Riding the Subway Tips by Michele R. Lock
a large city can be exhilarating, but getting around can
seem like an overwhelming task. Driving in heavy city
traffic can be tricky, while taking a cab everywhere can
become expensive. So, do like the locals do, try taking
the subway to get around, whether you have free time during
a business trip or are on vacation.
What I've learned visiting several large cities, both
in the US and Europe, is that a traveler needs three things
to successfully use a subway - a portable subway map,
a small street map, and a compact compass. These, along
with some pre-planning, will allow you to travel without
Pre-planning your trip by subway has recently gotten easier,
with several transit websites offering route finders.
Simply type in your starting point and destination, and
the route finder will tell you what train to take, where
to go for a transfer, and what your final stop is. These
give you a feel for how complicated a subway trip will
be. If it seems too difficult to figure out on a computer,
it won't be any easier in reality, so you may want to
consider alternatives if traveling by yourself.
For up-to-date ticket information, consult the websites
for each subway system, since this can change fairly rapidly.
The websites will tell you how much a trip will cost,
as well as what purchasing options are available.
Here are some tips that I've gathered from my travels
in three big cities.
York City Subway
This is the granddaddy of all American subway systems
celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2004. And it's one
of the more complicated ones, since it began as four separate
lines before merging with the NYC Transit Authority. Some
trains have numbers, some have letters, and all travel
in two directions. You must check a subway map to find
the train that can get you where you want to go, and the
name of the desired stop. The website does not offer a
route finder, but does have a detailed map to print out.
For traveling though out Manhattan, however, the subway
can't be beat; it's fast, it goes nearly everywhere and
trains run often. To start, you must know if you are going
Uptown (north) or Downtown (south). As you enter a station,
head for the direction that you need, and the platform
for the number/letter of the train you want. When a train
arrives, check out the number/letter on the front or side
of the cars, since multiple trains use the same station.
Once on the train, you will be able to see from the car
windows when you have arrived at your final stop, since
the names are well displayed at each station. You may
hear the conductor call out the station name, but this
is often difficult to understand.
The Metro is a wonderful transit system rideguide.wmata.com
that makes it a breeze to get around Washington. Here
there are color-coded lines named for their first and
last stops, that criss-cross the metropolitan area. There
is a route finder on their website that tells you exactly
what train to take and if any transfers are needed. The
farther you travel on the system, the more you pay; you
must run your travel ticket through the turnstile before
and after each trip, so the proper amount is deducted
from the ticket.
To determine your travel route, you will need to know
the final stop on a line, as well as the stop you will
exit at. These will be displayed on the train platforms
when you enter a station, so you will know where to go
to wait for the train. Only one train runs per line, so
you can get on any that stop at each station. There are
several major transfer stations, where multiple lines
do cross each other. At these points, you must be more
careful about locating the proper line.
Over a hundred years old, the Paris Metro www.ratp.fr/index_eng.htm
has fourteen color-coded lines that travel all over Paris.
Some of the lines seem ancient, like those that run to
Notre Dame, while others are brand-spanking new. Nevertheless,
the Metro offers a great way to travel around the city.
This subway system is similar to the Washington one; you
must know the final stop (called 'direction' in French)
for the train you want to take, as well as the name of
the stop where you'll get off. Fortunately, the Metro
offers a route finder in English on its website. It tells
you which train, which initial station, which direction,
where you should get off, and if you need a transfer (called
a 'correspondence') for any trip.
One important thing - always keep your ticket on you during
each trip on the Metro. It will be stamped as you pass
through the turnstile at your first station, proving that
you paid for your trip. A Metro inspector may ask to see
your ticket; without one, you'll have to pay a fine. Don't
throw the ticket away until you have reached street level
What to do when you get to your final stop? Look for
the stairs/escalators that say 'Street', 'Exit' or 'Sortie'
(in French). Once you get back up on the street, it can
be momentarily confusing. To re-orient your self, use
a compass to find which way is north, so you can easily
use your street map again. A compass is also helpful when
traveling underground; if you know you should be heading
north, and your train is going south, you are on the wrong
sells a clip-on model for around $5.
Some more pointers for a safe and uneventful trip: Wear
comfortable shoes. You'll be walking for some distance
to get to stations. The locals, especially during rush
hour, will be walking fast inside the stations; you'll
have to keep up with them. Plus, you'll be taking stairs
or escalators, some quite steep, so need to be able to
If a train is crowded, you may have to stand during your
trip. Likewise, if you have to exit the car through a
crowd, don't be afraid to elbow your way out. Simply say
'excuse me' or 'pardon' in a clear voice and people will
Be more careful if you have a lot of packages from a shopping
trip. Hold them firmly on your lap if sitting down, firmly
between your legs if standing. If you have many packages,
you may want to take a cab to your hotel, particularly
if it is rush hour or after dark.
And always keep your purse in front of you, in clear view,
so that no pickpockets have access to it. If you carry
a backpack, don't keep any valuables in it; instead keep
them in a fanny pack or your purse.
Using these pointers, maps and a compass, I've had very
few problems getting around large cities by subway on
my own, making my visits to these places even more enjoyable.