Enjoying New York City on a Budget
Getting around New York City
Using buses, subways, and taxis
Here you'll learn about New York City's taxis, subways, buses, and parking.
You'll get tips to save money and time and to be more safe.
Now, we know many budget travellers have never considered using taxis, but it's time to start. In some New York City neighbourhoods, "cabs" can help keep you safe at night.
Taxis are not expensive for short distances in New York.
Be sure to use the ones that display a New York City taxi licence on their sides. Inside, you should also see the driver's taxi licence with her or his photo prominently displayed. Not only will you be safer in these cabs, you'll also pay strictly regulated rates.
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Two savings tips:
- Because many Manhattan streets are one way, if going north, for example, start your trip on a street going north, east, or west. If you start on a southbound street your total fare will end up higher, as your taxi must go around.
- Instead of giving an actual destination, such as "Gotham Comedy Club" or "34 West 22nd," tell the driver that you're going to "5th and 22nd," if you know the cross street. Again, this may save the driver from having to go around the block and possibly having to queue in a line of taxis waiting to drop off others.
MTA buses and subways
Pick up free maps for both buses and subways to use while sightseeing at major Manhattan subway stops, such as Grand Central Station or Penn Station, or at the Visitors Centre at 810 Seventh Avenue near Times Square.
You also may use the maps posted on the Internet to plan trips in advance.
The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority subway route maps may look rather strange, as the current public system brings together a hodgepodge of routes from various once private and independent systems.
The east side of Midtown Manhattan and the Upper East Side definitely need more routes, whereas the west side is well served. Note that older maps may not reflect route changes in Lower Manhattan since the destruction of the World Trade Center.
Dr. Voyageur highly recommends buying the combo bus and subway passes, "MetroCards," available at major stations such as Penn Station and Columbus Circle.
These have per ride or per time period options, which save both money and having to carry coins for buses. Get the per day type if you plan to explore alot.
A major savings of the per ride and per time passes comes from free subway to bus or bus to subway transfers, which you don't get when you buy one fare at a time.
If you're not using a Metrocard for a bus, be sure to ask for a transfer.
See the New York City section of the Metropolitan Transit Authority site for more information about local buses and subways. You'll get used to them really quickly and soon depend on them to get around.
Because weekday Manhattan streets are so crowded with traffic, subways are the way to go for speed.
However, if you want to see where you are travelling, or you are going east-west across Manhattan, where there are few subway routes, using buses, taxis, and walking are usually your best choices.
Do not board empty or nearly empty subway cars. If your car empties while enroute, change cars at a station.
Do not use station platforms or stairs that are nearly empty. If neccessary, take a taxi to or from another station.
Except for the busy A and E lines to near JFK airport, as well as busy trains to downtown Brooklyn and the area of Brooklyn nearest Wall Street, do not use the subway to the outer boroughs at night. Also, do not use the subway above 125th Street on Manhattan at night.
Do not use these other Manhattan stations at night: Lower East Side, Delancey Street/Essex Street, Houston Street, and East Broadway, unless with a group of friends.
Do not carry a wallet or other valuables in your back pocket. Avoid carrying an expensive-looking purse.
Do not wear frashy valuables, such as a fancy watch.
Do not use the subway if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Do not stare at other people.
Forget driving in New York City. It's not a viable option, especially on Manhattan.
On Manhattan, even the rich use taxis and public transportation to avoid astronomical—yes, astronomical—parking fees and horrific traffic.
What other city has seen a former U.S. president, the late Richard Nixon, commuting daily to and from work by subway? And, he came from car obsessed California.
If arriving in the New York City area by car, park at some well-lighted suburban commuter rail station and then take a train to your accommodation in New York.
Or, use the long-stay Newark Airport parking, and take a coach to the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan or a airporter van shuttle service to your hotel.
For your safety and the protection of your vehicle, avoid trying to find some cheap parking lot or free street parking in some marginal neighbourhood. Even if the area seems okay during the day, what's it like at night?
There's virtually no legal street parking in commercial areas of Manhattan, and violators are towed.
Exploring Lower Manhattan
Visiting a wide area of the southern portion of Manhattan in a short time is hard to do on your own. Sights are isolated from each other and it's too easy to wander into unsafe neighbourhoods.
You'll find some help sightseeing in this area in the New York City walks section.
However, perhaps the most efficient way to explore Lower Manhattan for the first time is with a Gray Line Tours or similar narrated sightseeing tour (available at many hotels and hostels).
These trips range from five to over eight hours and highlight many places hard to see on your own. Spend extra to have a guided tour, not just a coach that drops you at major sights and picks you up an hour or so later.
These tours are also useful to get around Harlem, where some travellers may not feel safe by themselves.
Included in the tours are Wall Street, the site of what remains of the World Trade Center, Battery Park overlooking the Statue of Liberty, Chinatown, Little Italy, Greenwich Village, chic SOHO, more newly chic TriBeCa, South Street Seaport, the Bowery (skid road), etc.
After your tour, you'll want to come back and explore some of these neighbourhoods more thoroughly, including Greenwich Village at night, Chinatown, adjacent Little Italy, and perhaps another stop at Battery Park.
These can be accessed by subway.
LaGaurdia and Newark airports
There are two good ways to reach Manhattan from either LaGuardia or Newark international airports.
One, you can take an inexpensive airporter coach to either the Port Authority bus terminal or New York Penn Station for around $12. From these, you can either take a taxi or a subway to your hotel. Penn Station has the easiest subway connections.
Two, you can take an airporter van directly to your hotel. This will cost around $20, and is the best choice for first time visitors.
If you're in a group of three or more, however, ask for a taxi price quotation. This may cost less than a van.
JFK Airport also offers airporter coaches and vans to Manhattan.
However, you can avoid traffic and pay less by using AirTrain. This is the way to go.
From any JFK terminal, hop on a frequent AirTrain train to reach Jamaica station. (Some trains go to the Howard Beach station and some to the Jamaica station. Get on the right one).
At the Jamaica station, transfer to the MTA "E Line" express subway.
For just $7.00 for both the AirTrain and subway, you reach stops along the E Line between Midtown Manhattan and Lower Manhattan. See the MTA map. These are convenient to most hotels and hostels. You pay the $7 at Jamaica station.
You can transfer from the E Line to any subway stop in New York City for the same price.
MTA has staff posted at Jamaica station to help you make the connection and to understand the self ticketing machines. Ask about buying an MTA Metro Pass at this time.
If you haven't read it yet, go to Learning NYC's street system.
Otherwise, carry on to New York City accommodation.
Go to other pages in this section:
New York City orientation: starting on the water and introduction
New York City orientation: Manhattan neighbourhoods
New York City orientation: understanding Manhattan's street system
New York City orientation: seeing the Statue of Liberty
New York City orientation: finding suitable accommodation
New York City day trips
New York City walks
Zagat NYC restaurant guide