The NYC Subway

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12353

Have you ever flown in the sky in a plane? You most likely have ridden on the ground in a car or train or bus. What is it like to travel underground? Learn about the amazing underground train system!


People and Their Environment

Social Studies
learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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What is the only large-scale transit system in the world that operates 24-hours per day, seven days per week?

A mass transit system is a large-scale form of public transportation.

This can include modes of transportation such as buses, trains, and subways. Traditionally, subway systems tend to be the largest public transport systems, because they are constructed and hidden under cities. Shanghai, China, may be home to the largest subway system in the world, but New York City’s subway system is the only one to operate 24-hours per day, seven days per week.

In this lesson, you will learn about this mass transit system that is used to move millions of people through New York City every day. You will answer questions at the end of this section, based on the information you read. It may be helpful to take notes on the reading.

  • Why do you think subway systems were built?

Discuss your ideas with your teacher or parent.

New York City

If you have ever visited New York City or another large American city, you know there is not a lot of space. The number of buildings and people does not leave a lot of room for roads. The roads that are weaved in-between buildings are often jam-packed with cars and buses. Even though the roads are crowded with cars, fewer than half of New Yorkers actually own a car. Just think how crowded the roads would be if all 8.5 million New Yorkers owned a car! Due to the large population size and lack of space, there is a need for a public transport system that can quickly move large numbers of people without creating more traffic and problems in the city.

By the late 1800s, the United States had become one of the wealthiest countries in the world. The Industrial Revolution, a time period that lasted from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s, marked a shift from people farming and creating their own goods to people moving to large cities, where machines and factories were used to produce goods. The introduction of new inventions led to massive growth in businesses and factories. Millions of people from all over the world began immigrating, or moving to, the United States in search of new work and wealth.

As the United States grew, the number of people living in cities grew, too. New York City was the largest city in the United States and experienced substantial growth due to the number of immigrants coming through Ellis Island, a small island outside New York City that was used as a gateway for immigrants into the United States. In just ten years, New York City’s population grew from about 1.5 million people in 1890 to about 3.5 million people in 1900.

As the population size increased, New York City’s leaders recognized a need for a mass transit system. The public transit systems that existed at the time, such as trolleys, were not large enough to accommodate the growing population. Public transit subway systems already existed in London, England, and Boston, Massachusettes, United States. New York City officials began looking to these subway systems as models of what was needed in New York. A subway system was the ideal transit system because it could be mostly built and hidden underground. Therefore, it would prevent more crowding and allow room for more businesses to be built.

The New York City subway opened on October 27, 1904. The first line traveled 9.1 miles through 28 stations. A station is a place where the train stops and allows people to get on and off. That day, more than 100,000 people paid five cents to ride the subway. After 1904, the subway was slowly expanded into other parts of New York City.

Today (2017), New York City's subway is more than 800 miles long. There are 26 different lines going in different directions, and exactly 468 stations. It is estimated that around 5.5 million people ride New York’s subway each day, and 1.7 billion people ride it every year. It costs $2.75 per ride. Around 70% of people living in New York say they use the subway to travel to and from work every day.

Use what you have learned to answer the following questions. You can write your answers on a separate piece of paper or in the spaces provided:

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Review your responses with your teacher or parent. Then, click through these images to learn some facts about the New York City subway system:

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Now that you have learned the history and some facts about the New York City subway, move on to the Got It? section to look at a map of the transit system and determine what lines you would need to ride to get to different parts of New York City.

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