Whatever You Do, Don't Trust An Empty Subway Car While In New York City. Here's Why

If you're visiting NYC for the first time, you'll probably hear two pieces of advice right away: watch out for Times Square tourist traps and resist the temptation to snag an easy seat in an empty subway car — or don't, and embrace the authentic NYC experience of trying not to throw up on public transit.


New York City's subway system is world-famous because it runs nonstop, 24 hours a day, every day. It is the beating heart of the city, pumping millions of people throughout the boroughs every day. At peak times, the train can get intensely crowded. Just getting into a subway car can be a struggle, let alone finding a seat. It can seem like a beautiful New York miracle when an otherwise crowded train pulls into the station with one completely empty car. However, before you rush to the front of the platform to claim a seat, consider that there must be a reason hundreds of New Yorkers before you chose to leave that car alone.

Sure, maybe all 230 passengers in that car decided to get off at the last stop at once, and nobody else wanted to take a train downtown at rush hour. Realistically, though, there's something nasty on that train. A lot of locals and visitors alike have horror stories about the times they decided to risk stepping into the empty car and experienced something repulsive (think human excrement, vomit, or BO thick enough to qualify as fog.)


Question why everyone is avoiding the empty subway car

The subway is an incredible feat of engineering, and it can take you to some of the most beautiful places in NYC, like the most filmed location, Central Park. However, in a city of millions, things can get a little gross from time to time. Part of what makes the lone empty subway car so unsettling is that there's no way to know exactly what it contains that has kept everybody else away. In the heat of summer, it might be that the AC has broken in that car, turning the already stuffy space into a boiling sauna. In general, though, the car probably stinks. It takes a lot for people to choose a crowded car over an empty one, so you can be pretty sure that if it is a smell, it's a really, really bad one.


The most common subway horror story is probably seeing someone poop on the train — or finding evidence that somebody did so prior to your arrival on the scene. It could also be vomit or pee. Exactly what is making people avoid the car is not a mystery worth solving, so if you see that empty car, or somebody ominously warns you not to go into a specific part of the train, you should probably just choose another option.

How to get a seat without braving the empty car

Whether you're hopping back and forth between New York favorites in hopes of spotting celebrities or just trying to get to work without smelling a stink that leaves you forever changed, you'll definitely want to skip the empty car. But what if you're exhausted and need to get a seat? If you live with a disability that makes standing difficult, are pregnant, or an older individual, other passengers should offer you their seat. Otherwise, you'll have to be more strategic if you hope to score a coveted subway seat.


One strategy is to walk to the end of the platform or stay right at the beginning so you get on the first or last car. These are less convenient, so they may be less crowded. If you board and all the seats are taken, start looking around to see which of your fellow passengers seems like they're about to reach their station — you might be able to swoop in and take their seat when they leave. In the worst-case scenario, you can always wait for the next train and enjoy an empty seat (hopefully) without any mysterious odors.