Useful Notes: New York Subway
If you can understand this map, you're a New Yorker.
Twenty-three lines, 468 stations, 5 million daily riders, 1.5 billion yearly riders (at $2.50 a pop) ...and it's in the red. Probably the most famous subway system in the world. Not the first, certainly not the best, but the one everybody seems to know. Administered by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, or MTA. According to That Other Wiki
, the subway trails only the metro systems of Tokyo, Moscow and Seoul in annual ridership and carries more passengers than all other rail mass transit systems in the United States combined.
The trope here is that the subways of New York City
are hot, grimy, filthy, encrusted with graffiti, and magnets for street crime
. While this was once basically true, subway cars haven't fit this bill since 1990. Some common representations, however, are
- The subways do not run on anything that resembles a schedule. Residents don't expect it to, out-of-towners get frustrated, and the MTA still tries to claim that their official schedules have worth.
- During rush hour, passengers are crammed together like sardines in a trash compactor. The major routes in Manhattan, such as the 4 and 5, usually run in twos to prevent overcrowding.
- Flashers in overcoats. With the advent of camera phones, this has become a Go Directly to Jail card.
- Track deaths are rare, but they do happen. A sizable portion of these are suicides, followed by clueless passengers hopping over the platform to retrieve something they dropped. It's possible to dodge an oncoming train by simply rolling under the gap beneath the platform, but nobody ever thinks to do this (at least not on purpose). Most threats are mundane: Stations outside of Manhattan are poorly maintained and a continual fount of personal injury suits. The majority of these are old ladies tripping on cracked/uneven platforms or stairs.
- Although comparatively rare, trains have a tendency to break down at inconvenient times. Actually, worse than breakdowns are scheduled service interruptions for maintenance, which can make traveling on the weekends difficult. At least the MTA is smart enough to not mess with commuter hours.
- The cars are full of panhandlers, hucksters and napping vagrants. Panhandling is illegal in the subways, and patrons have mastered the art of ignoring it, but it's still common for someone to enter a subway car and tell a sob story, ending with "if you can help me out at all..."
- The PA systems are either too quiet, garbled, or both, making it difficult to hear the announcements. Newer cars have electronic maps showing where the train is and what the next stop is, along with a loud and clear automated PA system announcing the stops. (Unless the computer is broken, in which case the route map is off and you have to wait for the conductor to make the announcement. Or just sit/stand where you can see the stop names on the walls.)
Another reality-impaired subway trope is that there are miles upon miles of abandoned subway tunnels beneath the city,
just waiting to be inhabited
by something evil
. Not so much. Though, there are
several abandoned stations, as well as the infamously half-complete Second Avenue Line
, which has been on the city's to-do list for decades. (Seriously. The impending construction of the Second Avenue Line was cited as a good reason for Peggy to buy a particular apartment
in Mad Men
Season 6. That's set in 1968
. It was actually first proposed in 1929
. They're claiming a 2016 completion date now. Bets?)
Although much of the subway operates underground (roughly 60% of its stations), the system does include large sections of elevated track, particularly in the outer boroughs.
In the old days, the "lines" were built and run by different rail companies, with the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) running north-south between Manhattan and the Bronx, and the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corp. (BMT) connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens; these were joined by the city-operated Independent subway system (IND) in the early 30s, and the whole system was unified under city administration in 1940. The stations have remained basically the same, as have the tunnels and tracks used...unfortunately, the rival companies gave each other a wide berth, leading to a needlessly-convoluted route between Brooklyn and Queens under the 'unified' system. Also, IRT tunnels are too narrow to accommodate IND/BMT cars, so there are few convenient east-west "crosstown" lines in Manhattan, and direct rail travel between Brooklyn and Queens is restricted to the rarely-seen "G" train (colloquially, the "Ghost Train"). The former IRT lines are designated with numbers (except for the shuttle between Times Square and Grand Central), while the IND and BMT lines use letter designations.
This has led to the former IRT lines still being colloquially known as "the IRT", while the IND and BMT designations are little-used outside the fandom
. Whatever you do, do not
refer to lines by color. The most famous cars that shout "New York Subway", the "Redbirds", once the canvas for graffiti artists, have all been decommissioned and used to build an artificial reef in the Atlantic. Modern cars are slightly more generic looking.
