Subway FAQ: Photography in the Subway
21 NYCRR 1050.9c is the regulation that deals with photgraphy in the subway system. (The "NYCRR" is the Official Compilation Codes, Rules and Regulations of the State of New York, in this case Volume 21, Section 1050.9, Paragraph (c). Unfortunately the entire NYCRR document is not available on the web; but you can find a copy of 21 NYCRR 1050, the NYCT Rules of Conduct on the Official MTA Site. (A copy of the entire NYCRR is available at the Science and Business Library of the New York Public Library and most likely at local branch libraries.)
21 NYCRR 1050.9c applies to the NYCT and MaBSTOA; 21 NYCRR 1040.4f of the same document applies to SIRT. In each case the language is the same:
Restricted areas and activities. Photography, filming, or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors, or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance to the provisions of these rules.
However, the same regulations allow this rule to be overridden. For instance, 21 NYCRR 1050.6 ("Use of the transit system") prohibits commercial activity (paragraph b), nontransit use of facilities (paragraph c); where nontransit use is broadly defined as "non commercial activities that are not directly related to the use of a facility or conveyance for transportation purposes". A police officer could also determine that the act of photography violates other statutes, like 1050.9g, "no person may carry or bring to any facility any item that constitutes a hazard to operation or interferes with passenger traffic".
There is also an entry under Section 1050.6c, which describes the permitted non-transit uses, specifically about public speaking, distribution of written non-commercial material, artistic performances, acceptance of donations, solicitation for religious or political causes. Individuals involved in such activities may not "use media devices, such as films, slides, or videotapes" (itemized in 21 NYCRR 1050.6c.5), which may be the source of the "no photography" confusion.
Based on the wording of the statutes, it is possible that photography could still be a violation. As long as you're not constituting a hazard to operation, trespassing in closed/private areas, etc. you should be fine.
A copy of these statutes was received by the webmaster from the NYCT Public Affairs office on September 1, 2000. The statute was verified as still in effect as above on February 27, 2003.