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December 27, 2009

Saving Money on Metro-North Train Tickets

UPDATE:  For an update on this column with new pricing and rule info click here.


With the new year we were supposed to see a 1.25% fare hike to help pay for the new M8 cars (the first of which arrived just before Christmas). But, true to her word, Governor Rell has stalled that fare hike until mid-year, closer to the time we may actually be riding in those new railcars which must first undergo months of testing.

But 2010 is bringing more closings of ticket windows at stations as Metro-North tries to save money and encourage greater use of ticket machines. Human ticket vendors are anachronistic. If your station still has one, it probably won’t by next year.

All of which got me thinking: do Metro-North riders know the cheapest way to buy tickets? If not, read on! For demonstration purposes, let’s say you want to go from Darien to Grand Central. You can find the fare charts for your travel by clicking here (or at www.mta.info)

The most expensive way to ride Metro-North is buying a ticket on the train. Not only do you pay the fare, but a penalty of $5.75 to $6.50 per ticket (in the Darien example, totaling $18 one way). That’s not a mistake you’ll make more than once.

Tickets bought from machines or ticket agents are at the regular fare, peak ($12.25) or off-peak ($9.25). No discounts.

Roundtrip tickets offer convenience, but no discount. Seniors and the disabled get a 50% discount off the peak fare ($6.00) but cannot ride in morning rush-hour. Seniors also do not have to pay the on-board ticket purchase penalty.

Traveling with kids is cheap. Up to four kids (5 – 11 years old) can travel for $1 apiece with an adult, but again, not in the morning rush-hour.

Ten-trip tickets (peak) are convenient, good for one year, but offer no discount (at $122.50). Ten-trip tickets (off-peak) are also good for one year, but offer a 15% discount ($78.75). Either kind of ten-trip ticket can be used by more than the purchaser, even if multiple people are traveling together.

Weekly tickets are a true bargain ($84), offering unlimited rides Saturday through Friday, peak or off-peak. But they can only be used by one person. Assuming five rush-hour roundtrips in a week, the weekly ticket offers a 30% discount over one-way peak tickets.

Monthly tickets are an even better deal ($264). Again, assuming a typical Monday thru Friday commuter taking rush-hour trains, the monthly ticket “commutes” their fare by an almost 50% discount. (This, by the way, is how the term “commuter” came into being. Look it up!)

If you can get your employer to participate, such programs as TransitCheck can save you even more money by allowing you to spend up to $230 per month in pre-tax money for use of mass transit. This can save you $1000 a year in taxes depending on your tax bracket.

But what’s the cheapest way to buy Metro-North tickets… one-ways, roundtrips, ten-trips, weekly and monthlies? Online! MTA’s “WebTicket” gives you an additional 5% discount, so a one-way ticket from Darien to NYC is only $11.64 (vs $12.50), and a ten-trip off-peak is $74.81 (vs $78.75).

Postage is free and the tickets arrive within a couple of days after placing your online order in a very non-descript, white envelope, so watch carefully. Now, just why it’s cheaper to buy a ticket online than in-person, I do not know. But with almost everyone having access to the internet (and assuming they have a credit card), this is the best bargain in the increasingly costly game of saving money on train tickets.

(PS: Amtrak fares vary widely by day and time of travel. There’s no discount for buying tickets online but they do offer ten-trip tickets and monthly tickets at a discount, but with a lot of restrictions).

For the full story on Metro-North ticket types and potential discounts, click here. Happy traveling!

7 comments:

StationStops said...

Great post! Transitchek is so underutilized - if your employer doesn't offer it, get some fellow employees and preferably hiring managers on board and approach HR together.

StamfordNotes said...

Agreed! Good job - very helpful. Do online discounts apply even with the employer sponsored pre-tax programs?

Jim Cameron said...

HERE'S AN UPDATE FROM A READER:

"Saw the article in yesterday's Darien Times about the Darien train ticket window that will be closing in January.

Not sure if you're aware of this or not, but the student commuters will be very negatively affected by the office closing. My son attends Fairfield Prep and takes the train with about 60 other students who attend Prep or Greens Farms Academy.

These students can buy monthly commuter tickets at a student discount. The tickets need to be purchased at a ticket window with a signed form that they pick up at their schools.

There is no way to purchase these tickets on-line or at the ticket vending machines on the platform.

This means that all of these families will have to drive to either South Norwalk or Stamford on a monthly basis to purchase the discounted tickets.

Obviously, this is a huge inconvenience and may be a hardship for some. We have been given the customer service number for Metro North to complain, but I wanted to know if you had any other recommendations.

I understand the budgetary need to close the ticket window. However, there should be a more convenient option for these families than driving 5 miles to purchase a ticket. Thanks for your help."

I TOLD THIS MOM THAT THE COMMUTER COUNCIL WOULD TRY TO HELP. MEANTIME, THE NEW CANAAN TICKET WINDOW IS STILL OPEN AS ARE NORWALK AND STAMFORD.

JIM CAMERON

Jim Cameron said...

To "Stamford Notes"...

As best I know, if you are buying tickets with Transit Checks you cannot do so online or at machines, only in person.

JC

Ellen said...

Metro North seems to have taken away one cheap way to buy ticket - Web Ticket My monthly ticket of $297 was only 281 by purchasing tickets on line Also discounts for ten trips etc

Disappeared and not available on new website.

Jim Cameron said...

Ellen...

Look again. I checked the new www.mta.info site and found the usual discounts.

Also see http://www.mta.info/mnr/html/planning/fares/fares.htm

JIM C

majicalmoneyman said...

Here in Phoenix, they said they were not going to advertise on our light rail and now they are advertising. They raised the rates shortly after launching and now I wonder if there is a savings. It seems to be just a cheap to drive downtown as it is to ride the light rail and we don't have to sit next to some stinky bum begging us for money. More extra costs to ride the light rail. They estimate that more than 30 percent of the riders are getting on for free. They need to crack down.

Dave Drew
Money Saving Author
changeforus.com