As usual, we decided not to rent a car while staying in Manhattan. For us, this is an easy decision to make, as rental cars are expensive, parking is even more expensive and you have many options to get around town.
Just as a reminder, this post is part of our trip report on our trip to see Hamilton.
- How will we get to New York? Oh, hello companion ticket!
- How we choose what hotels to stay at in Times Square (and why did we end up staying somewhere way more expensive than what we would usually pay).
- Hotel Review: The Towers of the Waldorf=Astoria New York
- To Uber, Taxi or Subway? That is the question.
- Why we had never been to Harlem before and what we did when we went there.
- How I earned more Delta miles for dinner and hotel than I did for my flights.
- Why I think everyone needs to see Sleep No More at least once.
As born-and-bred native New York area residents before moving to Florida, Sharon and I know the main way you get around Manhattan is to walk. New York is a pedestrian city and if you have less than a 20 minute walk, that is usually the way to go. That is, unless you are visiting in winter and it is cold and snowing, as we tend to do.
Our first need of transport is from the airport to Manhattan. If we are flying into JFK or Newark airport, public transport is the way to go. In Newark, you can easily get the AirTrain to the NJ Transit station. From there it is a quick ride to NY Penn Station. If we are flying into JFK, we choose to “take the train to the plane” (for those who are old enough and lived in the tri-state area to remember the slogan of the subway service to JFK). Now, you can get the AirTrain JFK and connect to either the NY subway or the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) for your ride to Manhattan. However for both public transit options, you end up either at a train station or in the NY subway system. You then need to find a way to your hotel which means getting on the correct subway if possible, walking with your luggage through New York City or catching a ride with a taxi or Uber.
If we are flying into Laguardia Airport, there is no easy public transport link to Manhattan so we have to choose between a taxi and an Uber. We have done both in the past and usually end up taking a taxi. To do that, we find that going to the taxi stand and waiting in line is the easiest option. The one time we called an Uber, we couldn’t find our driver and we wound up playing a game of “Marco…POLO…Marco…POLO” with him for 10 minutes. This was not the way Sharon wanted to start our trip and I wasn’t a big fan of it, either. Taking a taxi is also convenient for us because we get a ride right to our hotel. However, despite Laguardia being the closest airport to Manhattan, it can end up being the longest ride of all 3 local airports due to the Manhattan traffic and therefore winds up being the most expensive option (figure a $40 -$50 bill for a taxi before tip) of that, Uber or public transportation.
Since we usually stay around Times Square/midtown, we tend to walk to the theaters and restaurants we want to go to. We do venture outside the area to see shows like Sleep No More and need a ride there, since it’s down in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. This trip we also needed a ride from the Waldorf=Astoria to the Upper West Side to see a smaller show, as well as a ride up to Harlem for our first visit to that neighborhood. Our go-to for those kind of rides is Uber, no questions asked.
If you only use taxis to get around, you should at least consider Uber as an option. If you want to sign up, you can use my referral link and your first ride will be free! While I love to think of myself as an early adopter, I actually took a long time to warm up to Uber. Our first ride to the airport was a bust (our driver got caught in a traffic jam on his way to us) but Uber made it up to us and we are using it more and more ever since. We took 6 different Uber rides on this past trip to NY and every one was fine. We didn’t wait more than 5 minutes for a car and the cars were clean and drivers were pleasant. We put where were going into the Uber app, so we knew ahead of time how much the fare would be. Several of the rides were in SUVs but since I only called for a sedan we didn’t pay any extra. I love Uber because the payment is all settled via the app. Tipping the driver is encouraged for a good ride (it is their car and they have to pay to keep it neat and clean). Sharon still has her reservations and says she would not feel right taking one on her own since she is in “just someone’s car” instead of a bona fide taxi where it’s a taxi driver. She says she would still feel safer in a taxi if she were alone.
When did Uber fail us this trip? When were up in Harlem and needed to get back downtown. Uber could get me a car, but it would be 2x what the ride would normally cost. You see, Uber used to have something called “surge pricing” where your fare would have a multiplier based on demand – if there was a lot of demand, such as when shows let out, or if it started to rain, the prices were higher and you knew that because they told you. Nowadays they just quote you a fare that builds the surge and/or the availability of cars in your area directly into the price so you don’t really know how much a regular price is. I did know it cost me $16 to get uptown and they were saying $40 to get downtown. Amazingly, it was also difficult to find a cab in Harlem to go downtown on Sunday afternoon so I turned to Google Maps and checked out options on the subway.
Ah, the New York subway. We’ve been here before and we have the multiple MetroCards to prove it.
It turned out that we were only 2 trains from our hotel and the subway station was only about a 10 minute walk from where we were. OK, here we go…off to the subway!!
OK. My first gripe about MetroCards is that you cannot check the value of a card online. The only way to verify how much is left on a card is to take it to a machine in the subway station and check. I had several cards, each with with small amounts on them, so I wanted to combine their values onto 1 card. I was told by the MTA worker in the station that that no, I couldn’t do that. Apparently they were different types of card (They were? Can you tell the difference?) and couldn’t be combined. OK. Well, we had enough on one card for 1 ride and wanted to add just enough to one of the other cards so it would pay for 1 ride and then be empty. Apparently no one ever wanted to end up with $0 on their card before, because the MTA worker had problems with that, too (I found out after getting home there is an app for that, I’ve never used it but plan on getting it for my next trip). Eventually we just added $3 to one card. Sharon and I found the correct platform for the train downtown and got off at the station where we were supposed to change to the other train. But guess what? That train didn’t stop here today. Sorry. You needed to go 2 more stops and change trains back to the next stop and then turn around, do the Hokey Pokey, get back on the train…forget this.
Luckily, we were already down to 50th St. at this time and only had to walk from 8th Ave. to the Waldorf=Astoria, which was 5 avenue blocks away, on Park Ave. Just another reminder of my love/hate relationship with the subway. It seems so convenient until you actually try to ride it.
While trying to figure out which one of the options is best, it turns out that we still use all of them depending on the circumstance. Here are some of our pros and cons for each:
- You know the price before your car arrives
- You can see your car via Uber’s map while it’s on the way to pick you up
- The car’s license plate is given to you via the app, but the printing is TINY
- The cars are generally nicer than taxis
- Variable pricing can leave you stuck with an expensive ride home
- It can be disorganized to get picked up at airport
- You do not have to explain to driver where you want to go
- It’s not easy for everyone to pick out, say, a Toyota Corolla or Honda Accord at quick glance – including the car’s color would be a nice addition to the app
- The cliches about New York taxis are mostly true
- If you don’t know how, hailing a cab on your own can be difficult
- Sometimes there just aren’t any taxis where you are
- The price you pay is always consistent, regardless of rain, a show letting out, etc.
- At the airport, taxi stands are organized
- Buying MetroCards is more difficult than it should be
- Even with modern technology, navigating the subway system is confusing
- Trains will have “schedule disruptions,” particularly on weekends, and the MTA’s website is not very user friendly to those who aren’t familiar with the system
- There may not be a subway stop near where you are
- It’s generally still the fastest and most economical way to get around the city