There are many ways to get around New York City, and each of them has its own perks. As a college student, though, you’re going to have to figure out the cheapest and quickest way to get to your internship, dinner date, or whatever it is you kids do nowadays.
Spectrum’s here to lay down the pros and cons of every type of NYC transportation. Read this now, and get acquainted with it—when you’re rushing out the door, you’re not going to want to research all of the prices last minute.
Probably one of the most iconic ways to get around the city, riding the subway is the cheapest and (usually) one of the fastest options. Figuring out which subway to take––uptown, downtown, the 1, Q, 7, etc.––can be confusing if you’re not a native, but you’ll get the hang of it after a couple of rides.
However, if you have to transfer between trains, you go during rush hour, or there’s random train traffic, the trip can easily take twice as long and be super cramped. The train stations can also get really hot during the summer months, are hella dirty, and have tons of rats. Don’t worry though, you’ll barely notice (or care) after a while.
- Cheap. One of the cheaper options, as it’s only $2.75 per ride if you have a Metrocard, or $3.00 for a single ride card, but really, what kind of student is going to buy that? Keep in mind though that even though the MTA is awesome, it’s hella broke, so no guarantees that a ride will continue to be $2.75.One of the cheaper options, as it’s only $2.75 per ride if you have a Metrocard, or $3.00 for a single ride card, but really, what kind of student is going to buy that? Keep in mind though that even though the MTA is awesome, it’s hella broke, so no guarantees that a ride will continue to be $2.75.
- Quick. There are also some express trains that skip several stops, making the trip even faster.There are also some express trains that skip several stops, making the trip even faster.
- AC. There’s air conditioning in every train, making the summer trips more bearable. (Whether the AC is working is another question.)
- Wi-Fi. There’s free Wi-Fi at almost every station. It’s kinda sucky, but it’s better than nothing.
- Food and magazines. Most subway stops have magazine stands to get some snacks for your trip. Who doesn’t love that?
- Getting to the airport. You have to transfer a couple times, but you can get to JFK by the subway. Just take the 1 train (this line has a stop directly at Columbia, 116th St.), transfer to the 2 or 3 if you wanna speed things up, and transfer to the E train at Times Square. Get off at the JFK stop, take the AirTrain, and you’ve made it!
- The bus and train station. Likewise, you can get to Port Authority Bus Terminal and Penn Station just by riding the 1 all the way to 42nd and 34th Street, respectively.
- The crowd. Rush hour means getting up close and personal with some of New York’s finest.
- Lack of predictability. While you can check metro apps for live train updates (New York Subway and Transit are some good ones), there’s always a chance of random train traffic and delays which can make your 30 minute ride hella long. You also may encounter construction work on your subway line, meaning you may have to find an alternate route to get where you need to go.
- The smell(s). The subway isn’t the cleanest place, so you will encounter some ~questionable~ smells along the way.
At only $2.75 per ride, taking the bus is just as cheap as riding the subway (you can switch from the subway to a bus with a free transfer!). You can either use your MetroCard to pay for your ride, or if you must, get a ticket from the driver—just be sure you have exact change ready to go before you board the bus or get a ticket from kiosks found along routes of certain lines). Also, don’t get sneaky—there’s random ticket checks to make sure you actually paid for the bus ride.
Since there’s a bunch of different bus lines, you can usually find just one that’ll get you close to your destination. It’s slower than driving, so resort to the subway if you’re in a hurry. There’s no AC though, but looking out the window beats looking at the dark, damp walls of century-old tunnels you’ll see from the subway.
Pro tip: The app Transit also works for NYC buses, so if you’re afraid of getting lost, make sure you download it before you start your adventure.
- Cheap. Like I said, it’s only $2.75—or free, if you’re taking advantage of that transfer from the subway.
- More direct. You’ll usually be able to find a stop that’ll put you right next to your destination. Less walking is always a plus!
- The view. You’ll be able to take in the kinda-ugly-yet-really-charming view that is New York.
- Getting to the airport. The M60 takes you directly to LaGuardia.
- The crowd. The bus gets crowded, but the fact that it’s a bus makes things so much tighter and cramped. There’s less space to move and fewer places to sit.
