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Stand clear of the closing doors, please. *BOOP-BOOP*
Twenty-three lines, 468 stations, 5 million daily riders, 1.5 billion yearly riders (at $2.25 a pop, soon to be $2.50)...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 true:
- 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.
- 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 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. (They're claiming a 2016 completion date now. Bets?)
Also, their Arts for Transit project practically makes the subway an art museum! Sample the collection the next time you're in town, or sample them here.
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 IRT tunnels are too narrow to accommodate IND/BMT cars, so there are a 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 New Jersey. 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 entrance, 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 Redheaded Stepchild of New York City) has its own elevated train line across the island, and there are several separate local rail systems primarily for commuters:
- The Long Island Railroad (LIRR), serving Long Island.
- Metro-North, serving
upstate New Yorksouthern New York State suburbs like Westchester County, as well as the Connecticut suburbs.
- NJTransit, serving Northern and Central New Jersey.
- The Port-Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH), connecting the "sixth borough" of Jersey City and Hoboken to lower Manhattan.
Unlike many other cities, the NYC subway runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 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.
- 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 Deviant ART.
- 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.
- Just Another Girl On The IRT
- The Bone Collector
- Cloverfield... sort of
- 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 American Godzilla film 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 2 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 2. 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.)
- Law and Order has at least one episode about the Mole People who used to live under Grand Central Station.
- Friends. The extended version of the pilot has a scene of Phoebe playing her guitar there. She later stalked her twin sister's stalker there.
- Monk once get lost on the subway on a trip to New York.
- Twice in CSI New York.
- A couple of News Radio episodes have a subway scene. One early episode has them trying to cover a subway accident, but all we see is Matthew standing in a pitch-dark tunnel waist deep in water.
- The opening intro montage of The Equalizer featured the subway, likely due to its publically-perceived link to vigilantism (with the 'Subway Vigilante' case.
- Seinfeld has an entire episode set in a subway car.
- Seinfeld also has a subplot involving Kramer getting bored waiting for the subway and deciding to run down the tunnel (wearing pants he intended to return at the store). Everyone expects him to have to dodge a train coming down the tunnel, but the actual story is that he slipped in mud and ruined the pants.
- As does All in The Family.
- And The Odd Couple (with guest star Barney Martin).
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer referenced the 'street crime' cliche in a flashback, showing how Spike killed a previous Slayer in a subway car.
- The Criminal Minds episodes "Lo-Fi" and "Mayhem" take place in New York City, and deal with urban terrorism. In "Mayhem", Morgan pursues one of the UnSubs down into a subway station and onto a deserted section of track. It appears as if the suspect is going to commit suicide by train, however he grabs onto the electrified section of track instead, electrocuting himself.
- 30 Rock: Liz Lemon's loser boyfriend gets a guest spot on TGS when he saves a woman from being run over by a train, based on an actual incident.
- Jack gets a case of bedbugs, and is denied the use of a company car and refused by taxi drivers. He becomes lost on the subway and the passengers refuse to even talk to him.
- On one episode of How I Met Your Mother, Barney tries to prove that you can run a marathon without training first, and ends up paralyzed on a subway car. "I've been to where the trains turn around. Ted, you don't ever want to see where the trains turn around!"
- In another episode, Lily claims that she can beat the others to a location by using the subway, but she is stymied by the inconsistent scheduling and garbled PA announcements (which she claims to be able to understand).
- Saturday Night Live performed a sketch about Bernie Goetz waiting in a studio green room and inadvertantly intimidating the other guests.
- The Jazz-Standard "Take the "A" Train" is about a subway line in New York.
- 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.
- "And out of the subway..."
- 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 Liberty City version of the subway also appears in Grand Theft Auto III.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 panhandlign 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.
- ↑ Er, sort of -- a single-ride ticket is $2.50, but a swipe deducts $2.25 from a reusable farecard, and adding $10 or more to a farecard gives you a discount that brings the effective cost down to about $2.09. Got all that?
- ↑ Although you can and should expect longer intervals at night--3 minutes in the day versus up to 15 around midnight or so.