New York City's Cheapest Big Thrill

All About the Roosevelt Island Tram

Updated 1 year ago
Roosevelt Island Tram arrives on 2nd Avenue.
Roosevelt Island Tram arrives on 2nd Avenue.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

With the opening of FDR Four Freedoms Park, followed by Cornell Tech, interest in Roosevelt Island and its unique and thrilling Tram soared. Here's a quick how-to for the Roosevelt Island Tram and little history for visitors and locals alike.

  • How much does it cost? Although not managed by the MTA, the Tram participates in the New York City Subway MetroCard system. That means you can transfer easily between systems, swiping your card at the familiar turnstiles in either Tram Plaza. You can also buy MetroCards at each location. Currently, fares are $2.75 per single ride, including one free transfer between Tram and MTA Subway and Bus.
  • Where is the Roosevelt Island Tram? The most popular access point is the Tram Plaza on 2nd Avenue, between East 59th and East 60th Streets. Closest subway access is from the N, R and W station one block west at 3rd Avenue. One block farther is the 4, 5 and 6 station on Lexington near Bloomingdales. Q32 and M102 buses also stop within a block of the Tram. The Roosevelt Island Tram Plaza is accessible by F Train, one block north, Q102 Bus and the NYC Ferry which is only a short walk away.
  • How long does it last? The Tram glides alongside the Queensboro Bridge for roughly four minutes. Times can vary as the cabins can be speeded up or slowed down, depending on need. You silently reach a height of 250 feet as the metropolis spreads out on all sides. Nighttime rides are spectacular.
  • Hours of Operation: Cabins sweep skyward from 6:00 a.m until 2:00 a.m. at 15 minute intervals, except during rush hours when they run every 7 1/2 minutes or when demand is high, for example, when the subway is down or there is a special event. If possible, visitors should avoid rush hours when cabins can be cramped. You're better off waiting for a better experience and view when local residents aren't using the Tram to get to and from work.
    RIOC Red Buses offer free rides to most Island locations.
    RIOC Red Buses offer free rides to most Island locations.
    © David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily
  • How do I get around Roosevelt Island? Roosevelt Island, from north to south between channels of the East River, is just two miles long. That makes it easy to walk to Shops on Main in the heart of town, numerous historic sites, the sprinkling of parks throughout the Island, FDR Four Freedoms Park and Cornell Tech. As unique as the Tram, free, full size red buses carry passengers to all points. Just watch for the red signs for stops. The buses, like the Tram are operated by the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC).

Historically, the Roosevelt Island Tram was built and put into operation in 1976 as the modern community, envisioned as the City of Tomorrow, welcomed its first permanent residents. It was planned as a temporary solution until a subway connection could be built.

But construction lagged, and by the time the Roosevelt Island Subway Station opened in 1989, the Tram was a beloved local fixture. Residents had to put up a fierce fight but finally won the battle to prevent dismantling the treasured system.

Eventually, the entire system, except the towers, was replaced with newer, more reliable technologies.

Tourists have flocked to the Tram as New York City's cheapest thrill in recent years. It doesn't disappoint, although visitors are asked to considered non-peak hours, before or after commuter rush, for the experience. With many locals depending on the cabins for getting to and from work, the joys can be less than optimal for everyone when the cabins are jammed with passengers.

Roosevelt Island Tip: However you find your way to Roosevelt Island, smart visitors stop by the Historical Society's Visitor Kiosk in the Tram Plaza on Main Street. There, you'll find souvenirs, maps and refreshments along with helpful suggestions and answered from a well-prepared staff.

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