How to avoid the next fare hike on Metro-North

Don’t look now, but there’s a 5% fare increase coming Jan. 1, 2013.

But if you’d like to avoid paying more, here’s a simple (and legal) trick:

Buy tickets before Dec. 31 — There’s nothing stopping you from buying tickets before the January 1 fare hike of 5%. Just be sure you can use them before they expire and become worthless (see below).

Here are some other money-saving tips for commuters, daytrippers and familes:

TransitChek — For commuters, see if your employer subscribes to this fabulous service, which allows workers to save up to $500 a year in mass transit costs by using pre-tax dollars. 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 25%. Off-peak is also in effect on weekends and holidays. Your train will be less crowded, too.

Buy tickets at the station — 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, peak or off-peak, to achieve additional savings. The same 10-trip ticket may 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 are now valid for only 60 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 per transaction.

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 ride in the morning rush hours.

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

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

MetroCards — MetroCards may be bought at most stations (or combined with your Metro-North ticket) and offers some incredible deals compared to the $2.25 cash fare: put $10 on a card (bought with cash or 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 may buy unlimited-ride MetroCards for a week ($29) or a month ($104). There’s now even an ExpressPay MetroCard the refills itself like an E-ZPass.

The bottom line is that it’s never 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 20 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 may reach him at [email protected] or www.trainweb.org/ct.

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