Getting there & around
Hailing and riding in a cab are rites of passage in New York – especially when you get a driver who’s a neurotic speed demon, which is often. Still, most taxis in NYC are clean and, compared to those in many international cities, pretty cheap.
The Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC; 311), the taxis’ governing body, has set fares for rides (which can be paid with credit or debit card). It’s $2.50 for the initial charge (first one-fifth of a mile), 40¢ each additional one-fifth mile as well as per 120 seconds of being stopped in traffic, $1 peak surcharge (weekdays 4pm to 8pm), and a 50¢ night surcharge (8pm to 6am). Tips are expected to be 10% to 15%, but give less if you feel in any way mistreated – and be sure to ask for a receipt and use it to note the driver’s license number. The TLC have a set fare of $45.00 for a ride between JFK airport and Manhattan, plus tolls. This does not apply from JFK to destinations off Manhattan Island. A $15.00 surcharge applies to Newark airport on top of the regular metered fare. No set fare or surcharge applies from LaGuardia, just go by the normal metered rate.
The TLC keeps a Passenger’s Bill of Rights, which gives you the right to tell the driver which route you’d like to take, or ask your driver to stop smoking or turn off an annoying radio station. Also, the driver does not have the right to refuse you a ride based on where you are going.
To hail a cab, it must have a lit light on its roof. It’s particularly difficult to score a taxi in the rain, at rush hour and around 4pm, when many drivers end their shifts.
Privately run car services make up a common taxicab alternative in the outer boroughs. Fares differ depending on the neighborhood and length of ride, and must be determined beforehand, as they have no meters. Though these ‘black cars’ are quite common in Brooklyn and Queens, you should never get into one if a driver simply stops to offer you a ride – no matter what borough you’re in. A couple of car services in Brooklyn include Northside (718-387-2222; 207 Bedford Ave) in Williamsburg, and Arecibo (718-783-6465; 170 Fifth Ave at Lincoln Pl) in Park Slope.
Many New York buses aren’t too bad, and they’ve certainly improved in the past decade or so. They run 24 hours a day and the routes are easily navigable, going crosstown at all the major street byways – 14th, 23rd, 34th, 42nd and 72nd Sts, and all the others that are two-way roads – and uptown and downtown, depending on which avenue they serve. Stops, many with shelters, are every few blocks and all have maps and marked schedules, which are rough guides as to how often you can expect a bus to pass. That said, buses do get overcrowded at rush hour, and slow to a crawl in heavy traffic. So when you’re in a hurry, stay underground.
The cost of a bus ride is the same as the subway, $2.25, though express bus routes cost $5.50 (running during rush hours; best for long journeys from the boroughs). You can pay with a Metrocard or exact change but not dollar bills. Transfers from one line to another bus within two hours are free, as are transfers to or from the subway.
For long-distance bus trips, you’ll leave and depart from the world’s busiest bus station, the Port Authority Bus Terminal (212-564-8484; www.panynj.gov; 41st St at Eighth Ave). Bus companies leaving from here include the following:
Greyhound (800-231-2222; www.greyhound.com) Connects New York with major cities across the country.
Crazy and cheap, Chinatown buses depart from pushy ‘sidewalk terminals’ at various points around Chinatown to Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and other areas on the East Coast. There are no seat reservations; often on weekends you may have to wait for the next bus, an hour later. Of the many choices around, Fung Wah (212-925-8889; www.fungwahbus.com; 139 Canal St at Bowery) offers hourly departures to Boston ($15) from 7am to 10pm or 11pm, and 2000 New Century (215-627-2666; www.2000coach.com; 88 E Broadway) goes almost half-hourly from 7am to 11pm to Philadelphia ($12) and a bit less often to DC ($20).
When booking tickets, note that high season in New York City runs from mid-June to mid-September (summer), and one week before and after Christmas. February and March, and from October to Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November) serve as shoulder seasons, when prices drop slightly.
Among the best websites are the following:
Cheap Tickets (www.cheaptickets.com)
STA Travel (800-777-4040, reservations 212-865-2700; www.statravel.com) offers student fares and has three Manhattan offices. In New York, the ubiquitous Liberty Travel (888-271-1584; www.libertytravel.com) has nearly 30 locations.
