Transport in New York City

The New York City Subway is a rapid transit system owned by the City of New York and leased to the New York City Transit Authority, a subsidiary agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and also known as MTA New York City Transit. It is one of the oldest and most extensive public transportation systems in the world, with 468 stations in operation (421, if stations connected by transfers are counted as single stations); 209 mi (337 km) of routes, translating into 656 miles (1,056 km) of revenue track; and a total of 842 miles (1,355 km) including non-revenue trackage. In 2010, the subway delivered over 1.604 billion rides, averaging over five million (5,156,913 rides) on weekdays, over three million (3,031,289 rides) on Saturdays, and over two million (2,335,077 rides) on Sundays. The New York City Subway is the fourth busiest rapid transit rail system in the world in annual ridership, after Tokyo’s, Moscow’s, and Seoul’s rapid transit systems, and the busiest in the Western Hemisphere. It is one of the four systems in the U.S., along with portions of the Chicago ‘L’ system, PATH, and PATCO, to offer service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

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The system’s stations are located throughout the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Staten Island has a rail line, the Staten Island Railway, which opened in 1860 and uses R44 subway cars, but has no links to, and is not officially considered part of, the New York City Subway, though it has been included on all official Subway Maps since 1998. All services pass through Manhattan except for the Franklin Avenue Shuttle in Brooklyn, Rockaway Park Shuttle in Queens, and Brooklyn–Queens Crosstown Local (G train) connecting Brooklyn and Queens. All but two of the 468 stations of the subway are served 24 hours a day. Contrary to its name, the New York City Subway system is not entirely underground; large portions of the system (especially outside of Manhattan) are elevated, on embankments, or in open cuts. A few stretches of track run at ground level. Many lines and stations have both express and local services. These lines have three or four tracks and normally, the outer two are used for local trains while the inner one or two are used for express trains. Stations served by express trains are typically major transfer points or destinations. The BMT Jamaica Line uses skip-stop service on portions, whereby two services operate over the line during rush hours and certain stations are only served by one of the two.

Download New York City Subway Map in PDF

Lines and routes

Many rapid transit systems run relatively static routings, so that a train “line” is more or less synonymous with a train “route”. In New York, routings change often as new connections are opened or service patterns change. Within the nomenclature of the subway, the “line” describes the physical railroad track or series of tracks that a train “route” uses on its way from one terminal to another. “Routes” (also called “services”) are distinguished by a letter or a number and “Lines” have names. They are also designations for trains, as exemplified in the Billy Strayhorn song Take the “A” Train. This terminology is also used to a loose extent in the Taipei Metro. There are 24 train services in the subway system, including three short shuttles. Each route has a color and name designation representing the Manhattan trunk line of the particular service and is labeled as local or express. The color lime green is exclusively assigned to the Crosstown Line route since it operates entirely outside Manhattan while the shuttles are all assigned dark gray.

New York Subway train

The current color system depicted on official subway maps was proposed by R. Raleigh D’Adamo, a lawyer who entered a contest sponsored by the Transit Authority in 1964. D’Adamo proposed replacing a map that used only three colors (representing the three operating entities of the subway network) with a map that used a different color for each service. D’Adamo’s contest entry shared first place with two others and led to the Transit Authority adopting a multi-colored scheme. However, the lines and services are not referred to by color (e.g., Blue Line or Green Line), although the colors are often assigned through their groups. Though the subway system operates on a 24-hour basis, some of the designated routes do not run or run as a shorter route during late night hours. In addition to these regularly scheduled changes, because there is no nightly system shutdown for maintenance, tracks and stations must be maintained while the system is operating. To accommodate such work, services are usually changed during midday, overnight hours, and weekends.

Subway map

The current official transit maps of the New York City Subway are based on a 1979 design by Michael Hertz Associates. The maps are not geographically accurate due to the complexity of the system (i.e. Manhattan being the smallest borough, but having the most lines), but are known to help tourists navigate the city, as major city streets are shown alongside the subway stations serving them. The newest edition of the subway map, which took effect on June 27, 2010, reflects the latest service changes and also makes Manhattan bigger and Staten Island smaller. Part of the reason for the current incarnation is that earlier diagrams of the subway (the first being produced in 1958), while being more aesthetically pleasing, had the perception of being more geographically inaccurate than the diagrams today. The design of the subway map by Massimo Vignelli, published by the MTA between 1974 and 1979, has since become recognized in design circles as a modern classic; however, the MTA deemed the map flawed due to its placement of geographical elements. There are several privately produced schematics which are available online or in published form, such as those by Hagstrom Map. Additionally, the New York City subway map has served as the subject of artistic endeavors. Among these are works by Fadeout Design and by Alexander Chen.

Station and concourse

Many stations have mezzanines. These allow for passengers to enter from multiple entrances and proceed to the correct platform without having to cross the street before entering. They also allow for crossover between the uptown and downtown platforms. Passengers enter a subway station through stairs towards station booths and vending machines to buy their fare, which is currently stored in a MetroCard. After swiping the card at a turnstile, customers continue to the platforms. Some subway lines in northern Manhattan and the other boroughs have elevated tracks to which passengers climb up to the platforms and station houses via stairs, escalators, or elevators.

Globe lamps

At most of the system’s entrances and exits sits a lamp post or two bearing a colored spherical lamp. Before the introduction of the MetroCard in 1994, these lights indicated the station’s availability. A green lamp meant that the station was open and running 24 hours a day, a yellow lamp meant that it was open only during the day, while a red lamp meant that it was an exit-only. The yellow lamp was phased out and replaced by red lamps, which takes over the role of both a part-time entrance and exit-only.

