New York subways are many things, murderous hellholes is not one of them. They are dirty. They are noisy. They are loud. They are mostly stairs with few elevators making the journey down into them (with a pram) an adventure and a half.
In 2007 Josh and I were a travelling couple exploring New York. We hardly ever used the subways as we had not heard good stories and truly I suspected everyone down there of being a rapist or murderer. The one time we did venture down there I remember walking past a teen spray painting the wall and everyone walking right by him. I hollered at him, he glanced in my direction and without one drop of wrongness continued his delinquency.
Fast forward to 2012 and now we are exploring New York with 2 kids. The streets are harder to manage with a stroller and the horde of people trying to cram onto those tiny sidewalks, but then you come to the subway.
We knew this was our cheapest and fastest option for most places in New York. I am not sure what changed in me, but we became subway users probably because of the team of New Yorkers we had touring with us and instilling in us their steadfast, underground braveness.
The biggest downfall of the subway system is the lack of lifts. They say most of them have one, but man they are hard to find. Tucked away in some corner of the other. From below you can usually find one (no promise of working and definitely no promise of being urine-free), but from above the signs are minimal. The carrying of our double stroller down many stairs still brings back nightmares.
Once you are through the gates and waiting on the tracks the fear is gone. They are lit well, and the trains come frequently and are fairly clean.
Tourists can purchase a temporary card for topping up credit that is used on turnstiles, however the disabled entry was often open on many subway stations which negated the need to swipe for entry. Just be aware that the card doesn’t work for the Long Island Railway (LIR) – they require a separate card/ticket.
Fortunately we had either local New Yorkers helping us get around or we had planned the stops via Google Maps beforehand so we knew where to go. But for an outsider it can be a little daunting to understand the nuances of the train schedule patterns and variations (like on weekends).
If you’re visiting New York, I’d still recommend using the subway if you want to save a few dollars. Sometimes we just bit the bullet and used a taxi when we were running late. But overall, it was a more pleasant experience than we had first expected… at least we were still alive!