New arrivals will find that Manhattan, the largest of New York City's five boroughs, is certainly pedestrian-friendly; even if one needs to zip from point A to point B, plenty of public transport is available. Having a car in Manhattan is also unnecessary, which can be more of a hindrance than a help due to limited parking.
It's more common to have a car if living in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and the Bronx. Though these areas are covered by public transport, travel times can be long and tiring.
Public transport in New York City
New York City has an integrated public transport network operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). A smart contactless card known as a MetroCard is needed to use the subway system. Commuters can also use these smart cards on buses. Users can load credit or unlimited travel passes onto them, which saves commuters time and money. MetroCards can be purchased and reloaded online, at selected grocery stores, station booths or vending machines at the station. Commuters can also use the recently launched OMNY contactless payment system that allows passengers to use their credit or debit cards on their smartphones or wearable device to pay for their trip. Passengers can also pay for bus fares in exact change.
The subway in New York City operates around the clock and is by far the fastest way to get around the city. New York's subway network is extensive and efficient, covering more than 400 stations across the five boroughs. Services run every few minutes, so there's no need to spend time studying the schedule in detail. There are also express subway services that do not stop at some smaller local stations.
The subway is generally a safe and comfortable way to travel. That said, trains tend to be crowded during rush hour, and passengers should use common sense when travelling alone at night. Violent crime is rare, but petty theft does occur. Using busier stations and keeping valuable items hidden are good basic precautions.
Despite New York's dense subway network, buses remain an excellent alternative for getting across the city. Furthermore, buses are an ideal way to comfortably travel around the city while taking in some of New York's incredible sights. Naturally, this is best done outside peak hours.
Express buses travel between Manhattan and the outer boroughs and often serve areas that aren't sufficiently covered by the subway network. Express bus services are slightly more expensive than regular services.
Overnight bus drivers will typically stop wherever passengers ask, provided the area is safe. The major downside to using buses in New York is that they are often delayed due to traffic congestion.
New York City is served by three commuter railroads, which operate through the major hubs of Penn Station and Grand Central station. These train lines serve destinations further away from Manhattan and are a good option for regional travel.
Taxis in New York City
The fabled yellow taxi cabs are one of the many little pleasures of New York City life. These famous icons are omnipresent and ready to whisk people off through the avenues and streets to their next appointment without the stress of an around-town subway ride. They operate on a running meter that charges per mile and can be the most efficient and reasonable option when travelling in groups, but expensive if travelling alone. Always ensure the meter is reset at the start of a journey, and new arrivals needn't worry about carrying cash as all taxis accept credit, debit and prepaid card payments.
Ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft are also operational in New York City and may be more affordable than using a yellow cab.
Cycling in New York City
While cycling often beats most other forms of transport when it comes to getting around New York, it's certainly not for the faint-hearted. New York's heavy traffic, aggressive taxi drivers and jaywalking pedestrians make cycling in the city difficult. Despite these hazards, it's common for New Yorkers to commute to work by bike on a daily basis, and the city is taking steps to improve infrastructure for cyclists. The network of cycle lanes is continuously growing, as are cycle storage facilities. There is also a bicycle-sharing scheme in place known as Citi Bike.
Ferries in New York City
New York City boasts an extensive ferry system thanks to its waterfront location. The Staten Island Ferry is a free and picturesque way to travel between Staten Island and Manhattan's Whitehall ferry terminal, with views of the New York Harbour and the Statue of Liberty. The NYC Ferry and NY Waterway have multiple stops along Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island; these ferry networks serve as one of New York City's most comprehensive water transportation systems.
Driving in New York
While it really isn't necessary to drive in New York, a number of people still choose to own a car. Those who opt to drive in New York City should be aware of some of the finer details of driving in the Big Apple. While foreigners are initially allowed to drive in New York with an international driving licence, they must apply to exchange their licence for a local one after becoming legal residents in the state.
Being aware of parking restrictions in New York is essential because fines are hefty. Worse still, if a vehicle is impounded, the driver will have to pay a large sum to have it released. Parking in New York often involves renting a space in a parking garage, many of which have long waiting lists and charge exorbitant fees, so it's well worth researching parking options to find something suitable. Parking on the street usually requires paying at a parking meter.
►Cost of Living in New York City provides an overview of monthly expenses
"I would strongly recommend not owning a car. The subway, while always late, is effective and will get you almost everywhere you need to go and is how the majority of New Yorkers get around. Unless you’re venturing out of the normal areas, you won’t have a problem planning a route. The bus is also incredibly effective if you can work out where you need to go. The Transit app combined with Google Maps are your best friends." Read more of Australian expat Josh's interview about living in NYC
"The subway system is fantastic. We use it all the time. We don’t own a car and we don’t need one. That’s quite liberating." British expat Jayne shares her experiences in NYC.
Are you an expat living in New York City?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to New York City. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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