible stations are clearly marked on subway and rail maps. Visitors in wheelchairs have better success with public buses, all of which have wheelchair lifts and "kneelers" at the front to facilitate getting on and off. Bus drivers provide assistance.