Travelling to New York on a budget? New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission recently voted on a fare increase that will hike the price of a cab fare by about 17 per cent as of September. A standard cab ride, the New York Daily News reported, is about three miles, with a fare of about $12, jumping to $14. This might sound like a lot to out-of-towners who rely on an endless barrage of taxis to get around New York, but keep in mind that fares haven't changed much since 2005 and drivers will finally get a disability-insurance program. Still, to avoid spending all your green on yellow cabs, here are other, cheaper (and more environmentally friendly) ways to navigate New York.
Don't fear the subway. The New York subway system runs 24 hours a day and can be a quick and easy way to get around. Trains are relatively inexpensive, clean, safe and simple to figure out if you plot your course in advance. You can even take the subway into Manhattan from Kennedy airport and save the $45 flat fare – which the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission has voted to raise to $52. If you buy several fares at once, an adult subway fare is $2.25. (A single ride costs $2.50.) Reduced fare for seniors over 65 is half that, and a paying adult can bring up to three children who are less than 44 inches tall for free.
To pay the fare, swipe your MetroCard at the turnstile. Easy-to-use card-vending machines at all stations accept credit cards or cash. (Word to the wise when using the machines: Don't hold up the line. Do your business and move on.) You can buy a Pay-Per-Ride, SingleRide, or Unlimited MetroCard. A 30-day Unlimited Pass costs $104, and a seven-day pass is $29.
For directions, Hopstop.com is great, especially since construction and track maintenance can affect train routes. You just type in the address and up pops the most efficient public-transit route from your point A to B, and how long it will take. Locals say it's about two minutes between subway stops – once you get on the train, of course. As a general rule, I give it an hour to get anywhere in Manhattan from the outer boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, and at least 30 minutes to move within the city. (Trains run less frequently nights and weekends so allow more time.) It's also smart to check out a map of the subway system in advance to get your bearings. You can find one on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's website at www.mta.info/nyct/maps/submap.htm. It is also posted in most subway cars.
A few final tips: The entrance to downtown-bound trains is generally on the west side of the street and uptown-bound is usually on the east side. (Just look for the old-fashioned lamppost with the green top.) Subway cars are air-conditioned during the summer and heated in the winter, but platforms aren't. Taking the subway involves climbing lots of stairs, so keep that in mind if you're travelling with kids or elderly companions. Finally, riding the subway is a great people-watching opportunity if you want to observe a variety of New Yorkers, from rich to poor, Wall Streeters to buskers. I wouldn't recommend chatting up strangers during always-packed rush hour, or taking the train alone at 4 a.m. drunk, but if you need directions, don't be shy to ask. You never know whom you might meet ...
If you're co-ordinated, healthy and brave, bicycling is an amazing way to get around New York. It's environmentally responsible, fast, and fun. Plus, it's great exercise. New York has built 100 miles of its in-progress "greenway" system, landscaped bike-friendly paths throughout the city.
But, stating the obvious, urban cycling can be dangerous! So be careful. Stick to bike lanes, wear a helmet and obey traffic laws and be aware of traffic around you. Bike theft is also a risk, so lock up your wheels with extra diligence. (But not on trees: That's not allowed. And only kids under age 12 are permitted to bike on sidewalks.)
A good start is to map out the city's many bike paths and greenways so that you know where you can ride safely. Plan in advance and order a free copy of the official New York City Cycling Map by calling 212-NEW-YORK, or visit www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/bikemaps.shtml. (Another great online map resource is www.ridethecity.com)
To rent some wheels, try the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park or Pier 84 (on the Hudson River Greenway). A quick online search can also turn up some great rental deals. Though its July launch has been delayed with no new date confirmed, an anticipated new public bike-share program will make about 10,000 Citi Bikes available to program members. For an annual fee of $95, you get unlimited 45-minute Citi Bike rides between designated stations and pay-per-use options will also be available. Rumours of a summer launch abound.
Walking is another fine strategy. It's no secret that the Big Apple is a walker's paradise, day or night. Much of the city is a grid, so finding your way isn't rocket science. And even in more confusing neighbourhoods, including the West Village, Greenwich Village and the Financial District, getting lost can be an adventure in discovery. (Just wear comfortable shoes – the concrete jungle is tough on those hooves.)
That said, for the purpose of getting where you need to go, here are my favourite walking routes and shortcuts:
In midtown and uptown, Central Park is an obvious choice. At Columbus Circle (near 59th Street and Eighth Avenue), you can walk, jog, run or skateboard all the way up to 110th Street, with no city noise or chaos. Popular with joggers, inline skaters and cyclists, a traffic-free path is also available on the West Side. The tree-lined waterfront park extends north from Battery Park to 59th Street with an incredible view of the skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Farther north, also adjacent to the Hudson River, is Riverside Park, from 72nd to 158th streets. If your feet crave city flavour on foot, Times Square and Hell's Kitchen throb with action, though the presence of so many bodies doesn't exactly bring out one's inner speed walker. (Speaking of which, the lovely Highline walkway is a popular tourist attraction but usually so crowded it's tough to move at a decent pace.)
Stick to neighbourhoods
Why not hone in on districts so interesting you won't want to go far? If your heels can handle cobblestone streets, the stylish Meatpacking District is a showy-but-chic microcosm of dining, fashion and bottle-service nightlife. Excellent hotels abound. Stay at the Gansevoort, The Standard, Dream Downtown or Soho House, then strut on over to Chelsea to peruse that 'hood's many art galleries.
Or is elegant, highbrow culture your jam? Do the Upper East Side. This wealthy, walkable area is full of the finest society and all its lifestyle accoutrements: Fine dining, haute couture shops and New York's best museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney and the Guggenheim.
For a less pricey experience, focus on the ever-authentic Lower East Side. Dense with old and new, this foot-friendly residential neighbourhood breathes the diversity and energy of downtown New York. Cool bars, shops, galleries restaurants and cafés hold court beside old tenements and a sense of living history. Great hotels nearby include the Thompson LES and the Bowery Hotel. SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy and NoLiTa are all within walking distance, and the New Museum (in the nearby Bowery district) is just a quick stroll away.
Special to The Globe and Mail