New arrivals to the city might be tempted to think that getting one’s own car is the way to have the most freedom, but that’s not generally how New Yorkers roll. While there might be a few New Yorkers with unconventional commuting methods (kayaking across the Hudson to work anyone?) most have figured out that one of the best ways to get around NYC is the city’s subway system. Yet there are times when even this convenient choice isn’t the best. So how do New Yorkers do it?
Though it can be a somewhat frigid option in the winter, few things can beat bicycles for travelling quickly over short distances. Though NYC hasn’t always been completely bike friendly, in recent years there has been a lot done to develop more bike lanes and install more bike racks throughout the five boroughs. With the recent addition of the Citi Bike bike-share program, it’s even easier to pedal your way to where you’re going whether you own a bike or not.
Right now if you live in the outer boroughs or in upper Manhattan you’ll probably want to invest in your own bicycle as the shared bikes are not available throughout the entire city. If you decide to buy a bike for regular use you will probably also want to invest in a helmet and store your bike indoors if possible. See our full advice about biking in NYC.
ZIPCAR / CAR SHARING
So, what about those times that you need to buy a new set of shelves or a new computer chair? Unless you’re very inventive and daring, bicycles may fail you here. Renting a car is usually a bit of hassle and if you’re just running some errands you don’t usually need a car for an entire day (unless your trip to IKEA really gets out of hand). Enter ZipCar. Offering rentals by the hour or by the day, this convenient form of car renting has been used by New Yorkers for years for anything from moving apartment to weekend ski trips. ZipCar offers monthly memberships so you can have “wheels when you want them.” Save yourself the hassle of needing to pay for a monthly parking spot when you only use a car a few times a month.
Enterprise also operates a similar car sharing service. You can subscribe and pay-as-you-go or you can pre-pay for a certain number of hours each month.
UBER AND LYFT
Although Boro Taxis were introduced in 2013 to service the outer boroughs where NYC’s iconic yellow cabs don’t reach, it’s still not always easy to find one when you need it. For those times when you are in the more secluded areas of the boroughs or when you need to schedule a ride but don’t want a black car service, companies such as Uber or Lyft come to New Yorkers’ rescue. Despite being controversial in NYC due to various reasons dealing with tax classification, insurance, and taxi licensing, these two ride-sharing services remain a popular New York alternative to traditional taxi and limousine services. For both services you can book a ride via smartphone app and track your ride’s location as it makes its way to you. See this breakdown of the differences between each service to decide which is better for you.
SUBWAYS AND BUSES
If you’re already in NYC, hopefully you’ve realized that one of the fastest and most convenient ways to travel quickly in NYC is the subway system. Though slightly intimidating at first, once you get the hang of it you’ll find yourself zooming around the city with ease. However, even seasoned New Yorkers sometimes forget that transferring from the subway to a bus might be faster than planning the entire route via subway. So, keep in mind: Generally, the subways operate north/south and the local buses operate crosstown. Transfers between the two are free and MetroCards work on both subways and buses. So don’t be that tourist who heads fifteen minutes uptown on the 5 train just to transfer to the 3 train headed downtown; be the New Yorker who takes a bus west to the 3 train and gets to your destination fifteen minutes early.
If you’re living in New York, one of the best investments you make is probably going to be the 30-day unlimited ride MetroCard for $112, or, if you will be taking fewer than 45 rides each month but still ride frequently, the 7-day unlimited card is also good value. For more subway tips, see our internationals’ guide to the NYC subway system.
WHEN TO USE (AND NOT USE) TAXIS
Taxis can be the way to go sometimes, for instance if it’s raining and you’re headed to an area that doesn’t have nearby subway or bus service or if you’re with a group and can split the fare. But it’s best to know which times of day you should avoid these yellow (or green) modes of transport. Remember, while it may feel like a more dignified way to travel than smushed in a subway car, taxis encounter streetlights or stop signs at every corner and must wend their way through one-way streets, pedestrians crossing when they shouldn’t, and cyclists and other cars cutting them off. Thus, never take a taxi during rush hour—unless you’re looking for a place to sit and rest a (long) while. Also, New Yorkers know never to try to find a taxi just before rush hour. Many taxi drivers switch shifts between 4 and 5pm, so even if you see a taxi with no passengers, chances are they are heading to the garage and won’t stop for you.
- The Google Maps app is a New Yorker’s friend.
- Download and keep a subway map on your smartphone.
- Read the subway change of service signs so you don’t end up wondering why the platform is empty.
- Pay attention to bike lanes and use them, but remember you are meant to go with the traffic—don’t head south on a one-way avenue north.