Public Transport Guide for Beer Tourists

Metrocard

New York City has, when working well, a good network of trains ('the subway') and buses. Both are operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), who operate the Metrocard fare payment system.

There are two types of Metrocard (on identical plastic cards): pay-per-ride and unlimited travel for a specific time period. The unlimited version is usually better for tourists making many trips around the city, unless there would be a lot of time left over at the end of the visit. Each card has an expiry date printed on the back, ignore this as it is referring to when the card can no longer be refilled - as opposed to the actual current validity from what has been paid.

Metrocards can be used on local buses and all subways. Express buses to and from the outer suburbs (routes beginning with 'X' or have a combination of two or more letters other than 'Bx') are only good for pay-as-you-go Metrocards, but it is unlikely any craft beer tourist would be catching one as they generally go to far flung residential areas well away from anywhere recommended in this guide. We haven't included any nearby express buses to the individual pages anyway. There is another type of bus route called Select Bus Service (SBS), which are limited stop and have a system where you get a ticket from a machine on the street before boarding the bus - you can't put your Metrocard in the machine on the bus. There are random checks by Travelling Ticket Inspectors on board, who will issue fines to people without a ticket (even if holding a valid Metrocard).

Purchase your Metrocard from any ticket machine at subway stations. There are some potential hiccups to know about though, for which here are the solutions. Firstly, the amount of change given is limited to $9 (which will be dispensed in fairly uncommon dollar coins, and other coins of lesser value). So, make sure you have the exact money or close to it if paying cash. Secondly, if paying by card, the machine will prompt you for your home zip code where the card is billed to. Non-US residents must enter the code '99999' when prompted. This will indicate to the machine that a foreign card is to be billed, and the transaction will proceed. Make a note of this code as it is not made public on stations.

You can also buy single ride cards for $3 ($2.75 cash on local buses), vaild for one entrance to the subway or two bus rides (not on the same route) within two hours. Note that bus coinboxes only take coins, no dollar bills. If paying cash on the bus and you want to take another bus journey on a different route within two hours, ask the driver for a free transfer - a card will pop up from the farebox for you to take and use.

Unlimited ride Metrocards come in 7 day and 30 day options, $31.00 and $116.50 respectively. Pay-as-you-go Metrocards can be purchased for any amount between $5.50 and $80. With the latter, the MTA will give you a small cash bonus on your card when adding a higher amount of value. Each new Metrocard issued has a $1 surcharge added to cover the cost of the card itself. So, for example, if you buy a new (as opposed to refilling an existing card) $31 7 day unlimited it will cost you $32 in total. Unlimited cards can't be used to enter the same station or ride the same bus route more than once in 18 minutes.


Local Buses

Local buses are very useful for getting around. These have route number prefixed by one or two letters referring to which of the five boroughs the majority of the route is in: B for Brooklyn, Bx for Bronx, M for Manhattan, Q for Queens, and S for Staten Island. Buses can be tracked in real time, see our list of bus routes for the link. If using a Metrocard, insert it with the 'cut off' corner top left and arrows pointing down; if not you will need $2.75 in coins. Select Bus Service (SBS) routes have a different system as detailed above, you will need to use your Metrocard before boarding. Some SBS routes share with normal stopping buses of the same number, e.g. M15 and B44, while other routes are SBS only. On the local ones, you can board as normal with a Metrocard. Where SBS and normal buses share a route, there are separate bus stops for each located nearby each other at locations served by the SBS.

Confusingly, a few non-SBS routes have both local and limited stop services, bus stops will show the route on a blue background for stopping and a purple background for limited. These are not express buses, Metrocards can be used normally. Additionally, a few routes are anomalies by running limited stop with no local stopping alternative, the Q100 and B103 being examples.


Subways

Unlike other cities around the world such as the London Underground, most subway stations are named for the street they are located on rather than the name of the neighbourhood. As a result, there are several examples of multiple stations with the same name - usually at different places along the same road but sometimes referring to stations serving identically named roads in different parts of the city. Fulton Street and Broadway are examples of the latter, with two unrelated stations each in different boroughs. Another example is 7th Avenue, confusingly the B train makes stops in Manhattan and Brooklyn at both stations.

The lines themselves are given route designations of a letter or number, and are colour coded to show groups of routes which largely share the same tracks in Manhattan.

