The solution: The Citymapper NY app. Earlier this year, it won the MTA’s own App Quest competition for being the app that best integrates most of the city’s transit possibilities into one spot. (That’s subway, bus, Citi-bike, rail, walking, taxi and a surprise mode of transit.)
It’s a pretty perfect app for locals who already have a sense of where they are and where they’re going, but for tourists or visitors, it has only the info you need and not a bunch of other stuff. The biggest innovation is that Citymapper integrates real-time updates to the system so that you don’t need to keep track of when a line or station is being serviced, or if there’s work on the tracks. The app does it all for you.
Additional advantages: Once you’ve installed it, you can add a bunch of addresses to the very clean map within the app and then plot your routes to and from any location. You can then *save* these routes for offline use which is a *key* feature if you don’t have a data plan. And the map will still zoom in and out, even if you’re offline which seems like a simple thing until you use every other app and realize that it’s not a standard feature.
Only complaint: they haven’t made a version for Paris yet, but London (that dump!) is available and presumably equally awesome.
Another tip for visitors
If you’re a world traveler, I’m assuming you have an unlocked phone so I’m working from there. If you go to the US, find a local T-Mobile store and buy an American SIM card ($10) and get a pre-paid credit on it. There are several different rates available but I’m partial to the month-long one (which is usually $30) as I’m never in country that long and it’s pretty unlikely that I’ll use all the text- and talk-time in a couple weeks.
I recommend T-Mobile over other carriers for a few reasons: the company isn’t horrible like AT&T; it doesn’t have shitty customer service like Sprint; and they don’t require a local address or proof of residence to register the number (you do have to provide ID). They make buying a SIM super easy and the other big companies have historically given me a hard time, trying to sell me a disposable phone or up-selling a bunch of crap I don’t need. T-Mobile recognizes that a customer may come back if they don’t hassle you. (They may also suspect you’re a spy or criminal and want to claim plausible deniability after you’re arrested, but that still works in your favor.)