Staying Safe In The New York City Subway System
These New York subway safety tips will help you reduce the probability of danger and increase the odds of staying safe when traveling underground. Yes, the city’s subway system is much safer now, but NYC offers no 100% guarantees.
New York Subway Safety Tip #1
Plan Your Route
- Saves time.
- Reduces confusion.
- Contributes to safety.
- This New York City subway map. (You can click and drag the map.)
- Google Maps. Enter a street address, intersection or landmark name. Zoom in close to see nearby subway/bus stops, as well as Long Island Railroad and Metro-North stations.
- Use the MTA’s Trip Planner website or the iOS app which shares the same name.
- Dial 511 within the NYC region for personal assistance with public transportation questions. Say “subways and buses” when the automated system answers.
New York Subway Safety Tip #2
Put Your Technology Away (Sometimes)
It’s no longer the Wild West days of the late 1970s/early 80s in the subway, but New York is still a big city with BIG CITY CRIME. And which crimes “make up more than half of all street crime” in New York City?1 The theft of cellphones.
Some thefts are quick, painless and unperceived, others not so much. News channels love stories about people who rescue their iPhones by tracking the thieves to their lair with a find-my-phone app. Please don’t try that alone in New York.
Modern technology may be a popular target for thieves, but it’s hardly the only one. Most thieves aren’t obvious. They study potential victims quietly, subtly, then pounce when an opportunity arises.
Their bread and butter? Distracted people, especially those who are lost in the music, sleeping or otherwise oblivious.
A thief will most likely think twice if they notice you noticing them. Many thefts are not just about showing off new toys, either. They’re committed by people with drug problems who will steal, then sell, anything not nailed down for their next trip into the clouds.
I’m not saying you can never take your phone out while underground. You’ll see plenty who do. We are suggesting you assess each situation and always remain vigilant.
New York Subway Safety Tip #3
Have Your Metro-Card Ready
Avoid using Metro-Card machines when it’s late. Buy or refill your Metro-Card during the day or early evening. Having your Metro-Card in hand before descending into the subway is also a good idea.
Using Metro-Card machines late at night:
- Exposes your cash/credit cards
- Gives someone with bad intentions time to approach you.
- May cause you to miss your train. (Late night trains may only run once or twice an hour.)
New York Subway Safety Tip #4
Ride In The Conductor’s Car
In the wee hours, ride either in the conductor’s car or in the middle cars.
1. The Conductor’s Car = Your Safety Line
Conductors usually ride in one of the middle cars. You’ll often see them leaning out a window wearing protective earphones and glasses. Conductors alert the motorman/woman during emergencies.
2. One For All, All For One (NYC Style)
There’s an unspoken safety-in-numbers mentality at night. People tend to clump together in the middle cars.
Don’t worry, everyone still ignores each other. It’s just safer to sit together and ignore each other.
New York Subway Safety Tip #5
Watch Your Back (Literally)
Keep your back facing any wall, stair railing or steel column available on the platform. Try to stay within 3 feet (1m) of the wall, column, etc.
- Keep anyone approaching you within your field of vision.
- Make it impossible to be pushed from behind. If there is nothing to block your back, stand in the middle of the platform.
I know two people who have had friends pushed in front of subways.
The first did not survive. The second lived, but was in intensive care with many broken these, fractured thats and punctured those.
New York Subway Safety Tip #6
Don’t Be The Leaning Tower of 23rd Street
Leaning to see whether the train is approaching is dangerous. Observing the body language of leaners is much safer.
When no train is in sight, leaners suck their teeth, roll their eyes, tap their toes and make the “Come on, already” face. Leaners are Zen when they see the train.
Leaning will be less of an issue in the future, as more stations add electronic signs advising how many minutes remaining before the next train approaches.
New York Subway Safety Tip #7
Make Some Noise
Carry a whistle if possible.
One thing bad guys don’t like is attention drawn to them.
It will serve you in two ways.
- It will alert anyone nearby who can help you.
- Anyone harassing you will not like the racket this whistle makes nor the attention it attracts to you.
You may also want one if you plan to walk around at night or by yourself.
“Yeah, but, uh, yooz guys don’t understand, I’m a tough guy.” Perfect, then consider one for the not-so-tough in your group.
New York Subway Safety Tip #8
Wallets And Bags To The Front, Please
The mother of all public transportation tips: gentleman move your wallets to a front pocket, ladies your handbags in front of you.
New York Subway Safety Tip #9
Stash The Cash
Don’t count money in public. If you do, be discreet.
New York Subway Safety Tip #10
Follow The Yellow Strip Road, Follow The Yellow Strip Road (With Care)
When it gets crowded, the yellow warning lanes along platform edges become improvised express lanes for people trying to exit. Losing your balance or getting accidentally bumped are real dangers.
I saw a man bumped onto the tracks during a delay at Grand Central. It was his lucky day: he only fractured a leg. He said, “I don’t know what happened. One moment I was talking to my friend and the next I was on the tracks.”
It’s not just the people rushing down the “express lane” you have to worry about, either. Edge dwellers, those people who wait for trains standing close to the platform’s edge, get cranky during delays. The longer the delay, the meaner they get. They’ll elbow and claw their friends, family and you to get on that next train.
Wait for the train to pass by you before approaching the platform’s edge. Then you can join the elbowing and clawing fun.
New York Subway Safety Tip #11
If You Drop it, Leave It
Dropped something on the tracks? Leave it there.
- Trains can not stop in time for you.
- The third rail’s electricity does not distinguish between trains and mortals.
- A transportation system employee can help you safely retrieve your property.
New York Subway Safety Tip #12
You Snooze, You Lose (Your Property)
Don’t fall asleep, even if you’re tired or drunk– especially at night. Your nap time is a 100% discount sale for subway thieves.
New York Subway Safety Tip #13
Take A Taxi
- Very late at night, when trains run infrequently.
- You have to walk a long distance from the subway to your final destination.
New York Subway Safety Tip #14
Beware Of Union Square
Where: the downtown platform for the #6 train at the “14th Street-Union Square” station in Manhattan.
This platform has a structural problem. Basically, it’s not wide enough.
How did New York City fix this? By installing a hydraulic platform that extends when a train arrives and retracts when a train leaves. Helpful, perhaps, but also quite dangerous.
No one should endure what this poor man did.
1. “Smartphones Driving Violent Crime Across U.S., ” by Martyn Williams (IDG News Service). PC World Australia, 05/10/13.
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