To enter, swipe your Metrocard or single ride card fairly briskly though the reader on the turnstile. A frustrating quirk of the card readers is that they can occasionally get gunked up and therefore either don't work (prompting you to swipe again and again and again in futility), or partially read the information on the card (prompting you to 'swipe again at this turnstile'). If the latter happens, the card has been encrypted by the reader as used - and occasionally the faulty reader will go on to shut you out with a 'just used' message on an unlimited ride card. On a pay-as-you-go card it may be possible that you get charged twice in error. If this happens with an unlimited ride card, go to the MTA employee in the booth at the entrance (if there is one) and say the turnstile gave you a 'just used' message in error. Otherwise, you're shut out of that station for 18 minutes. Don't fret too much though, the turnstiles work well in all but a tiny minority of instances.

In Manhattan, most lines go 'uptown' and 'downtown', which is self explanatory. At many smaller subway stations, the platforms are not connected with each other. Therefore, pay attention to signage when entering from the street level. For instance, if you have swiped yourself in and find yourself on the uptown platform when you're going downtown, you will have to leave and re-enter at the correct entrance. If on an unlimited Metrocard, you will have to wait 18 minutes before re-entering; if on a pay-as-you go one, you will have lost the price of a ride.

At weekends and late nights, beware of engineering works that could either divert trains via another line - or have a shuttle bus replacement service in operation. Check the MTA's website in advance.

JFK Airport Airtrain

This is a driverless elevated train that serves JFK's terminals and Howard Beach subway station on the A line, or Jamaica Sutphin Boulevard - Archer Avenue on the E / J / Z lines. It is $5 to ride to or from either station, you will be issued a special Metrocard. Personally, I find the E train option at Jamaica to usually be the fastest.

PATH Train

PATH is a separate subway line operated by the Port Authority, which runs between two terminals in Manhattan and various points on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. There is a flat fare of $2.75 per journey.


Tourist buses

There are four different tour bus operators, all competing with each other. These are nothing to do with the MTA (so Metrocards are not valid). The operators are Gray Line, Big Bus, Open Loop, and Go New York. Tickets for one are not valid on the others. Each operator's routes are different from their rivals'.

There are Downtown and Uptown loops from each operator which allow a 'hop-on-hop-off' system where you can get on and off buses all day with one flat fare ticket. These are useful for combining the tourist sights and visiting recommended bars in this guide (Downtown only, as the Uptown loops mostly skirt Central Park - and don't go near anywhere we recommend). In addition to those, there are Brooklyn tours and night tours which do not stop anywhere along the route - so are no use for pub crawling. At least one operator has real time bus tracking online.

Buy tickets from street vendors at the major tourist attractions. Service is usually quite frequent much of the year, but between New Year and around Easter (when it can be bitterly cold) the frequency of the buses is much diminished. The buses themselves are open top double deckers or converted single deckers with seats on a raised platform. In colder weather, many will have plastic domes attached to the top to guard against wind chill.


Taxis

Yellow taxis are ubiquitous in Manhattan (and to a degree in other boroughs), and there are also green taxis which primarily operate in the boroughs outside Manhattan. Yellow taxis can be hailed anywhere, and can be taken anywhere in the five boroughs. Be aware that the driver has an obligation to take you anywhere in NYC, but often they don't want to if it means going somewhere outside Manhattan with a poor chance of getting a return passenger. To prevent a rogue driver potentially zooming off without you, get in the car before telling the driver where you're going. 

Green taxis were introduced in 2013, and can be hailed anywhere in The Bronx, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. In Queens, they can pick up anywhere except JFK and LaGuardia Airports. In Manhattan, they can be hailed in the extreme northern part only - West 110th and East 96th Streets and above, either side of Central Park. They are forbidden to pick up south of there. Green taxis can be taken anywhere in the five boroughs.

If taking a yellow cab from JFK Airport to anywhere in Manhattan, there is a flat fare of $52. Avoid unmarked 'taxis' from the airports, these are unlicenced and uninsured for fare paying passengers - and often try to charge more than the going rate, especially for anyone who has a non-American accent.

There are also 'car services' which must be booked either by phone or in person at the despatcher's office, these can't be hailed. In addition, there is now a service called Uber - where a car can be booked via a smartphone app.

Bizarrely, yellow and green taxis don't have any signwriting whatsoever saying 'taxi'. On the sides of the vehicles, there is a decal that reads 'NYC T' - with the letter T in a big circle similar to the designs used for subway lines. The light on the roof doesn't read 'TAXI' either, but instead shows the 'medallion' number of the vehicle. On yellow cabs it's a number, a letter, then two numbers, e.g. 1S25. On green cabs it's two letters then three numbers, e.g. AC085. Taxis are available for hail when the roof light is illuminated.

Information in this article is correct to...

December 2015