Unlike many similar subway systems that use a zone system or calculate fares based on the entry and exit stations, the New York subways are flat-rate: pay once when you enter, and you can go anywhere the cars will take you, be it one stop away or to the opposite end of the city. Originally costing a nickel, it's now $2.25 for entrancenote
, with the option to purchase unlimited cards that last a set time period—7 or 30 days—instead.
Additionally, the MTA runs a complicated system of buses, Staten Island (the Red-Headed Stepchild
of New York City) has its own above-ground train line across the island, and there are several separate local rail systems primarily for commuters:
- The Long Island Railroad (LIRR), serving Long Island. This railroad is the bane of law students across America, as it got into quite a few notable lawsuits in the early 20th century—most notably Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., which every American law student reads and learns to hate and love for the complex beauty and beautiful complexity of Chief Judge Cardozo's opinion.
- Metro-North, serving
upstate New York southern New York State suburbs like Westchester County, as well as the Connecticut suburbs.
- New Jersey Transit, with commuter rail service to North and Central Jersey.
- NJ Transit's Secaucus Junction—where all NJ Transit heavy rail lines save the Atlantic City Linenote and Princeton Branchnote Also... meet—is touted as a potential terminus for the new extension of the 7 train of the NYC Subway proper. If this happens, it would be the first NYC Subway station outside the city itself.
- The Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH), connecting the "sixth borough" of Jersey City and Hoboken to lower Manhattan.
The NYC Subway is one of only four mass-transit systems in the United States that run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.note
The city that never sleeps, indeed.
Inevitably, any TV show or movie set in New York City
has at least one subway scene. Listing all of them would just be silly. Usually, though, they are in trains found in systems outside of NY, with the stations also being fictitious (but named after actual stations). If the filming is done strictly in NYC, then you are usually treated to multiple different trains inside and outside, almost never just one.
open/close all folders
- The "miles of abandoned tunnels" trope appears in Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers: The Manhattan Guardian, where they're the domain of pirates. Subway pirates. With names like "Captain Nobeard".
- Minimum Wage (later repackaged as Beg the Question) provides an excellent and mostly accurate depiction of what it's like riding the New York City subways. Though it was made in The Nineties, it still holds up - take it from this native New Yorker.
- Thomas Fay Syndicate developed the comic strip A Train's World in 2007, set in New York a few years into the future. The trains talk and have a mind of their own, and is summed up by the creator as "an urban Thomas And Friends". Highlights of the collection are up on DeviantArt.
- The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 is a hostage-taking heist film set on a NYC subway car.
- Turk 182, with a pissed-off First Responder turned graffiti artist as the hero, the graffiti-proofing of the subway system is a plot point. He hijacks the mayor's train and sandblasts it with "Turk 182".
- The Incident: In the main sequence, a pair of punks terrorize the passengers of a subway car.
- The Warriors features a New York gang trying to get back to Coney Island, often by subway.
- Money Train, about two fired transit cops planning a robbery of a federal reserve shipment being transported via subway car in order to pay off gangsters and get back at their asshole boss. Inspired a brief spate of terrorist attacks against window cashiers in Real Life.
- The Cowboy Way went from a subway scene to a "chasing the train" scene straight out of a cowboy movie. Yes, really. Horses and everything!
- The famous finale to Crocodile Dundee involves a jam-packed subway Train-Station Goodbye reunion scene. Dundee has to walk over other passengers' heads to get there.
- Die Hard with a Vengeance has a subway system bombing as a major plot point.
- Enchanted has several shots of the subway. And for all it takes place in New York, they walk past the Subway and/or take cabs and horse drawn carriages instead. (The one time the subway is actually used, it's implied that it's confusing enough that Giselle has to change trains at least once before she manages to leave the system.)
- The first American Godzilla (1998) featured the titular reptile nesting in the subway.
- The French Connection features a car/train chase under the BMT West End El (then the B line, now the D line) in Brooklyn. A less famous scene takes place on the Times Square - Grand Central Shuttle.
