10 Surprising Facts about the New York City Subway

New York City wouldn't be the same without its subways—and not just because the City relies on the system in order to function.

Simeon Onaji
Simeon Onaji

Simeon is a Senior Editor at Tozome, an amateur wine connoisseur, and a mediocre Tennis player.

10 Surprising Facts about the New York City Subway

What are some of the most iconic things that come to mind when you think of NYC? Does pizza come to mind? It probably does. It wouldn’t be too surprising if you also thought of the seemingly never-ending fleet of yellow taxi cabs that are synonymous with the big apple. Many of you probably thought of the New York  City subway too.

39% of New Yorkers use the subway every day to go where they need to. It’s an efficient mode of transportation in a city that seems to feed off of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

A ride on the subway is a fantastic experience for many tourists visiting the Big Apple, it also happens to be a way of life for many who call NYC home. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are many things about this famous railway that most people don’t know. No one who reads this will ever think of the New York subway the same way again.

10. Retired subway cars are dumped into the ocean

New York City subway sign with grunge texture

Photo: LittlenyStock/Shutterstock

Can this possibly be true? Yes, it is. You may assume that all retired subway cars are stripped of their valuable parts and sent off to the scrap yard. That’s not what happens at all. They are dumped into the ocean from New Jersey all the way down to Georgia. Why? It seems that sea life love abandoned subway cars. They provide many nooks and crannies for the fish to call their home. It’s hard to imagine that the creatures on the bottom of the ocean would enjoy the subway more than people do.

9. It cost just a nickel to ride the subway back in the day

OMNY MTA Contactless Fare Payment System

Photo: Chie Inoue/Shutterstock

All the way back in 1904 it cost a whole nickel to ride the subway. Just think about that for a second. There’s not much you can buy these days for a nickel. Back then you were able to ride the subway and get where you’re going for a whopping nickel. Today, it costs close to $150 for a 30-day card.

The prices have gone up, but the fee is relatively cheap considering the cost of owning and operating an automobile. Plus, you don’t have to get behind the wheel when taking a subway. Anyone who has ever been in New York City traffic knows how bad it can be. The traffic in itself is an excellent reason to get a month-long card and leave the driving to them.

8. The rats are real

A rat in NYC subway

Photo: Matias Lynch/Shutterstock

Anyone who uses the subway in New York City has his or her own horror stories involving rats. The rats on the New York subway are the real deal. They weren’t only fodder for late-night funnymen like David Letterman. It seems like every year there’s at least one viral YouTube video where a New York subway rat is doing something out of this world.

No, those videos aren’t fake. Yes, you very well could end up seeing a rat or two on your subway journey. If you see a rat, don’t be surprised by them. The locals sure aren’t fazed by them. The subway rats are as much a part of New York City as hot dog stands are. Don’t worry, the meat in those hot dogs aren’t rats. At least not that anyone knows of.

7. Don’t put your feet on the seat

A tourist backpacker riding a train with feet up

Photo: Evgeny Subbotsky/Shutterstock

Your legs are tired from walking around all day long. Whatever you do, don’t put your feet on the seat. Did you know that it’s illegal to put your feet on the seat while on the subway? It is, and the police can take you to jail for it. Keep your feet down where they belong and hope that a rat doesn’t crawl up your pant leg.

If it does, then chalk it up as to a real New York subway experience. Seriously, don’t put your feet on the seats. If you’re lucky, a police officer will only chew you out. If you’re unlucky, then you could end up getting a ride to jail. The subway doesn’t make a trip to the jail, but the police will be more than happy to give you a lift in one of their squad cars.

6. The amount of tracks is surprising

View of a train in downtown route to NYC

Photo: June Marie Sobrito/Shutterstock

How long would they be if all of the tracks that make up the subway system were laid back to back? Would it be long enough to reach Albany? If you think so, then you better think again. Would they reach all the way to Cleveland? No, they would go further than that.

If all the tracks in the New York subway were laid back to back they would go from New York City to Chicago. Let that sink in for just a minute. There’s enough track to cover the distance to an astonishing length of the United States. Just imagine how long it would take to ride such a distance if it were possible in one journey.

5. MTA will write a note to your employer if you’re late because of them

Do you remember when you told the teacher the dog ate your homework? Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. What if you’re late to work due to a problem with the subway? If you are, then MTA will write you a note for your boss.

That’s the ultimate excuse if you’re late for work. Keep in mind that the subway needs to have a malfunction of sorts for them to write you a note. But, how cool is that? It’s so much better than trying to come up with an excuse as to why you’re late. You already tried the lame excuse about changing over to daylight savings time. That won’t work again, but a note from MTA surely will.