- Unpredictability. I mean, you’re driving above ground. There’s always gonna be random spots of traffic and accidents along the way.
- Slow. Not only do you have to stop every other minute to let someone off, but some of the slowest buses don’t even go over 15 mph. Try not to ride those.
Yellow and green taxis
New York only has yellow and green cars. That’s basically (not really) a genuine fact. There are cabs everywhere (you’ll see a ton of them up by Columbia), and you’re bound to take one eventually. They’re quick, kinda scary to ride in (the drivers can be aggressive, but they have to be, living in New York and all), and expensive af.
What’s the difference between the yellow and green taxis? If you’re trying to hail a taxi near Columbia, it doesn’t matter—it costs the same to ride. If you like random trivia, then you should know that you’re only able to hail a green taxi if you’re above W 110th St, above E 96th St, or in the outer boroughs of NYC (but not the airports). Otherwise, the green cabs are a for-hire service (you must pre-arrange your pickup, like you do with Uber).
Taxis have flat fares to JFK Airport ($52.00 plus tolls and a tip), but every other ride has a specific cost. You’ll be charged $2.50 just to enter plus additional charges:
- 50 cents for every fifth of a mile
- 50 cents for every minute the taxi goes slower than 12 mph
- 50 cents for travel from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
- $1 for travel from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays.
Pro tip: Hailing a cab is an art only mastered through practice, but here are a few things you should know. Each taxi will have sign on their roof with four numbers (corresponding to their license plate). If that sign is lit, that means the cab is vacant and can pick you up. If it’s off, it’s occupied. If the off-service light is on (also located on the sign on the roof), then don’t try to hail the cab.
- Fast. Driving is fast af.
- AC. When things get hot outside, you’ll want to be surrounded by AC.
- Protected. You won’t have to worry about getting pickpocketed when you’re alone in the back.
- MONEY. Riding a cab is so expensive.
- Reckless. The drivers are wild, but they have to be since every other driver in NYC is aggressive.
- Hailing. Depending on the area and time of day, you might not even see a cab nearby. Plus, if you’re still confused on the light system, you might look like a dingus when trying to get one to pick you up.
- Scamming. Drivers might take longer routes to get more money.
Uber, Lyft, and Via
Similar to cabs, these companies find a car for you through their mobile apps. They’re usually a lot cheaper than taxis and give you the option of carpooling with a stranger, which helps saves the planet and is easier on your wallet. They don’t have the same pricing system as cabs, and you don’t have to hail them—just download the app, and you’re good to go.
Pro tip: You can get free rides from your friends if you use their code. (Speaking of, get free rides if you use my codes ;). Uber: huberg, Lyft: huber297134, Via: huber7v7).
Via is usually the cheapest (it’s around $5 per ride), but you’re forced to carpool with people. If that makes you uncomfortable, then try Uber or Lyft.
- Fast. Driving is fast af.
- AC. When things get hot outside, you’ll want to be surrounded by AC.
- Protected. You won’t have to worry about getting pickpocketed when you’re alone in the back, or about taxi drivers trying to get more money out of you.
- Cheaper than cabs. It’s still pretty expensive depending on which company you use, but definitely cheaper than taking a yellow cab.
- Perks. Free rides and discounts are always useful.
- Always around. You’ll never have to worry about searching for one since you can order one to come directly to you on the app.
- MONEY. There are still cheaper options out there.
- Talkative drivers. Some drivers (or other passengers!) try talking to you. Yikes. The horror! (I guess this can be a pro if you’re talkative, but I hate it.)
- Surge pricing. Prices tend to go up during holidays and late at night, when people are a lil ~turnt~. If there’s inclement weather, you might also see a surge.
So the question remains. Subway, the bus, taxis, or Uber-like services? The subway is everyone’s first choice because it’s usually the cheapest and most convenient option, but the answer really depends on you, your situation, and your budget.
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- Need some helping setting up your college budget? Here are options for the frugal, semi-frugal, and high rollers.
Huber Gonzalez is Spectrum’s deputy editor and Columbia College junior. He likes taking the subway but would really appreciate the free rides ;). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.