Whether you’re a daily commuter, an occasional day-tripper or have friends visiting this summer, everyone can save money when you go into NYC by following this time-tested advice:
TRANSITCHEK: See if your employer subscribes to this fabulous service, which allows workers to buy up to $230 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% of all New York City companies offer TransitChek which can be used on trains, subways and even ferries. But Congress needs to act soon to continue this benefit, so if you’re one of the employees, write your lawmaker!
GO OFF-PEAK: If you can arrive at Grand Central weekdays after 10 am and avoid the 4 pm – 8 pm peak return hours, you can save 15 – 20%. Off-peak’s also in effect on weekends and holidays. Your train will be less crowded, too.
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! There are ticket machines at most stations, but the cheapest tickets are those bought online. And go for the ten-trip tickets to save an additional 15%. They can be shared among passengers and are good for a year.
KIDS, FAMILY & SENIOR FARES: Buy tickets for your kids (ages 5 – 11) in advance and save 50% over adult fares. Or pay $1 per kid on board (up to four kids traveling with an adult, but not in morning peak hours). Seniors, the disabled and those on Medicare get 50% off the one way peak fare. But you must have proper ID and you can’t go in the morning rush hours.
FREE STATION PARKING: Even stations that require parking permits usually offer free parking after 5 pm, on nights and weekends. Check with your local town.
CHEAPER STATION PARKING: Don’t waste money parking at comparatively “expensive” station garages like South Norwalk ($ 6.50 per day M-F, $4.75 on weekends) or Stamford ($8 for 8 hours, M-F). Instead, park at the day-lots in Darien or Noroton Heights for just $3. But be sure to buy a scratch-off ticket in advance.
Once you’re in the 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, $0.40 for each minute or one-fifth of a mile. Add on a $1 surcharge from 4 – 8 pm weekdays, $0.50 after 8 pm and a state mandated $0.50 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. These nifty cards can be bought at most stations (even combined with your Metro-North ticket) and offer some incredible deals: put $8 on a card (bought with cash, credit or debit card) and you get a 15% 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 single day ($8.25), a week ($27), 14 days ($51.50) or a month ($89). There’s now even an ExpressPay MetroCard the refills itself like an EZ-Pass.
CHEAPER TO DRIVE?: Despite being a mass transit advocate, 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 bridge tolls by taking the Major Deegan to the Willis and Third Ave. bridge, but I can’t help you with the traffic you’ll have to endure. But do check out www.bestparking.com to find a great list of parking lots and their rates close to your destination. Or drive to Shea Stadium and take the 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 commuter out of Darien for 19 years. He is Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at Cameron06820@gmail.com or www.trainweb.org/ct