4. The A train is the longest route

Times Square Entrance subway station in New York City

Photo: Pisaphotography/Shutterstock

It’s surprising how much bang you get for your buck when riding the subway in New York City. How far do you think the longest train will take you? Five miles? Ten miles? If you guessed anywhere near those numbers, you’d be grossly mistaken. The longest route is from Washington Heights to Far Rockaway.

That is a train ride of 31 miles. It is a surprising distance considering how short many subway rides are around the world. What will you do all of that time when you’re going from one point to the other? Well, you could count how many rats are on the train. Hopefully, you don’t run out of fingers and toes.

3. There was once a secret station for VIP customers

The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York

Photo: Tupungato/Shutterstock

It’s hard to believe that the rich and powerful take the subway. Even more astonishing is that those same wealthy people would want a subway station all of their own. Guests at the Waldorf-Astoria had one-of-a-kind access to a secret train platform. Even more surprising is that President Franklin Roosevelt used the secret station to hide the fact he used a wheelchair.

You probably thought the Waldorf-Astoria was only famous for its salad. Now you know otherwise. It should be noted that regardless of how rich you are, the secret platform is no more. You’re plain out of luck if you want to use the subway without having to rub shoulders with the common folk.

2. The cost of riding the subway is roughly the same as a slice of pizza

A slice of pizza is on a stone plate

Photo: Popcorner/Shutterstock

This is a surprising fact that most people will find interesting. Everyone knows that grabbing a slice is what you do in New York City. You don’t buy an entire pizza or order one to have it delivered to your house. No, you stop by your favorite shop and have a slice. If you’re feeling adventurous, you may have several slices of pizza. That’s just the way it’s always been done in New York City.

The cost for one ride on the subway is roughly the same as a single slice of pizza. Could this be a coincidence? Some people don’t believe in coincidences. But, it very well could be just that.

Though, it wouldn’t be too surprising if pizza shop owners paid close attention to what people could afford to ride the subway. Pricing their pizza at a similar cost is probably good business sense as the city more than likely feels this is a price the average person can afford.

1. More people ride the subway every year than you can imagine

Times square subway station in New York City

Photo: Pio3/Shutterstock

How many people do you think ride the subway every year? A couple million? A million is just a drop in the bucket when the total amount of subway rides are calculated every year. Hopefully, you’re sitting down for the number that’s about to come your way. Every year the New York City subway system provides 640 million rides to their customers with a daily ridership of 2 million.

The numbers don’t lie, and they prove that the subway is a vital part of New Yorker’s daily life. Many rely on the subway as their sole means of transportation. Since the subway provides so many rides, it’s also a source of income for many people.

A large number of riders of the subway also means that nearby businesses also get their fair share of customers as well. The financial impact of all the subway riders is unbelievable. Livelihoods are made all across the board due to the high volume of subway riders.

The average tourist never takes into consideration the amount of money being injected into the economy by the passengers of the subway.

While these numbers are shocking, they pale in comparison to the number of riders the Tokyo subway system receives every year. They provide customers with over 3 billion rides every year. Still, the 1.76 billion is no small potatoes. There are more riders every day that can fill a sports stadium. The sheer volume of passengers daily ensures that the subway will have a serious impact on the city as a whole.

Every tourist needs to ride the subway

A female Asian traveler in the subway in New York City

Photo: PR Image Factory/Shutterstock

It doesn’t matter if you ride the subway and end up going nowhere at all. Take a ride on the subway and experience everything it has to offer. Imagine yourself as a New Yorker going to work every day on the subway. It’s a way of life for many people. The subway is as iconic as the city itself.

You never know who or what you’ll meet on the subway. You could rub shoulders with a famous musician or a hungry rat. It’s the luck of the draw when you take the subway. The only thing you can be sure of is that it’s going to be quite an exciting journey.

You should also think about taking the subway as a means of transportation while enjoying your stay in New York City. Taxi cabs are expensive and walking all over the big city can be impossible. Sure, you can try to hoof it, but the size of the city almost ensures that it can’t be done.

The subway is a fast, economical way to get around the city that’s also quite safe as well. You should know that tokens are no longer accepted. A pass is a must, and it can be bought at the terminal. The subways also don’t accept cash. Each ride costs $2.75, and that’s a good deal considering how much a taxi would cost. You’d end up paying much more money to drive and park your vehicle in the city.

Bottom Line

Don’t think twice about taking the subway. If you’ve got somewhere to go, then hop on the train. You’ll be one of the many millions of people every day who takes the subway. They like you have someplace to go. That place is one of the many thousands of destinations all over New York City.

They may be going to work, to Broadway, or anywhere in between. The one thing that you can guarantee is that they’re thankful for having one of the best subway systems in the entire world.

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