Friday, July 25, 2014

How To Be a Public Transportation Pro in No Time

I have to admit that before I came to New York, I was a little bit infamous among my friends for my prior use of public transportation. Coming from a school in Omaha, Nebraska where the only ways I get from point A to point B are by walking and driving, I had never figured out how to read a subway map or a bus schedule.

Then, the spring of my sophomore year, I spent a semester in Copenhagen, Denmark. I had no car, was living in the middle of a major city, and knew absolutely no one in the country. The very first time I used the subway, I looked up exactly what line I needed to take, got on that train, and only then proceeded to realize that, oh yeah, metro lines run in two different directions. I had been heading in the opposite direction for 30 minutes. After chronicling my (mis)adventures by plane, train, bus, metro, and even bicycle in my blog, my ability to get easily lost during my semester abroad became a running joke among my friends.

However, I am proud to say that the confusion that plagued me in Copenhagen has NOT persisted during my summer in New York. I now love being the one to look up how to get somewhere when I hit the town with friends. Here’s how to become a public transportation expert in no time:

1. ALWAYS pay attention
Even if you think you know where you’re going, it’s always good to take a look at what stops you’re passing on the subway, when certain lines run, which train is a local and which one is an express, etc., just to double and triple check that you're doing things right. Even looking around at what other people are doing can keep you from making a critical mistake. In Copenhagen, I thought that the buses just magically stopped at every stop—I didn't realize that I had to push a button to request the bus to stop somewhere until it was too late.

2. Go beyond Google Maps to figure out where you’re going
Yes, Google Maps is a god-send—gone are the days of having to bust out a paper map to figure out where you’re going. But it also eliminates the need to figure out the public transportation system as a whole. Google Maps will just tell you how to get from A to B, but what happens when that route doesn't work? Case in point: I went with some friends to Governor’s Island a few weeks ago, and we decided to take the line downtown that I always took to get to work. Unfortunately, we didn't realize that on the weekends, the line skipped the stop that we needed. The app that I've been relying on since I've been here to navigate the subways isn't Google Maps. It’s actually just a free NYC Subway app that has a list of all the subway lines and all of their stops in their entirety, and whether or not the line stops there all the time, or only part time. That way, if I’m in a pinch and suddenly have to take a different line, even if I’m in the subway with no access to Wi-Fi, I can just scroll through the list of the different Subway lines and figure out where to go. And don't discount taking a look at a physical map every once in a while.

3. Be confident
It always makes me laugh when I see people using their Metro Card for the first time, and how they are so careful to swipe it before going through the turnstile, only to discover that this makes it impossible for their card to be read (even though yes, I was that person at one point as well). I've found that more often than not, being very methodical and cautious about swiping your Metro Card actually causes more delays than if you confidently stroll up to the turnstile, and assume your card will work just fine.

 4. Explore your options
Yes, the subway will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go in NYC, but there are also some other great public transportation options here. My roommate and I started taking the bus to work, and it was life-changing—the buses in New York are air-conditioned with plenty of room to sit and don't require you to herd like cattle onto a crowded subway car. There are even city bikes you can rent and take around the city for a quick spin. But one of my last experiences on a bike in a city involved me hitting a parked car, so maybe I’ll have to wait awhile before I attempt biking in New York City.

--Written by Anna Hensel, Creighton University, Inc.
--Edited by Kathryn Moody, Indiana University, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

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