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Six useful NYC subway hacks to make your commute less miserable

Riding the New York City subway can be miserable, but these tips will make your next commute way more efficient

Written by
Time Out New York contributors

Let’s not kid ourselves: Riding the New York City subway can be a pretty miserable experience. The system is riddled with delays and deep-rooted infrastructure problems. Service changes make commuting between Manhattan and the outer boroughs on weekends nothing short of miserable. Regularly overcrowded trains temporarily suspend any and all social etiquette around personal space. And let’s not even get started on the cost of a 30-day MetroCard these days.

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That said, the subway is the bloodline for New York and is a vital form of transportation for the five million–plus people who take it every day (especially for those who can't afford to hitch a ride via a transportation app). Navigating the hellscape that is the city’s underground isn’t the easiest task, so we’ve put together a set of transit hacks to make your commute as efficient as possible. The subway might be awful, but these tricks ought to help you spend as little time on the train as possible.

1. Stay close to the dirty spots

Riders who know where the doors tend to open at a subway station might seem like prophets, but they very well could be leveraging a classic hack to allow themselves to be the first ones to board a train car. The dirtiest spots on the warning strip on each platform tend to mark the locations where trains’ doors tend to open. Stand by one of these and you’ll get a head start in the scramble for a seat.

2. Keep an eye out for turnstile doofuses

Do everything in your power to avoid standing behind someone whose fails at their first swipe attempt at the turnstile. Chances are, they’ll mess up again (and again).

3. Become station savvy

For the most part, New Yorkers who ride the subway daily tend to use just two stations. Being acutely aware of every detail of regularly used platforms is a big time-saver for straphangers. Knowing which side the exits are located, which side the doors open on and the fastest route to the street are all must-knows for any seasoned commuter.

4. Keep your app game strong

City Mapper is a godsend for transit nerds and newbies alike. The app packs a whole mess of subway hacks into your pocket. Trying to figure out the quickest route between A and B? The app will tell you. Looking for the cars on a line that tend to be the least crowded? It has that data too. If you want to refine your subway best practices even further, download Exit Strategy NYC. The app has a map of every subway station in the city and provides the quickest route out of each station.

5. Always. Bring. Purell.

The subway is, to put it lightly, like a Petri dish. When you grab hold of a pole, you’re effectively shaking hands with the entire goddamn city. In the case that you encounter something sticky, wet or generally gross on the train, having a bottle of hand sanitizer handy could be a lifesaver. This might not be the most time-saving hack in the world, but it could potentially keep you from contracting subway scurvy.

6. Learn the MetroCard calculus

If you don’t purchase unlimited passes, chances are you have a lot of useless MetroCards lying around with 27 cents on them. Perfecting the art of a zero sum MetroCard is not difficult, and it’s a shame that so much MTA fare money gets put to waste. When you add money to your card, you’re automatically given a five percent bonus. So if you’re refilling an empty card, throwing $20.95 on it would give you a balance of $22, or enough for exactly eight rides. The MTA has a handy MetroCard calculator for this express purpose, and you should use it on the regular.

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