April showers bring cheaper Metro-North fares

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Commuters in this part of the Bronx have fought to keep express bus service and dealt with frequent interruptions on the 1 train. 

Last month ended with a quieter victory for Bronx commuters, however: a lower fare on in-city Metro-North trips.

Metro-North, the commuter railroad that carries thousands of passengers back and forth as far north as Wassaic, and as far east as New Haven, Connecticut, has another use for passengers living in the city hoping to stay within their home. It serves as sort of a pseudo-subway, bringing passengers quickly and easily down into Midtown, with connections to NJ Transit and other Manhattan-based subways and buses.

A one-way trip from Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil or Marble Hill to Grand Central could cost as much as $9.75 during peak times, or $7.25 off-peak, according to Metro-North’s fare schedule. A round-trip ticket runs between $14.50 and $19.50. 

Those traveling regularly on Metro-North could spend $216 for a monthly pass — the equivalent of 22 peak rides, or 29 off-peak rides, where a 30-day unlimited MetroCard is $127.

This spring, however, Metro-North introduces a pilot program reducing full fares for trips taking place “entirely within the Bronx and Manhattan” by 10 percent, according to the MTA.  That discount applies to every trip, from one-way to monthly passes, peak and off-peak.

That would reduce one-way trips locally to Grand Central by about 98 cents on peak trips, and 73 cents off-peak.

It’s a victory for local elected officials, who have pushed for an intra-city Metro-North price reduction for months.

“Ultimately, what should happen is that, in the city, I believe that people should be able to pay the same fare as the (subway) fare, essentially, or a bus fare,” said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz. “But this was still a victory getting the fare cuts for our constituents.”

The outcry for cheaper fares wasn’t overwhelming, Dinowitz said, but he’s heard grumbles about it from the community. Metro-North does offer a “city ticket,” which would provide that same trip from Riverdale/Spuyten Duyvil to Grand Central for $4.25. However, such a ticket is good only for the weekends, and must be used the same day it’s purchased.

While Dinowitz fought to remove the Henry Hudson Bridge fare for Bronx residents, he says he’s still focused on getting as many people on public transit as possible. Progress, however, has been slow-going.

Greg Gallent regularly commutes to Manhattan from Spuyten Duyvil, but didn’t even know Metro-North’s fare-reduction pilot had been announced.

“Those in-city trips really should be more heavily publicized as well,” he said. “It’s like a treasure, a hidden treasure, within the city.”

While Gallent and the other monthly commuters enjoy the trains’ relative quiet, he suspects commuters under-utilize Metro-North as an easy way to travel to Manhattan.

Gallent also suspects higher-income riders dominate Metro-North trains, as lower-income commuters may not have been able to shell out the additional money. Lower fares could get rid of that disparity.

“Why not get the benefit of these phenomenal trains and things that run on time,” he said. “All that good stuff.”

A typical trip from Marble Hill to Grand Central takes 27 minutes, according to Metro-North’s website. Taking the subway from that same starting point would take 40 minutes, with a transfer from the 1 train to the 7 at Times Square. Just walking from 42nd Street instead of taking the 7 could add another 10 minutes.

Metro-North also provides some transit options even within the Bronx. The Hudson line has a Yankee Stadium stop, and Harlem riders can hop off at Melrose, a 10-minute walk from the stadium.

“In a way, I wish that Metro-North connected the Bronx and Queens, and maybe Staten Island,” Gallent said. “Getting to Brooklyn from the Bronx is like a multi-hour affair, usually.”

Long Island Rail Road customers also are getting a reduction, with a similar 10 percent cut for trips that take place entirely within Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. They also are eligible for 20 percent off in-city trips taken with monthly passes.

Dinowitz hopes that the reduced fare would limit overcrowding and strain on the 1 train. The line also has been burdened with frequent closures for track work, forcing commuters to make alternate arrangements as they travel downtown.

“I think fare reduction is great, and it’s a good start,” said city councilman Andrew Cohen. “But I think that Metro-North, in my district of the Bronx, is an under-utilized resource.”

Cohen cited ridership data for stations like University Heights and Morris Heights where he says there’s just 250 riders a day hopping on a Metro-North train.

Those numbers, he said, might point to an easy way to relieve congestion on buses and subways, if ridership on Metro-North could be improved. Instead of paying for new infrastructure, they can just change the way existing structures are used.

While stations like the ones in Riverdale and Spuyten Duyvil have higher daily ridership than some other Bronx stations, if Metro-North trains were more affordable, ridership would continue to increase, Cohen said. The councilman added he’d like such a train to complement current bus and subway lines.

“We do get enormous amounts of complaints about overcrowding on the (Bx7) and (Bx10) bus,” Cohen said. “A lot of those people going to the No. 1 train.”

Cohen’s colleague, Councilman I. Daneek Miller, who represents parts of Queens, has pushed hard for a “freedom ticket” that would expand a current MTA pilot program allowing riders to travel on LIRR trains between parts of Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Cohen and Dinowitz have taken on that project, pushing for the “freedom ticket” to expand permanently to the LIRR and Metro-North, providing in-city trips for $2.75.

“Ultimately, I think that would make a lot of sense,” Gallent said, although he did worry increased ridership and lower prices might reduce the quality of the trains.

“I’m just wondering what the unanticipated consequences of that would be,” he said. “I’m sure someone’s thought this through.”

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