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NYC’s Best and Cheapest Ways to Get Around the Five Boroughs

New York City Insider Guides
by Stephanie Grace Mejia Loleng May 16, 2017

GETTING AROUND New York City can be intimidating, but with a subway system that spans the five boroughs; multiple bus routes; ferry crossings and a bike share program, it’s actually quite easy and affordable to get to and from wherever you’re going.

Hop on the subway for a fast and affordable trip

New York City’s subway system is vast, reliable at most times, and cheap. No wonder even celebrities can be spotted on the train. Buy an MTA MetroCard at one of the ticket machines at any of the stations, or from a station agent at a ticket booth. The machines accept both credit cards and cash, but sometimes the credit card machine doesn’t work, so be prepared to have some cash on you.

If you’re only going to use the subway once, purchase a $3 single-ride ticket from the machine only. But, if you are taking multiple rides, buy a pay-per-ride card that allows you to put a specific amount of money on it. You just need to put $5.50 or more on before using it. If you’re going to be using the subway for seven days or more, it makes sense to get an unlimited ride card because you’ll receive a discount on rides.

Visit the MTA website’s trip planner for bus and/or subway routes and to see how long your trip will take.

Board a bus to see the city as you go.

When I travel to a big city, I prefer to hop on a bus so I can see the views. Buses can also be a more convenient way to get to certain neighborhoods where the subway may not go. Buy a MetroCard before boarding the bus. You’ll receive a free transfer to another bus or the subway that’ll allow you to ride for free within two hours of boarding. A new faster system called Select Bus Service (SBS) provides faster routes in certain parts of the city. The SBS bus stops have machines where you’ll put in your prepaid MetroCard in order to get a paper ticket to take onto the bus before boarding. You can also pay by coins, but be prepared to have exact change on you. You don’t need to swipe the ticket when you board the bus, just keep it handy in case you get checked by an agent, which allows you to board the bus through any of the doors.

Take a ferry and see Manhattan and Brooklyn from the water.

For a different perspective of the city, board a ferry for spectacular views of the lower Manhattan skyline, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty. Ferries run along the west side of Manhattan along the Hudson River, near lower Manhattan, and along the East River.

The Hudson River Ferry service will take you to and from midtown or lower Manhattan from, into, and out of New Jersey. You can purchase tickets online.

The East River Ferry service takes passengers as far north at Astoria Queens down to Bay Ridge Brooklyn. There’s even a route that takes passengers all the way to Rockaway in Long Island. A one-way ticket is currently $2.75, which you can purchase on the website by creating an account, or by downloading the free app to buy a ticket. You can also purchase a ticket at the ferry landing ticket machines or from a ticket agent.

The New York Water Taxi is another option to get you around Manhattan. For an all-day access pass, you can do a complete loop of the island in 70-minutes or hop on and hop off at ferry stops along the way. Current rates are $24 for adults/seniors and $13.50 for children 3-12 years old. You can also combine your pass with a timed ticket to the 9/11 Memorial Museum and One World Observatory that must be picked up at Pier 79 prior to boarding the boat. If you want to shop at IKEA in Red Hook, hop on a Water Taxi from Wall Street’s Pier 11 for $5 Monday through Friday or free Saturday or Sunday. If you spend more than $10 at IKEA, you get a $5 credit.

Rent a Citibike and check out the city on two wheels.

Citibike is New York City’s bike share program with 10,000 bikes and 600 stations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey City. It can be an easy and affordable way to get around if you don’t mind riding among the traffic and pedestrians. Buy a day pass for $12 at one of the many Citibike kiosks to get unlimited 30-minute rides. If you’re planning on using it for multiple days, opt for the 3-day (72 hours) pass for $24 for unlimited 30-minute rides.

Also, for a limited time, you can get a single ride for $4 by visiting their website and downloading the app.

When public transit or riding a bike isn’t cutting it, hail a taxi.

If you don’t feel like taking public transportation or can’t hop on a bike because you have luggage or shopping bags to carry, or you just don’t feel like dealing with other people, hail a yellow taxi or download the NYC taxi app for a ride. It’s $2.50 for entry and an additional 50 cents per one-fifth of a mile if the taxi is going at least six miles per hour or more. If it’s not in motion then it’s 50 cents every 60 seconds. Sounds complicated, but if you’re not traveling a long distance, taxi rides are not as expensive as you’d think, especially if you are splitting the fare between a few people.

There’s also a green taxi fleet called Boro taxis that covers under-served areas of the five boroughs including northern Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. You can hail or call for a Boor taxi in those areas (except for the airports) and have them drop you off anywhere — but you can’t be picked up in the Manhattan exclusionary zone where yellow taxis already serve.

When in doubt, walk.

New York City is a walking city. If the weather is decent and you’ve got a comfortable pair of shoes, I’d suggest hoofing it, because nothing compares to seeing the city on foot. You’ll find cool spots that you may not see while whizzing by on a bike, or crawling through traffic on a bus or taxi.

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