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Monday, December 03, 2012

Talking Transportation: Avoiding the Next Rail Fare Hike

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By Jim Cameron

Special to WestportNow

Don’t look now, but there’s a 5 percent fare increase coming Jan. 1. But if you’d like to avoid paying more, here’s a simple (and legal) trick:

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Buy Tickets Before Dec. 31: There’s nothing stopping you from buying tickets before the Jan. 1 fare hike of 5 percent.  Just be sure you can use them before they expire and become worthless (see below). Here are some other money-saving tips for commuters, day trippers and families:

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 percent 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 p.m. – 8 p.m. peak return hours, you can save 25 percent. 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 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 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 & Senior Fares:  Buy tickets for your kids (ages 5 – 11) in advance and save 50 percent 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 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 can 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, credit or debit card) and you get a 7 percent 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.

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.
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James Cameron (Editor’s Note: Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 21 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.The opinions expressed here are his own. You can reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or www.trainweb.org/ct. For the full collection of Talking Transportation columns, visit www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

Posted 12/03 at 08:51 PM

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