I love public transit. Every city has its good and its bad; but today I couldn’t even begin to imagine driving around NYC, the traffic, the heat is horrendous and there are detours everywhere. Although it has its costs, public transport is a great way to get around, in and out of New York City.
First, if you want to navigate around NYC you need some good maps. For the most part Manhattan is like a grid so usually you can situate yourself pretty easily. However, Brooklyn is a mess, Queens and the Bronx have their issues and there is always some sort of construction or detour that can throw you off your game no matter wherever you are, so I strongly recommend always having a map. Some suggestions: Streetwise (http://www.streetwisemaps.com/index.html) , subway map (http://www.mta.info/nyct/maps/submap.htm). I also have a NYC bike map which is one of the best maps i have because it shows all sections of nyc and it was free. I don’t remember how i got it but you can find online versions here: (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/bikemaps.shtml) , PATH train (http://www.panynj.gov/path/maps.html) , within NYC Buses + other rails (http://www.mta.info/maps/) , Port Authority Bus Terminal (http://www.panynj.gov/bus-terminals/pabt-terminal-map.htm) , NJ transit (http://www.njtransit.com/pdf/rail/Rail_System_Map.pdf) , etc. etc.
I like to carry hand held maps but there are all sorts of apps you can download to your iphone these days. Like this one: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/nyc-map/id508925361?mt=8
I’m not sure what the apps are like but just having the internet at your fingertips always helps. And if you get totally lost just find a subway and there are usually large maps at most stops and even on the trains.
Of course the subway can get super crowded during rush hours, hot during the summer and even flooded during rainstorms. The bike paths aren’t like marked Portland, OR paths, they are chaos and no one follows rules but the Riverside Park Path is as close to a select bike path as you’ll get in NYC. The PATH train can get confusing on Sundays because the hours and train change a bit so depending on what train you take, you may have to transfer lines to get to your destination. The other train lines and buses are pretty frequent and self-explanatory, just make sure you get on the bus/train with the same number that’s on your ticket. Also, the bus gates can be hard to find sometimes so always ask your agent.
And if you use the ATM-like ticket booths like me, then do some research beforehand on what gate your bus leaves from or you’ll have to go check with a ticket agent anyway after you purchase your ticket because the gate number doesn’t print out on the receipt nor ticket.
You can use your METRO card with the subway, PATH and NYC internal buses; but will have to buy other tickets for buses at Port Authority and other train lines like LIRR and NJ transit rail. Your METRO card can be bought and refilled at any subway station at one of those ATM-like machines that have the METRO card logo. Or you can buy a ride from the merchant at the subway info booth if there is one at your station.
If public transportation isn’t your thing, you can hail a taxi, hire a private car to drive you around, or use a zipcar.
Good Luck! It is always an adventure.