As a major international hub, New York is served by most airlines. Visiting airline offices is old-fashioned business these days (and most have closed Manhattan locations in recent years); to get toll-free numbers for airlines in the US, call 800-555-1212.
Three major airports serve New York City: John F Kennedy (JFK) and LaGuardia (LGA) in Queens, and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in Newark, New Jersey. Only JFK has baggage storage (per day $4-16; 7am-11pm), in Terminals 1 and 4.
This busy airport (JFK; 718-244-4444; www.panynj.gov, www.kennedyairport.com; Jamaica, Queens), 15 miles from Midtown in southeastern Queens, has eight terminals, serves 43 million passengers annually and hosts flights coming and going from all corners of the globe. Major renovations have been in progress for several years, including the AirTrain link with the subway (and free service between terminals).
Used mainly for domestic flights, LaGuardia (LGA; 718-533-3400; www.panynj.gov, www.laguardiaairport.com; Flushing, Queens) is smaller than JFK but only eight miles from midtown Manhattan; it sees about 26 million passengers per year. It’s been open to commercial use since 1939, making it considerably older, too. US Airways and Delta have their own terminals there.
Don’t write off New Jersey when looking for airfares to New York. The same distance from Midtown as JFK, Newark’s airport (EWR; 973-961-6000; www.panynj.gov, www.newarkairport.com; Newark, NJ), 16 miles from Midtown, brings many New Yorkers out for flights (there’s some 36 million passengers annually). Actually it became the metropolis’ first major airport in 1928. Much of the action is domestic – particularly on Continental Airlines, which treats EWR as a hub – but not all. It added ‘Liberty’ to its name after September 11.
Driving is not recommended around Manhattan unless it’s absolutely necessary. There are always drivers who don’t want you hogging lanes, gas is pricey, car hire is expensive, the struggles for parking space can age even the eternally laid-back, and it’s a way bigger hassle than it’s worth, considering all the excellent mass-transit options.
Hiring a car in the city is mighty expensive, and though agencies advertise bargain rates for weekend or week-long rentals, these deals are almost always blacked out in New York. If you want to rent for a few days, perhaps for a road trip out of town, book through a travel agency or online before leaving home. Without a reservation, a midsize rental car will cost at least $100 per day once the extra charges – such as the 13.375% tax and various insurance costs – are factored in.
To rent a car, you need a valid driver’s license and a major credit card; international visitors are advised to have an International Driving Permit (IDP), a far more credible ID for New York traffic police. The law no longer decrees that you need to be over 25 to rent, but companies are still allowed to charge younger folks a higher rate, making it prohibitively expensive for all but trust-fund kids.
Many locals rent the self-service Zipcar (212-691-2884, 866-494-7227; www.zipcar.com), an on-demand car-sharing service, with rates from $60/100 per day during weekdays/weekends (including gas, insurance and parking). It requires a $25 initiation fee. There are scores of locations around Manhattan and the other boroughs for easy pick-up.
Among the many rental agencies in the city are the following:
Avis (800-331-1212; www.avis.com)
Budget (800-527-0700; www.budget.com)
Dollar (800-800-4000; www.dollar.com)
Hertz (800-654-3131; www.hertz.com)
A friendly family-run rental place, Autoteam USA (866-438-8326, 732-727-7272; www.autoteamusa.com; South Amboy, NJ) has cars with weekly rates (including 100 free miles per day) from $26 per day. They’ll pick you up from the South Amboy station on the NJ Transit line.
If you’re coming by yacht – and if you are, do you have an opening for a deck-swabber on your next trip to Bermuda? – there are ports at an exclusive boat slip at the World Financial Center and a long-term slip at the 79th St Boathouse on the Upper West Side.
