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MTA hikes hit more than just fares

LIRR rider Carol Celestine, from Hempstead, her LIRR

LIRR rider Carol Celestine, from Hempstead, her LIRR ticket. (Dec. 30, 2010) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Attention, riders. The fare hikes enacted by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority don't just mean more costly monthly and one-week tickets (among others). Various new surcharges, penalties and rules may force you to reach even deeper into your pocket to get where you want to go.

The trick to avoiding some of these extra costs is to plan ahead on fare purchases when possible, be aware of faster expiration dates on tickets, and refill MetroCards rather than buying new ones.

Here's a look at some of the lesser-known costs embedded in the fare increase.





Onboard purchases. LIRR riders have long been accustomed to paying a "penalty" for buying tickets onboard a train. But if they already had a ticket and just wanted to change it in some way while onboard, they only paid the difference in price. Not anymore. Now, all onboard transactions are rounded up to the nearest dollar. Here is an example: On Wednesday, if you bought a $7.75 off-peak ticket to go from Hicksville to Penn Station, but wanted to "step up" onboard to a $10.75 peak ticket, you would have paid only the $3 difference. Now, if you buy the same off-peak ticket at the new price of $8.25 and want to "step up" onboard to an $11.50 peak ticket, you won't pay only the difference of $3.25. You will pay the "rounded up" cost of $4.

Ticket refunds. Have you ever accidentally pressed the wrong button on a ticket vending machine and ended up buying a ride to Oakdale rather than Oceanside? In the past, you might have just bought a second ticket, gone to a ticket window and gotten a refund on the ticket you bought by mistake. Under the MTA's new fare policy, that mistake now will cost you. All ticket refunds incur a $10 penalty.

Expiration dates. Buy a ticket to Penn Station but then decide to drive instead? Don't wait too long before using that LIRR ticket or you'll lose out. New ticket expiration dates mean they're valid for a significantly shorter period. Ten-trip tickets, previously good for a year, are only valid for 90 days. One-way tickets, formerly good for six months, expire after just seven days.



Subways and buses


Hold on to that MetroCard. Think twice before tossing your used-up MetroCard. To encourage riders to reload a MetroCard rather than buy a new one - which costs money to print and is not environmentally friendly - the MTA soon will impose a $1 surcharge on all new MetroCard purchases.

Single trip costs more. The base subway and bus fare of $2.25 remains the same, but infrequent subway riders may pay more. Single-trip MetroCards now incur a 25-cent surcharge. However, bus riders paying their fare in change still will pay $2.25.

Use 'em or lose 'em. If you thought you could put one over on the MTA by buying your MetroCard under the old fares and just holding on to it, you shouldn't wait too long to use it. MetroCards bought before Thursday all have "grace periods." A one-day FunPass, a type of card that no longer is being sold, expires Jan. 10. A 30-day ticket bought before Thursday must be activated - that is, used for the first time - by Feb. 8.

The future is near. All this MetroCard business may be confusing, but relief is on the way. The MTA is phasing in a "smart card" fare system to replace the MetroCard. It's already in place at a few subway stations. This will allow you to use your credit card across all branches of the MTA and some other transit providers. "Smart cards" automatically calculate the best discounted fare.



Bridges and tunnels


C'mon, get E-ZPass already. Even if you use it once a year, you'll be glad you did. E-ZPass will save you time and money when using MTA bridges and tunnels. The new tolls affect cash-paying drivers much more than those using the electronic device. For instance, at major crossings such as the Throgs Neck Bridge and Queens Midtown Tunnel, the E-ZPass one-way toll went from $4.57 to $4.80, while cash customers saw an increase from $5.50 to 6.50.

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