Some tips on saving money when going to the city

Whether you’re a daily commuter, an occasional day-tripper or have friends visiting this summer, everyone can save money when you go into New York City by following this time-tested advice:

TransitChek: For commuters, see if your employer subscribes to this fabulous service, which allows workers to buy up to $230 per month in mass transit 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.

Travel on an off-peak train: 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 to 20%. Off-peak fares are also in effect on weekends and holidays. Your train will be less crowded, too.

Buy tickets in advance: If you buy your ticket with cash on the train you’ll pay the conductor a $5.75 to $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: Watch out! 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 (5-11 years old) 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 ride in the morning rush hours.

Free station parking: Even rail stations that require parking permits usually offer free parking after 5 and on weekends. Check with your local town.

Once you’re in New York City, you can save even more money.

Avoid cabs: I have nothing against taxis, but they’re getting mighty expensive: $2.50 when you enter the cab, 40¢ for each minute or one-fifth of a mile. Add on a $1 surcharge from 4-8 p.m. weekdays, 50¢ after 8 p.m. and a state-mandated 50¢ per ride anytime, not to mention a tip — and it all adds up. Instead, take the bus or subway. Or try walking.

MetroCards: Forget about the old subway tokens. The nifty MetroCard can be bought at most stations (or combined with your Metro-North train ticket) and offers some incredible deals compared to the $2.25 cash fare: put $10 on a card (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 the refills itself like an EZ-Pass.

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 Ave. 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 the Mets’ CitiField (formerly the site of Shea Stadium) and take the No. 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!

 

Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 20 years. He is chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council, a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area and the Darien Representative Town Meeting, but the opinions expressed here are his own. You can reach him at [email protected] or trainweb.org/ct.

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