Where the rich use public transport…

A devel­oped coun­try is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use pub­lic trans­port
– para­phrased from Enrique Penalosa, for­mer May­or of Bogotá, Colom­bia

The quote* above has been gain­ing trac­tion recent­ly, and with good rea­son. Devel­oped coun­tries are focus­ing more on sus­tain­abil­i­ty, where­as the use of pub­lic trans­porta­tion brings envi­ron­men­tal and eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits by enhanc­ing the ener­gy effi­cien­cy. As an inter­na­tion­al finan­cial cen­ter, New York City is dis­tin­guished by its low own­er­ship of per­son­al auto­mo­biles and the high­est rate of pub­lic trans­porta­tion use in the Unit­ed States. It is the only city in which over half of all house­holds do not own a car, and in Man­hat­tan this fig­ure even reach­es 75%. In his book Green Metrop­o­lis, David Owen claims, “The aver­age Man­hat­tan­ite con­sumes gaso­line at a rate that the coun­try as a whole hasn’t matched since the mid-1920s.” Arguably, New York City is the green­est com­mu­ni­ty in the States. A large part of this advan­tage comes from its com­plex pub­lic trans­porta­tion net­work, includ­ing the largest sub­way sys­tem in the world, as mea­sured by sta­tions and track.

For those new to New York, it is fair­ly easy to nav­i­gate around the city with its grid struc­ture.

Here’s a short guide to pub­lic tran­sit in New York. If you want to expe­ri­ence most, walk; if you want to see most street scenery, take the bus; if you want to feel local, ride the sub­way.

1. Sub­way

It is the eas­i­est and fastest way to get around the city. It is inex­pen­sive, envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly, and a great way to see sites through­out the five bor­oughs. It is one of the only two pub­lic mass tran­sits in the world that oper­ates 24 hours a day, sev­en days a week. There are 24 lines in total and sub­way sta­tions on the same line are about 8–10 blocks apart.

The New York Sub­way has around 150 years of his­to­ry, so there are always con­struc­tion projects and repair work; trains might change route or tem­porar­i­ly stop run­ning espe­cial­ly on week­ends and late nights. A free sub­way map can be obtained from booth atten­dants in the sta­tion or down­load it from the MTA web­site. You can use the trip plan­ner there to cus­tomize your routes. Smart phone Apps like New York Sub­way Map and Road­i­fy are also very help­ful when plan­ning your trip.

2. Bus

Tak­ing a bus is a very nice scenic way to expe­ri­ence the city if you have time. It helps to reach des­ti­na­tions that are not con­ve­nient to sub­way sta­tions. Bus stops are gen­er­al­ly spaced every oth­er block on avenue routes and every block on cross-street routes. Late at night, from 11pm to 5am, bus dri­vers will stop wherever you ask them to—as long as they feel it’s safe. All city bus­es accept Metro­Cards and exact coin change. A sin­gle ride costs $2.50 on a local bus and $5.50 on an express bus, and will take you any dis­tance until the end of the route.

It is not dif­fi­cult to under­stand bus route names: the let­ters at the front denote the bor­ough — M for Man­hat­tan, B for Brook­lyn, Q for Queens, Bx for Bronx and S for Staten Island. For bus­es that go through dif­fer­ent bor­oughs, for exam­ple, from Brook­lyn to Man­hat­tan, the route is expressed BxM. If it starts with an X, it means it is an express bus. The num­ber at the back nor­mal­ly rep­re­sents the street or avenue along the route.

For exam­ple, M1, M5, M7 are those that run along 1st Avenue, 5th Avenue and 7th Avenue; M28, M75 are those that run along 28th street and 75th street — crosstown bus­es.

A grow­ing num­ber of bus­es are envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly hybrids.

3. Tram

To get an aeri­al view of the city, you can take the Roo­sevelt Island Tram with a swipe of a metro card, free trans­fer avail­able to bus­es and sub­way. The Tramway is oper­at­ed by the Roo­sevelt Island Oper­at­ing Corp (RIOC), pro­vid­ing a shut­tle from 59th Street and 2nd Avenue in Man­hat­tan to Roo­sevelt Island, locat­ed in the East River between Man­hat­tan and Queens. Trav­el time from Roo­sevelt Island to Man­hat­tan is just under five min­utes and each cable car has a capac­i­ty of 125 pas­sen­gers. The tram start­ed in the ear­ly 1900s, tak­ing pas­sen­gers halfway across the Queens­boro Bridge to the island. Today, it pro­vides direct ser­vice for more than 2 mil­lion rid­ers sev­en days a week.

4. Fer­ry

New York City is known for its water­front. There is an exten­sive sys­tem that stretch­es uptown, down­town and across the rivers to Staten Island, Brook­lyn, Queens, the Bronx and New Jer­sey. Most fer­ries are very bike friend­ly.

Staten Island Fer­ry is the busiest fer­ry in Unit­ed States, which annu­al­ly car­ries over 19 mil­lion pas­sen­gers on the 5.2 mile (8.4 km) run between St. George Fer­ry Ter­mi­nal and South Fer­ry. Ser­vice is pro­vid­ed 24/7, and takes approx­i­mate­ly 25 min­utes each way. The ride gives great views of the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty, New York Har­bor and Low­er Man­hat­tan. And, who doesn’t love free things?

NY Water­way oper­ates com­muter fer­ries between points in Man­hat­tan and New Jer­sey, boat trans­porta­tion to Yan­kee Sta­di­um, and har­bor and sight­see­ing cruis­es. The East River Fer­ry also pro­vides a refresh­ing addi­tion to pub­lic trans­porta­tion in the City (and breath­tak­ing sky­line views), with reg­u­lar ser­vice to sev­en loca­tions across three bor­oughs.

New York Water Taxi is anoth­er pop­u­lar aquat­ic shut­tle. Hop-on and hop-off stops include Chelsea Piers, Ful­ton Fer­ry Land­ing and the South Street Sea­port. The com­pa­ny also runs free one-way ser­vice from Low­er Man­hat­tan to Citi Field and Yan­kee Sta­di­um on game days.

Addi­tion­al­ly, there is year-round fer­ry ser­vice to Ellis Island and Lib­er­ty Island and sea­son­al ser­vice to Governor’s Island; Cir­cle Line Down­town, and Cir­cle Line Sight­see­ing oper­ate tourist routes into the Upper New York Bay or around Man­hat­tan.


Bik­ing gives an alter­nate view to the city. Cycling hotspots include Cen­tral, River­side and Prospect parks, and bike paths along the Hud­son and East rivers and many bridges. Governor’s Island also pro­vides free bike rentals on Fri­days. More infor­ma­tion can be found here, and anoth­er lifestyle post in our site: Bike & Cook­ies.

Check also: Chang­ing a city’s skin, chang­ing a city’s mind 

Pho­tos: Jen­ny Kun