Guide to New York: Part II – Getting Around

Cabs are fine. I like cabs. But cabs are the #1 money sink in New York and, if you’re not used to the steep costs of the city, you will already be begging for mercy. Cutting out cabs should be your first stop when trying to cut costs. Save your duckets for tickets and drinks and wildly expensive clothing. Also, do not be fooled into thinking that a cab will be faster than the subway. This is a common non-native mistake.

Cabs 101:

    1. Cabs have lights on the top. Take a look. See? If the lights are off, the cab’s occupied. Don’t run after it swearing. It won’t stop, and you will look silly. If the center light is on, it’s up for grabs. (If all the lights on top are on – side lights + center light, the cab’s off-duty. Also no running and swearing.) Max capacity is four passengers in a regular cab, no arguing.
    2. Just getting in a cab will cost you $2.50, even if you change your mind and get out a block later. After 8PM, tack on a night surcharge of an additional $1.
    3. Bearing that in mind, always catch a cab going in the direction you’re headed. For instance, if you’re on 17th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues and you’re going downtown to meet your pals in SoHo, walk over to 7th and grab a cab there. (7th is one-way headed downtown – see Part III – Orientation). Otherwise, you’ll pay $5 to basically drive around the block.
    4. Cabs are definitely faster at night – say, after 8:00PM – when subways run less frequently and you might spend an extra 5-10 minutes on the subway platform.
    5. Late at night (after 11:00PM), I’d jump in a cab. This isn’t because the subways aren’t safe (they are), but mainly because I’ve usually had a drink (or many) and the long waits underground combined with the super-bright lights on the cars are a downer.
    6. Flip side is that during rush hours, cabs are to be avoided entirely. You will be paying to sit in the backseat of someone’s car while they take your money. It’s like being mugged very, very slowly.
    7. Cabs from the airports are brutally expensive. From Newark, expect $65 minimum. From JFK, there’s a fixed rate of $45 into Manhattan + toll + tips, so you’ll come in around $60. La Guardia’s the cheapest. You might get off with $40 total. That said, I still cab in from the airports because I don’t like flying, so I’m usually worn out and am willing to fork over the cash.If you have time and patience and not much luggage, there are definitely public transportation options to all the airports. The subway runs to JFK. See here for directions. There are efficient and cheap shuttle buses to/from Newark or you can hop New Jersey Transit (train), both of which will drop you in/near the subway system once you’re on Manhattan. (Your best bet to getting on the right bus with the right ticket in your hand is to go to the info booth in your terminal – they’ll hook you up and point you in the right direction.) The M60 bus to La Guardia is the preferred non-car route. See here for options.
    8. When I’m going to the airport, I don’t try to catch a cab, since that usually requires that I schlep my luggage to a corner. Call a car service: it’s the same price as long as you don’t opt for a luxury car. Call 212-777-7777 and tell the dispatcher where you’re staying and they’ll collect you at the right time to make your flight.
    9. Speaking of airports, if you can help it, don’t book your flights to New York to depart or arrive between 8-9:30 AM or between 4-7PM. That’s rush hour, kids, and your commute to/from the airport will suck.



The subway rules in New York. It goes pretty much everywhere except the far east side and they’re digging up 2nd Avenue to solve that one right now. Get a subway map, buy a MetroCard from any station, and you’re good to go. Fares are $2 each time you go into the subway + free transfer to/from a bus within 2 hours. You can swipe four consecutive people – your kids, strangers, bandmates – through on the same Metrocard. If you load your MetroCard with $20 or more, you’ll get a free ride for every $20 you spend. (But don’t go too wild: MetroCards have expiration dates, so if you thought you’d buy $800 of rides for your weekend and be good to go for the rest of your life, you would be wrong. $760 wrong. Which is a lot of wrong.)

Cab vs. Subway Showdown: when in doubt, just get on the subway.


I don’t take buses much, but they’re a great idea when trying to get across town when Central Park’s in your way – say, from the Met over to the west side for dinner. Buses are also great if you have a lot of time (they stop every couple blocks) and want to see the city as you’re getting to where you’re going.

Note to self/you: getting across town (east/west) is tough both on subways and in cabs but I think cabs are worse. This is because most cross-town streets are one-way and one-lane so you sit in traffic a lot. The cross-town artery streets that aren’t one-way and have four lanes (14th, 23rd, 28th, 34th, 42nd, 57th – don’t try to find a pattern ’cause there isn’t one) are wildly busy.

Rather than cab it to get crosstown, I’d take a subway to one of the few crosstown subway lines: the L runs across 14th, the S across 42nd St., or the N/R runs up/down Broadway diagonally. The “N/R” stands for “Never/Rarely”, so be warned on that one. It’s an annoying line. I know. I used to live on one of its local stops. Don’t ask. It hurts to talk about it.


The standard wisdom is that it should take about 1 minute to walk one block, which is about 1/5 mile. This presumes you are walking and not looking around. It also presumes that you are not wearing high heels, so don’t count on making that kind of time on your way out to dinner or the theater. An avenue is about a ¼ mile so it’s gonna take 2-3 minutes to walk.

I walk all the time in Manhattan. It’s the best way to see the city and there are very few dead spots in central Manhattan where a brisk walk won’t be interesting. (Once you’re on the far east or west side of the city, things get farther apart and duller.) If you have evening plans, think ahead though: walking around for eight hours will take it out of you, so if you’re tourist-ing it up, pace yourself.

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Categories: NYC (there)


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