Subway Globe lamps NYC


A typical subway station has waiting platforms ranging from 500 to 600 feet (150 to 180 m) long. Due to the large number of transit lines, one platform or set of platforms often serve more than one service. Passengers need to look at the overhead signs at the platform entrance steps and over each track to see which trains stop there and when, and at the arriving train to see which one it is.

There are a number of common platform configurations:

  • On a double track line, a station may have one center island platform used for trains in both directions, or 2 side platforms, one for a train in each direction.
  • For lines with three or four tracks (or with express service), local stops will have side platforms and the middle one or two tracks will not stop at the station. On these lines, express stations have two island platforms, one for the local and express in one direction, and another for the local and express in the other direction.
  • In a 3-track configuration, the center track can be used toward the center of the city in the morning and away from the center in the evening, though not every 3-track line has that express service.

Three four-track express stations have an island platform for the center express tracks and two side platforms for the outside local tracks. These three stations are connected to major railway stations and the next station along the line is also an express station with the more common platform configuration. The purpose of splitting the platforms is to prevent through riders from adding to the station’s crowding by transferring from local to express or from express to local. This occurs at Atlantic Avenue on the IRT Eastern Parkway Line (2 3 4 5 trains) with the adjacent express station Nevins Street, where the connection is to the Atlantic Terminal of the Long Island Rail Road; and 34th Street-Penn Station on both the IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line (1 2 3 trains) and IND Eighth Avenue Line (A C E trains), with adjacent express stations at Times Square – 42nd Street and 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal, where a connection is available to Pennsylvania Station, one of the two major Manhattan train stations. This does not occur with the connection to New York’s other major station, Grand Central Terminal, at Grand Central on the IRT Lexington Avenue Line (4 5 6 <6> trains), which has no adjacent express station. Almost everywhere expresses run, they run on the inner one (of 3) or two (of 4) tracks and locals run on the outer two tracks. There is one notable 6-track station, DeKalb Avenue, where trains to or from the Manhattan Bridge (B D Q) either stop at the outer tracks of one of the island platforms, or pass through and bypass the station on the middle tracks (“express tracks”) (D N). Trains to or from the Montague Street Tunnel (N R) stop across the platform from the respective outer track.

NYC Subway


Many stations are decorated with intricate ceramic tile work, some of it dating back to 1904 when the subway first opened. The subway tile artwork tradition continues today. The “Arts for Transit” program oversees art in the subway system. Permanent installations, such as sculpture, mosaics, and murals; photographs displayed in lightboxes, and musicians performing in stations encourage people to use mass transit. In addition, commissioned art displayed in stations and “art cards”, some displaying poetry, are in many of the trains themselves in unused advertisement fixture slots. Some of the art is by internationally known artists such as Elizabeth Murray’s Blooming, displayed at Lexington Avenue / 59th Street station.


Since the majority of the system was built before 1990, the year the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect, many New York City Subway stations were not designed to be handicapped-accessible. Since then, elevators have been built in newly constructed stations to comply with the ADA. (Most grade-level stations required little modification to ADA standards.) In addition, the MTA identified “key stations,” high-traffic and/or geographically important stations, which must conform to the ADA when they are extensively renovated. As of June 2011, there are 89 currently accessible stations; many of them have AutoGate access to such stations.


Since 1987, MTA has sponsored the “Music Under New York” (MUNY) program in which street musicians enter a competitive contest to be assigned to the preferred high traffic locations. Each year, applications are reviewed and approximately 70 eligible performers are selected and contacted to participate in live auditions held for one day. At present, more than 100 soloists and groups participate in MUNY providing over 150 weekly performances at 25 locations throughout the transit system. For example, Mr. M. Salieu Suso, a kora player fromThe Gambia, plays at Union Square. In addition, any musician/entertainer may perform in subway mezzanines and platforms. On platforms, there may be no amplifications as this is part of MTA policies. Performers must not be within 25 feet (7.6 m) of a token booth or 50 feet (15 m) from a MTA office/tower, blocking access to an escalator, stairwell, or elevator, interfering with transit services or passenger movement; or in an area where construction is occurring. In addition, performance is prohibited during public service announcements and may be no louder than 85 dBA at 5 feet (1.5 m) away or 70 dBa at 2 feet (0.61 m) from a token booth. Performances are prohibited in subway cars.


Restrooms are rare in the subway system as only 129 open restrooms are in 77 of the system’s 468 stations. Most station rest rooms previously open to the public have been closed to the public and converted to storage spaces or for employee use only. However, there are a few major stations that have operating restrooms, including on the concourse of 42nd Street – Port Authority Bus Terminal, Chambers Street, 57th Street, Coney Island – Stillwell Avenue, and Lexington Avenue / 59th Street.


Some platforms have newspaper stands that sell various items including newspapers and food. The MTA also installed retail spaces within paid areas in selected stations, including the station concourses of the Times Square complex and the Sixth Avenue concourse at 42nd Street – Bryant Park. According to the MTA, the New York City Subway is home to 345 retail spaces, making over US$70 million in rent and licensing fees in 2009 for the authority. It is continuing to make efforts in attracting more diverse retailers and vendors to set up shop in the subway system.

The No Pants Subway Ride

The No Pants Subway Ride is annual event staged by Improv Everywhere every January in New York City. The mission started as a small prank with seven guys and has grown into an international celebration of silliness, with dozens of cities around the world participating each year. The idea behind No Pants is simple: Random passengers board a subway car at separate stops in the middle of winter without pants. The participants do not behave as if they know each other, and they all wear winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. The only unusual thing is their lack of pants.

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