With the holidays upon us, let’s review some money-saving tips for riding Metro-North Railroad from Connecticut (or Westchester County) into New York City for commuters and day-trippers alike:
TransitChek: See if your employer subscribes to this great service, which allows workers to buy up to $130 per month in transit using pre-tax dollars. If you’re in the upper tax brackets, that’s a huge savings on commutation. A recent survey showed that 45% of all New York City companies offer TransitChek, which can be used on trains, subways and even ferries.
Go off-peak: If you can arrive at Grand Central weekdays after 10 a.m. and can avoid the 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. peak return hours, you can save 25%. Off-peak is also in effect on weekends and holidays. These tickets are good for 60 days after purchase.
Buy tickets in advance: If you buy your ticket on the train you’ll pay the conductor a $5.75-$6.50 “service charge,” a mistake you’ll make only once! (Seniors: Don’t worry, you’re exempt and can buy on-board anytime without penalty.) There are ticket machines at most stations, but the cheapest tickets are those bought online. And go for the 10-trip tickets (peak or off-peak) to save an additional 15%. They can be shared among passengers and are good for six months.
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 proper ID and you can’t go in the morning rush hours.
Free station parking: Even stations that require weekday parking permits usually offer free parking after 5 p.m. on nights and weekends. Check with your local town.
MetroCards: Forget about the old subway tokens. These nifty cards can be bought at most stations (even combined with your Metro-North ticket) and offer some good deals. Put $5.50 on a card (bought with cash or credit or debit card) and you get a 5% 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 ($31) or a month ($116.50).
But is it cheaper to drive? Despite being a mass transit advocate, I’m the first to admit that there may be times when it’s truly cheaper to drive to Manhattan than to take the train, especially with three or more passengers. You can avoid 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. Check out www.bestparking.com to find a great list of parking lots and their rates close to your destination. Or drive to CitiField in Queens and take the No. 7 subway from there.
The bottom line is that it isn’t cheap going into “the city.” But with a little planning and some insider tips, you can still save money.
Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at [email protected] You can hear Jim’s take on transportation in and around Fairfield County, Connecticut, every Wednesday on HAN’s Coffee Break at 11 a.m.