The zippy yellow boats that make up the fleet of New York Water Taxi (212-742-1969; www.nywatertaxi.com; commuter 1-way tickets $3.50-6, one-day pass adult/child $20/15, 2-day pass $25/15) provide an interesting alternative way of getting around (from mid-April through mid-October). Boats stop at 12 landings, starting at West 44th St on the Hudson River, with stops at Christopher St, World Financial Center, Battery Park, South Street Seaport and East 34th St in Manhattan, plus Brooklyn stops at Fulton Ferry Landing (near Dumbo), Red Hook, Schaefer Landing on Kent Ave (in Williamsburg), plus in Long Island City, and Queens at Hunter’s Point (with its own ‘Water Taxi Beach’).
A good trip to consider is from E 34th St to Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn ($4.50 one way). There are also water taxis to Mets baseball games ($20 round trip), hour-long ‘Gateway to America’ tours around the harbor (adult/senior/child $20/18/12), and fall foliage tours up the Hudson ($35/25/15).
Another bigger, brighter ferry (this one’s orange) is the commuter-oriented Staten Island Ferry, which makes constant free journeys across the New York Harbor.
Penn Station (33rd St btwn Seventh & Eighth Aves) is the departure point for all Amtrak (800-872-7245; www.amtrak.com) trains, including the Metroliner and Acela Express services to Princeton, NJ, and Washington, DC (note that both these express services will cost twice as much as a normal fare; one-way to DC starts at $69). All fares vary, based on the day of the week and the time you want to travel. There is no baggage-storage facility at Penn Station.
Long Island Rail Road (718-217-5477; www.mta.nyc.ny.us/lirr/) serves some 280, 000 commuters each day, with services from Penn Station to points in Brooklyn, Queens and to Long Island. Prices are broken down by zones. A peak-hour ride from Penn Station to Jamaica Station (en route to JFK via AirTrain) costs $6.65 if you buy it online (a whopping $12 on board!). New Jersey Transit (800-772-2222; www.njtransit.com) also operates trains from Penn Station, with services to the suburbs and the Jersey Shore.
Another option for getting into NJ’s northern points such as Hoboken and Newark is the New Jersey PATH (800-234-7284; www.panynj.gov/path), which runs trains ($1.50) along the length of Sixth Ave, with stops at 33rd, 23rd, 14th, 9th and Christopher Sts, as well as at the reopened World Trade Center site.
The New York subway’s 656-mile system, run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), is iconic, cheap ($2 per ride), round-the-clock and easily the fastest and most reliable way to get around the city. It’s also safer and (a bit) cleaner than it used to be (and now with overly cheerful automated announcements on some lines).
For subway updates and information, call 718-330-1234 or visit www.mta.info. It’s a good idea to grab a free map, available from any attendant. When in doubt, ask someone who looks like they know what they’re doing. They may not, but subway confusion (and consternation) is the great unifier in this diverse city. You’re sure to get help.
It’s not the most bike-friendly city, but New Yorkers are getting better at tolerating cyclists, thanks in part to improved road conditions, new bike paths and the efforts of bike clubs. In late 2007, the city transformed Ninth Ave between 16th and 23rd Sts with a Euro-styled separate bike lane separated from traffic by parked cars – hopefully more will follow.
For maps of bike paths and a clearinghouse of tips, check the website of Transportation Alternatives (212-629-8080; www.transalt.org; suite 1002, 127 W 26th St), which sponsors Bike Month NYC every May. Key Manhattan bike lanes are along 8th Ave, Broadway, and 20th, 21st, 9th and 10th Sts.
If you do ride around the city, always wear a helmet, choose a bike with wide tires to help you handle potholes and other bits of street debris and be alert so you don’t get ‘doored’ by a passenger exiting a taxi. Unless your urban skills are well honed, stick to the pastoral paths in Central and Prospect Parks and along the Hudson River. And don’t even think of pedaling on the sidewalks – it’s illegal. If you must lock a bike up somewhere in the city, forgo anything that’s not the most top-of-the-line U-lock you can find – or, better yet, stick to the $100 coated chains that weigh a ton.
You’re allowed to bring your bike onto the subway. Lettered subway lines (eg A, C, E, etc) have bigger stations and subway cars, and are thus easier to manage with a bike.