Saving money riding Metro-North

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Whether you’re a daily commuter, an occasional day-tripper or have friends visiting from out of town, everyone can save money when you go into NYC on Metro-North by following this time-tested advice:

Transitchek: Get your employer to subscribe to this great service, which allows workers to buy up to $260 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 shows that 45 percent of all New York City companies offer TransitChek which can be used on trains, subways and even ferries.

Go off-peak: If your train arrives at Grand Central weekdays after 10 am and you can avoid the 4 pm – 8 pm peak return hours, you can save 25 percent.  Off-peak fares are also in effect on weekends and holidays.  Your train may be less crowded, too.  These tickets are good for 60 days after purchase.

Buy tickets in advance: Buy your ticket on the train and 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 most convenient  tickets are those bought online using the new e-Tix app.  And go for the ten-trip tickets (Off-Peak will save an additional 15 percent).  They can be shared among family members and friends and are good for six months.

Kids, family & 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 percent off the one way peak fare.  But you must have proper ID and you don’t get the discount in the morning rush hours.

Free station parking: Even train stations that require local parking permits usually offer free parking after 5 pm, on nights and weekends.  Check with your local municipality.

Cheaper station parking: If you’re a regular commuter, don’t waste money parking at comparatively “expensive” station garages like South Norwalk ($ 12 per day), Stamford ($11) or New Haven ($18).  Instead, park at the day-lots in nearby towns for as little as $4.  But be sure to pay at the pay station before boarding the train.

Once you’re in the city, you can save even more money.

Metrocards: Sorry Grandpa, subway tokens are no more.  The nifty MetroCard can be bought at most stations (even combined with your Metro-North ticket) and offer some incredible deals:  put $5.50 on a card (bought with cash, credit or debit card) and you get a 5 percent bonus.  Swipe your card to ride the subway and you’ll get a free transfer to a connecting bus.  You can buy unlimited ride MetroCards for a week ($32) or a month ($121).  There’s now even an ExpressPay MetroCard the refills itself like an EZ-Pass.

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 take the train, especially with three or more passengers.  You can avoid bridge tolls by taking the Major Deegan to the Willis / Third Ave. bridge, but I can’t help you with the traffic you’ll have to endure.

Check out www.nyc.bestparking.com  to find a great list of parking lots and their rates close to your destination, some offering discount coupons.   Or drive to CitiField (it’s still Shea Stadium to me) where parking is cheaper and take the # 7 subway from there to GCT.

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.  Enjoy!

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.


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