Handy transport guide to the city of New York for expats
New York is a bustling, thriving city that has earned itself the moniker of ‘the city that never sleeps’. With action, entertainment and conveniences available 24/7, the New York lifestyle can take some getting used to. And it’s not all just about playing hard; business is booming too in this global finance and commerce centre.
With so many opportunities, invites, meetings and commutes to fit into each week, it’s imperative to be comfortable with the local transport system, particularly as an expat, to make getting around the city both quick and easy.
Here is our New York transport guide for expats who are moving to the USA.
Leave the car behind
Less than half of the households in New York have a car. The public transportation system is popular and well-used, and as such it is both efficient and well looked-after. The majority of business people will rely on it for getting around the city easily and particularly for the daily commute. For those moving from London, this will feel familiar, as the New York City Subway is not dissimilar to the Tube network, though its reach is vaster.
Because cars are less used in New York, finding accommodation that includes parking can be difficult, especially close to the city centre. Some apartment blocks will have secure underground parking facilities. It is also possible to rent a space at a nearby parking garage, though these can have long waiting lists, so if you require the use of a car it is important to secure a space as soon as possible. There are strict parking restrictions in the city, which have hefty fines attached if broken. Expats will need to apply for a New York state driving licence after six months; they can use an international licence until then.
For those opting to live in the suburbs, driving is more common and properties are more likely to include a parking space. This can be useful for travelling longer distances or for holidays. For the daily commute, there are public transport links to the most common residential neighborhoods, but the travel time will increase the further out you go, so it can be a choice between a long time spent on the train, or using the car to navigate the heavy city traffic.
New York has one of the best public transport systems in America, if not the world. The easiest way to get around is to use the subway system, which runs all day every day and covers the key areas of the city, or the bus network, which goes to outer-lying suburbs. The Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) controls the subway and bus systems, for a fully integrated service.
A MetroCard is the preferred method of payment for both buses and subways. While buses can be paid for with the correct money, a MetroCard must be used to access the subway. They can be loaded with an amount of money and used on a pay-as-you-go basis, or they can be used an unlimited number of times within a given time period. It’s easy to buy and top up MetroCards at stations, online or at an authorised MetroCard merchant.
The subway network is extensive, with over 400 stations across five boroughs. Subway trains usually turn up every few minutes, moving large numbers of people around the city fast. There are some ‘express’ services, which do not stop at some of the smaller stations, so it’s worth getting to know the timetable from your area.
As with other major cities, like London, the trains can be crowded at peak times but the high volume of trains means that they do keep moving and it’s never long to wait until the next train. The subway is fairly safe, but it is wise to keep an eye on valuables, particularly when travelling in and out of quieter stations, or at night.
The buses are equally efficient, though not as fast. They are a great way of getting to know the city as an expat, and a good way to view the main sights. However, rush hour traffic at peak times can mean that there are often delays, so they may be best saved for weekend outings. Some of the outer-lying suburbs, such as southeast Brooklyn, are well served by the bus network and less so by the subway network. There are also ‘express’ bus services, just as with the subway, which stop less frequently but are slightly more expensive than regular bus services.
There are two major train stations in New York: Pen Station and Grand Central. These stations between them serve a much wider network than the subway, way beyond New York itself and into other neighbouring states.
Hailing a cab
No picture of New York is complete without the famous yellow taxis. These can be an expensive way of getting around for individuals, but are often cost effective for groups. They are a good way of getting to the airport and back when travelling, as there is a fixed rate from airports into Manhattan.
The meter should be reset at the start of each journey, then it is charged per mile rather than by time, which is useful at busy periods when there can be long periods sat in traffic. Don’t assume that the driver always knows the best routes; many taxi drivers are not native New Yorkers, so they may not know the city as well as expected – so don’t be afraid to advise them if there is a better way.
Tipping your driver is expected. At the very least, the fare should be rounded up to the nearest dollar, but the usual amount is between 10% – 20%, particularly on longer journeys.
Uber also operates in New York City, though its presence has been the source of some controversy, particularly as it has been taking customers away from the traditional taxi services. However, many thousands of commuters do use the service, and NYC is one of the company’s biggest markets in the USA. Here is an interesting article that compares Uber and Yellow Cabs, for more information.
For those who live close enough to the city centre, it is easy enough to get around on foot or two wheels. Expats may enjoy long walks around the grid system to learn the area, and discover hidden gems around every corner that could easily be missed if always travelling underground. Just be aware that some blocks can be very large and it can be misleading on a map how far away your destination is.
Cycling is not for the faint-hearted in the main city. The rush-hour traffic can be dangerous for the uninitiated, and the roads are not always in the best condition. However, cycling is a popular commuting method, as it’s quick and free, so there have been improvements in the cycling infrastructure recently. There are now some basic cycle lanes, which do help, as well as places to safely leave a bike.
There is also a city-wide bike-share system, called Citi Bike, which is low-cost and flexible. There are both Day Passes and Annual Memberships available, and there are hundreds of pick-up and drop-off points in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Jersey City. There is a handy mobile app to help locate stations, and it is growing in popularity due to its environmental credentials and impact on wellbeing.
If you’re moving to the USA, find out how our international removals team can help to arrange packing, storage and transportation on your behalf.