Commentary: How to save money on Metro-North
Author’s note: In the eight years I’ve been writing this column for Hersam Acorn newspapers and websites, no single article has gained greater readership than this one — 5,500 clicks on our blog alone. So here’s an update on your favorite topic.
Whether you’re a daily commuter, an occasional day-tripper or have friends visiting from out of town this summer, everyone can save money when you go into New York City on Metro-North by following this time-tested advice:
See if your employer subscribes to this great service, which allows workers to buy up to $245 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.
If you can arrive at Grand Central weekdays after 10 a.m., and can avoid the 4-8 p.m. peak return hours, you can save 25%. Off-peak’s 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 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 parking permits usually offer free parking after 5 p.m., 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 ($10 per day) or Stamford ($10 for eight hours, weekdays). 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.
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 $5 on a card (bought with cash, 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.
You can buy unlimited-ride MetroCards for a week ($30) or a month ($112). There’s now even an ExpressPay MetroCard the refills itself like an EZ-Pass.
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 Avenue Bridge, but I can’t help you with the traffic you’ll have to endure.
Check out 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 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. Enjoy!
Jim Cameron has been a commuter out of Darien for 19 years. He is past chairman of the Connecticut Metro-North/Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area. Reach him at Cameron06820@gmail.com or trainweb.org/ct.