Home Subway Maps Map of the Day: Subway service at night

Map of the Day: Subway service at night

by Benjamin Kabak

An excerpt of the night subway map from Astoria Bike. Click the image for a full version.

One of the constant complaints concerning the MTA’s subway map is how it isn’t exactly a comprehensive glimpse at service. Rather that representing the subway system as it is at all times, the current subway map shows service as it is during peak hours. It doesn’t reflect mid-day service changes; it doesn’t reflect weekend routes; and it certainly doesn’t show overnight service.

These shortcomings have long been recognized by the authority. In fact, the new map explicitly warns straphangers of its limitations, but although it urges users to check its website for information on off-peak re-routing, nowhere does a map exist on the MTA’s site with that information. In the digital age, that is a resource that should be readily available to the public.

Now, though, the writer behind Astoria Bike has tried to cure that omission. He has produced a late-night subway map. He offers up the impetus behind the map and a tale of trying to get the MTA on board:

Unlike every other city in the world, the MTA has never made a map of night service. This is a pretty big omission. Want to know how to get home? The official MTA party line is, “Overhead directional signs on platforms show… late night service.” Well that’s not much help! Especially given the horrible up-to-20-minute Zombie Wait (cue dripping water and rats). And God forbid you have to transfer. Or make an honest mistake because you trusted the day map! I pity the poor person waiting for the R late at night to take them to Queens…

The other night I was at Court Street in Brooklyn and was overjoyed to see the N train pulling in. I guess it does so every night. But I didn’t know. Because it’s not on the map.

After that night I actually wrote the MTA and offered to make a map night for them. Not surprisingly, I sort of got the runaround. So I did my best with photoshop and what I could find on line. I know the MTA is kind of anal about things like this, but my intentions are pure and non-commercial. This is a public service. I did the best I could. And any errors are my own (do let me know if you find mistakes). I do not claim any rights to this map (nor should you). It’s the MTA’s, if they want it. But they had nothing to do with the production.

Those interested can find a PDF version of the map right here, and it’s a useful thing to have late at night. Outside of the cost, there’s really no good reason for the MTA to avoid producing its own overnight map. There are just too many system changes after midnight and enough riders to justify the guide.

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Eddy April 28, 2011 - 4:44 pm

Why does the map need to be an old-fashioned piece of paper which then creates a constraint due to available space? Instead, the MTA could have advertisers sponsor a touch panel display/kiosk that can show a dynamic map which MTA updates to show a current map of routes based on schedule (day / night) and even unplanned service disruptions. Eventually, this map could even be used to display up-to-date information on the next train’s arrival. Informational alerts can be posted here electronically as well. Last but not least, advertisements could also be displayed when the display is not being used by a rider.

Alon Levy April 28, 2011 - 6:08 pm

Sure, but two points:

1. Electronic displays cost more than paper. The difference is trivial in the grand scheme of things, but cars still have to be retrofitted.

2. It’s imperative that map space is used for maps, and requires minimal interactivity. People don’t want to be seen as tourists, or to disturb people sitting under the map display. A display that shows the services available at the moment including GOs is great, but should be otherwise static.

Bolwerk April 29, 2011 - 2:16 pm

I always thought key stations should have some kind of kiosk offering advanced guidance of the system. But that’s not practical for the entire system (and your typical neighborhood user probably doesn’t need it).

But I suspect any system like the one you’re proposing will take decades to implement, considering how long some equipment lasts, even if some cars were retrofitted.

Nathanael May 1, 2011 - 8:51 am

I still don’t understand why the MTA hasn’t hired SubwayWeekender. Sure, maybe they can’t fix the paper maps and the maps in stations…. but at least they could have their online maps be up-to-the-minute.

Henry Man April 28, 2011 - 5:14 pm

I thought the 2 runs local Chambers-96th late nights.

Benjamin Kabak April 28, 2011 - 5:15 pm

Yeah, it does. That’s an error. This is still a work in progress.

Michael Tyznik April 28, 2011 - 5:16 pm

KickMap’s iPhone app has had a night service map for quite a while now:

KickMap night map

Joe Steindam April 28, 2011 - 6:27 pm

That kickmap shows the G running out to Forrest Hills, which is no longer accurate. But I guess the actual map in the app is accurate.

It is a shame that the MTA hasn’t commissioned this officially yet.

A April 28, 2011 - 5:39 pm

The discussion about this on Reddit led to the map that already existed on Wikipedia- it was out of date, so I brushed it up, updated it and posted it:


Not a finished job by any means, but another resource.

Anonymoose April 28, 2011 - 6:24 pm

It doesn’t help that that the newer maps removed that Service Guide box. Sure, it took a while to decipher, but at least it was *something*.

Jerrold April 28, 2011 - 6:32 pm

I don’t think it’s true that they NEVER had a map like that.
I remember that some years ago, there WAS a “Late Night Guide” available at token booths.

Of course, they should have been updating it all along and keeping it in existence.

Ed April 28, 2011 - 6:35 pm

This is a great attempt at something the MTA should have been doing anyway.

On the “geographic realism vs. cool abstract functionality” controversy, I lean towards the realism school, but I’m not sure why the MTA can’t have two maps, a functional one just covering Lower Manhattan, or Lower and Midtown Manhattan, and a more geographically accurate one for the whole city, showing the lines as they go through the central area covered on the first map but leaving out the names of the stations. But there is an argument for a separate map for the night system as well.

Is there any reason the MTA is limited to only one map? On most subway cars the current map is shown twice, so why not one map at one end of the car, and a separate map showing different information on the other. On the platforms I’ve noticed a trend towards having one side of the really big map covered with announcements showing why the information there really doesn’t apply, again this seems to be a case where two maps would work better.

Alon Levy April 29, 2011 - 1:44 pm

If people need to walk from one end of a car to another to look at a map, you might as well not have a map.

Abba April 28, 2011 - 11:21 pm

J runs to Broad street Late night besides weekends.

Subutay Musluoglu April 29, 2011 - 8:08 am

While a night time service map can be highly useful, the reality is that the sheer number of reroutes and general orders on any given night would render the map useless. For overnight riders who are already perplexed by the service notices, this map can potentially confuse them even further. I suspect that this is the primary reason why the MTA has not sanctioned this effort or commissioned their own. At least with the current official map the service you see is the service you get (on a good day that is).

As alluded to in the original post, in today’s digital world (or the ideal world that the MTA has yet to achieve) it would be great if upon entering any given station, before passing the fare array, one is greeted by a digital map with a variable display, showing the service pattern as it is at that moment. The entire concept of a daytime map versus an overnight map versus a weekend map would be irrelevant.

Bolwerk April 29, 2011 - 2:24 pm

Hmm, I want to say they should strive to make it so the extraneous night map information doesn’t matter so much. If the services were patterned right, a notice saying, “After x o’clock, all trains except [3? the Q and the 5? B or D or whichever?] make all local stops.” That way, novices can at least not worry about distinctions like A vs. C. But then, so many trains have multiple terminals still, that the map can be confusing anyway. That entire orange line from Essex to Broadway-Myrtle is useless late nights and weekends.

Ted K. April 30, 2011 - 10:16 pm

Here’s the map page from SFMuni (San Francisco, CA) with four sections (city, downtown [w/ TI inset], Market St., and Owl).

For comparison purposes here’s NYMTA’s map page.

P.S. Commuter rail in San Francisco is provided by Caltrain and regional rail service is provided by BART . There are other systems with buses and ferries that connect to or run through San Francisco.

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