Subways and buses will get you everywhere you need to go in the city, and there’s no reason to fear the system. The closest stop is at 116th Street just outside the main gates on Broadway, where you can catch the 1 train downtown to the Upper West Side, Columbus Circle, Times Square, Penn Station, and beyond or uptown into Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Bronx. A basic MetroCard is $2.25 per swipe through the turnstile or onto a bus. But watch out—continuing budget problems mean prices will probably increase in 2011. Here’s what else you need to know.
BUDGET WOES ARE HITTING RIDERS.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, along with many city agencies, is in budget crisis mode. With the MTA’s budget swelling over $400 million, New York City commuters keep getting hit with rising costs and reduced services. Last December, the MTA voted to reduce the number of overnight trains on the 1 line, but it held off on raising fares.
For days you plan to ride the subway more than four times, get your one-day unlimited Fun Passes—while you can. They will likely be eliminated as soon as next January, along with the 14-day unlimited cards. The bonus discount (you pay less than $2.25 a ride when you buy a more expensive MetroCard) will probably decrease as well, from 15 percent to 7 percent. The MTA even floated a controversial plan to take away free rides from public school students, prompting protests across the city. Despite expected fare hikes, the plan to take away student MetroCards is now off the table.
BUSES ARE NOT IMMUNE.
Buses are important, too—they can be the easiest way to get to Upper East Side sites such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and sometimes they’re the best option in the outer boroughs. Unfortunately, buses have faced some of the worst cuts, and the MTA has limited service on the lines that run through Columbia’s backyard.
The buses that run through Morningside Heights are the M4, M60, and M104 (which meets with the cross-town M96). A few blocks east, the M10 runs through Harlem.
The M60 route, which gets you to LaGuardia Airport, has been left untouched. The M104 and M10 had the southern ends of their routes cut off, with the M104 now ending at Times Square and the M10 at Columbus Circle, which is at the southwest corner of Central Park.
DON'T BE SCARED (EXCEPT WHEN YOU SHOULD BE).
Riding the subway at 6 a.m. is nothing to be afraid of, especially on a weekday. New York commuters will join you for naps between stops. Late-night rides can get sketchier, so remember that a subway car with at least a few people in it—or the conductor’s car, which is located mid-train—is safer than an empty one. If it’s Halloween or any regular Saturday night, though, you’ve got nothing to worry about—mobs of the city’s best will join you.
AVOID LOOKING LIKE A TOURIST.
Subway lines in New York go by numbers and letters, not colors. Calling the 1 line the “red line” is just as bad as pulling a “Where is HEW-ston Street?” (It’s HOW-ston.) For the directionally impaired and iPhone-equipped, HopStop has an app that supplies subway and bus directions—they even account for construction delays and weird train changes. The MTA’s app, NYCMate, is pretty good, too.
Don’t have an iPhone? That’s OK! You can get directions from hopstop.com before you leave or download Google Maps onto your phone—or you could, you know, buy an actual map.
THE MTA IS NOT COMPLETELY BROKE.
There’s actually some shiny new technology and construction in our neighborhood. Despite all its cost-cutting attempts, the MTA managed to rack up some à-la-London train timekeepers—digital LED displays that tell anxious commuters how many minutes they have until the next train arrives, including at our humble 116th Street stop.
Three stops south of us at 96th, where you can transfer from the 1 to the 2 and 3 express trains, a sparkling new station is on the rise on Broadway. The final touches should be completed by September, and believe us, it’s an improvement. Be sure to check out the flower sculptures hanging from the ceiling, too.