- The river of slime in Ghostbusters II actually located in on the abandoned pnuematic transit system tubes. Later on, Egon, Ray, and Winston explore real abandoned subway line and run into a ghost train.
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the movieverse move into an ornate, abandoned subway station after the location of their original lair is compromised.
- In the first movie the Foot attack April in a subway too, and she gets saved by Raphael.
- Men In Black II. Apparently the subway has a slight giant worm problem.
- The Visitor has a pivotal scene, and its final scene, there.
- Mimic centers around a breed of bugs that evolve in abandoned subway tunnels and eventually adapt the ability to blend into populated subway terminals. The main characters also discover a massive abandoned subway station.
- Madagascar has the zoo animals taking the subway, terrifying the human riders. The crappy PA system is mocked when Alex asks, "Did he say 'Grand Central Station' or 'my aunt's constipation'?"
- The original 1933 version of King Kong has the title ape tearing up a section of the Sixth Avenue Elevated line in Manhattan (which has long since been demolished).
- The 1976 remake of King Kong also has a scene when the titular ape destroys part of the BMT Astoria El in Queens.
- Hellboy I is merely typical in its depiction of Hell Hounds choosing to flee into the subway and lay their eggs there (prompting an emergency kitten rescue scene on the turnstiles), but in Hellboy II the New York Subway is actually the secret home of faerie prince Nuada of Bethmoora. (The High Elf King holds Autumn Court in an abandoned factory.)
- In Spider-Man 2 film, Spidey battles Doc Ock on/in a subway car.
Live Action TV
- A book, Subway lives: 24 hours in the life of the New York City subway, by Jim Dwyer, is, as it says, a look at one day in the life of the system. Shows some of the incidents happening: a station agent stealing tokens; a bum selling discount access to the system through a broken gate; how David Gunn (the General Manager before he went on to run the Washington, DC system) negotiating with the unions to see to it that they don't strike; how maintenance has to be performed; how passengers put trains out of service through stupid stunts; and many more.
- The Jazz-Standard "Take the "A" Train" is about the line that runs express up to Harlem.
- Jay-Z takes his name in part from the J/M/Z lines that serves his old neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
- Similarly, Jennifer Lopez named her first album "On the 6" because she used to ride the 6 train from the Bronx into Manhattan while still trying to get her big break.
- The Bernhard Goetz incident is referenced by the song "Executioner (Bernie Goetz a Gun)" by British neo-prog band Pallas.
- Goetz is also name dropped in the Billy Joel song "We Didn't Start the Fire".
- "And out of the subway..."
- Petula Clark's 1965 hit, "Don't Sleep in the Subway"
- The term "Subway Series" is applied to any series between New York baseball teams, now down to just the Bronx-based Yankees and the Queens-based Mets. In 2000, they met for the World Series and they played it up in advertising for all it was worth. Indeed, it is rare but not unheard of for them to have a "double-header" with one game at each stadium in the same day. Theoretically, "Subway Series" applies to any North American sports championship between two teams from the same city/metropolitan area, but a pairing of anyone other than the Yankees and Mets is relatively unlikely, for several reasons.
- First, both hockey and basketball have purely geographic structures, so it is literally impossible for two teams from the same city to face each other; even in the unlikely event the Knicks and the Nets were the best teams in the NBA, they would not face each other in the Finals (it would at best be the Eastern Conference Finals).
- The other sport in which two teams from the same area could face each other is football. However, the Super Bowl is a single game played in a pre-determined neutral location; no subway applies.note
- Within baseball, only three metropolitan areas other than New York have two teams: Chicago (NL Cubs/AL White Sox), San Francisco Bay (NL SF Giants/AL Oakland Athletics), and Greater Los Angeles (NL Dodgers/AL Angels). However, of these, Chicago and LA are right out—Chicago because the Cubs have been consistently bad for the better part of a century,note and LA because the Angels and Dodgers have never been good at the same time. As for the Bay Area, the Giants and Athletics have in fact faced each other in the World Series since moving to the area,note and a series between them remains a strong possibility (both have made the postseason regularly of late), but the press prefers to call it a "Bay Bridge Series" (the subway connecting the two, the BART, is too goofily-named and too obscure to outsiders to qualify, anyway).
