May 24, 2013
Written by Jim Cameron
Wednesday, 30 November 2011 00:00
With a fare hike coming Jan. 1, and with holiday visits to Manhattan, this is a good time to revisit some money-saving strategies for riding Metro-North:
Buy tickets before fare hike
If you’re sure you’ll use them before they expire, buy 10-trips before Dec. 31, 2011 and you’ll lock in lower fares, avoiding the 5+% fare hike New Year’s Day.
For commuters, see if your employer subscribes to this fabulous service, which allows workers to buy up to $230 per month in mass transit by using pre-tax dollars. If you’re in the upper tax brackets, that’s a huge savings. A recent survey shows that 45% of all New York City companies offer TransitChek, which can be used on trains, subways and even ferries.
Go by train off-peak
If you can arrive at Grand Central on weekdays after 10 a.m. and avoid the 4-8 p.m. peak return hours, you can save 15-20%. Off-peak’s also in effect on weekends and holidays.
Buy tickets in advance
If you buy your ticket with cash on the train, you’ll pay the conductor a $5.75-$6.50 “service charge” — a mistake you’ll make only once. There are ticket machines at most stations, but the cheapest tickets are those bought online. And go for the 10-trip tickets to save an additional 15%. They can be shared among passengers, even those traveling together in a group.
Look out for new ticket rules
Metro-North changed its ticket rules last year in what many consider a hidden fare hike. One-way and round-trip tickets which used to be good for months are now valid for only 14 days. Even 10-trip tickets are now valid for only six months. And forget about getting a refund on an old ticket, even if it hasn’t expired. Refunds cost $10.
Kids, family, and senior fares
Buy tickets for your kids (ages 5-11) in advance and save 50% over adult fares. Or pay $1 per kid on board (up to four kids traveling with an adult, but not in morning peak hours). Seniors, the disabled and those on Medicare get 50% off the one-way peak fare. But you must have a proper ID, and you can’t ride in the morning rush hours.
Free station parking
Even rail stations that require parking permits usually offer free parking after 5 p.m. on nights and weekends. Check with your local town.
Once you’re in NYC, you can save even more money.
Forget about the old subway tokens. Metrocards can be bought at most stations (or combined with your Metro-North ticket) and offers some incredible deals compared to the usual $2.25 cash fare: put $10 on a Metrocard (bought with cash, credit or debit card) and you get a 7% bonus. Swipe your card to ride the subway and you’ll get a free transfer to a connecting bus, or vice versa. You can buy unlimited ride MetroCards for a week ($29) or a month ($104). There’s now even an ExpressPay MetroCard that refills itself like an EZ-Pass.
Is it cheaper to drive?
Even being a mass transit advocate, I’ll be the first to admit that there may be times when it’s truly cheaper to drive to Manhattan than take the train, especially with three or more passengers. You probably know how to avoid Triboro (RFK) bridge tolls by taking the Major Deegan to the Willis/Third Avenue. bridge, but I can’t help you with the traffic you’ll have to endure. But do check out bestparking.com to find a great list of parking lots and their rates close to your destination. Or drive to Shea Stadium, park and take the #7 subway from there.
The bottom line is that it ain’t cheap going into “the city.” But with a little planning and some insider tips, you can still save money. Enjoy.
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