- Additionally, even if the World Series came down to Cubs-White Sox or Angels-Dodgers, public image of such a series would unlikely give it a Subway brand. Chicago's public transit system is mostly above-ground, and its most prominent portions around The Loop are actually elevated above street level (hence why it is called the 'L') (even though the Red Line that serves both Wrigley Field and US Cellular Field, where the teams play their home games respectively, actually goes underground when it reaches downtown). Los Angeles, on the other hand, is in the public mind the epitome of urban sprawl with a large, expansive freeway network to connect everything - there is a public transit system in LA, but it is barely utilized. Further, there would likely be a concious effort by local promoters and sports fans to not use the term "Subway Series", as by now the terms are pretty much inexorably linked with New York. End result: an Angels-Dodgers series might be termed the "I-5 Series" or "Freeway Series", while Cubs-White Sox might be the "Red Line Series" or "L Series".
- In On the Town ("The people ride in a hole in the groun' / New York, New York, it's a helluva town"), Gabey first sees his dream girl Ivy on a poster in a subway car presenting her as Miss Turnstiles of June. (The contest rules: "She's got to be beautiful, she's got to be just an average girl, and most of all, she's got to ride the subway.")
- There was an actual "Miss Subways" from 1941 to 1976 with substantially the same rules.
- Dutchman by Amiri Baraka.
- Sin and Punishment has a dream sequence of the future that takes place on a runaway subway car in Long Island, complete with monster infestation. It's literally the only scene in the game that isn't set in Japan.
- The Liberty City version of the subway appears several times in Grand Theft Auto IV. In one mission as Niko, you must follow the train in a car, in an Homage to The French Connection. It gets really crazy in The Ballad of Gay Tony, when you have to destroy a train car and then steal another one.
- The Darkness, where it serves as the Hub Level.
- No More Heroes features a level that takes place in a subway station, and later on an actual train used to get to a distant fight. Both were obviously inspired by New York subways.
- Appears in Street Fighter III 3rd Strike as America.
- Def Jam: Fight For New York has a level set in a subway station.
- Need for Speed The Run has you DRIVING THROUGH the tunnels in its final level...and the trains are still running.
- Parasite Eve has a small section of the game take place inside a subway tunnel in New York City, complete with a boss fight. One of the tracks has a huge gaping hole at one end, which Aya notes that it would cause one hell of a train wreck.
- Though not the subway proper, Battlefield 3's final mission has Solomon's terror plot focused on a hijacked train in the underground section of the Long Island Railroad, on its way to Times Square, where he plans to detonate a stolen Russian suitcase nuke.
- Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA has the two New York courses, both of which have shortcuts that take you through the subway. Unfortunately, the trains are running, which can spell death if you don't move out of the way when oncoming trains show up. In addition, there are mice in the subway than can be run over, or turned into killer mice that destroy your car through a cheat code.
- The Unova region in the fifth generation Pokémon games is a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of New York City. The subway system exists in lieu of the Battle Tower present in previous games. From a grand, central station in Castelia City, the player can take one of a multitude of lines and engage in a battle-til-you-lose tournament. Each line has a different format such as single, double, triple, and rotation battles.
- Crysis 2 has the protagonist move through a near-future, near-destroyed New York City, including several subway stations and tunnels. This includes the long abandoned City Hall station.
- The third movie in the An American Tail series features an abandoned subway station with small caverns beneath it housing Native American mice who fled when the Europeans came. The Beach Pneumatic Railway system actually did exist at the time the movies took place, and it was abandoned, so the writers at least did some research.
- The Simpsons: The family is in town in "City of New York vs. Homer Simpson" and so naturally they take it. Bart tries the sob story panhandling routine, complete with licking a subway pole to show how he was "born without taste buds." After tasting it, he quickly decides that he's in over his head and quits.
- The best NYC Subway website ever.
- A New York Post photographer was heavily criticized in 2012 after he took a picture of a man who was thrown onto the subway tracks seconds before the man was killed by an oncoming train. Then the Post itself ran that picture on the front page with the headline "DOOMED."