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How To Save Money When You Take the Subway To Work

Published 11/14/07 (Modified 3/8/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

I live in the suburbs and commute into Washington D.C. for work every day. I actually have it comparatively easy since I don't have to commute through the notoriously jammed packed Beltway every morning. I tried driving to work for a while, but the frustration of dealing with daily rush hour traffic finally broke me down. With gas prices soaring and with more cars piling onto the roads than the day before, it just didn't make sense for me to commute by car anymore. So that's why I decided a few years ago to commute solely by subway, and I've never looked back since.

In the D.C. area we have an extensively used subway system, called Metro. Many commuters, particularly federal government workers who live in the Maryland and North Virginia suburbs commute into D.C. using the Metrorail system. Over the years I've learned a few cost and time saving tips for commuting to work via subway:

1) Know the weekday times for regular and reduced fare. The rules may be different in other major cities like New York, Philadelphia, or Boston, but the D.C. Metro charges a reduced fare when you ride during off peak times. The D.C. Metro regular fare is in effect on weekdays from opening to 9:30 a.m., 3:00-7:00 p.m., and 2 a.m. to closing). All other times are reduced fares.

The fare that you are charged depends on the time that you cross the gate. I always keep the peak hour times in my mind when I plan my commute schedule. The one I am most cognizant about is 7:00 p.m., since this is when the evening off peak fare goes into effect.

I usually get off work a few minutes before 7:00 p.m. Because reduced fare starts at 7:00 p.m. sharp, if I arrive at the gate a bit early, I always wait for the clock to turn 7:00 p.m. before I cross the ticket gate. After all, why not wait a few more minutes and enjoy the reduced price? Sometimes I get there at 6:56 p.m. only to see people rushing past me through the gate and be charged the higher rate. If they waited a few more minuets, they could easily save upwards of $1.50. This may not seem like much but it does add up, particularly if you commute every weekday of the year.

2) Know the subway map and alternative train routes to get to work and home. I'm not sure how reliable the subway systems are in other cities like New York, but in D.C., our subway trains recently have had the tendency to break down and spark mini fires. When that happens, commuter rail traffic grinds to a halt while workers clear the smoke and patch up the malfunction. This type of stoppage causes major delays and forces people to find alternate paths home. While some resort to paying for expensive taxi rides costing in excess of $30, I prefer to get to the surface and walk to an alternate station to bypass the stoppage. The alternative route may require a few extra train transfers, but it beats waiting a few hours for the delay to clear.

3) Buy your subway pass denomination in bulk and pocket the savings. In D.C. we use SmarTrip magnetic cards to store our subway funds. Each card can hold upwards of $300 at a time. I usually buy these cards on sites like eBay where I can acquire them at a substantial discount (search for SmarTrip deals). I usually can get a fully loaded $300 card for only $200. Generally, the higher the denomination you're willing to buy, the greater the savings you'll get. Don't expect to get much of a deal if you are only buying something like a $50 metro card.

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8 Responses to “How To Save Money When You Take the Subway To Work” 

  1. Mrs. Micah says:

    I should buy them online too (though next month I'm going to be recharging my SmarTrip with pre-tax money, courtesy of a program at my new job).

    Unfortunately, I have to start work at 9, so I'm always at peak hours. And I like getting off at 5, but again--peak.

    My problem with getting stuck on the red line is that the worse normally happens between stations. But then again, I've also never been stuck for hours. Just half hours. Stupid metro system can't take care of their own trains and I get to work late every day for a week even though I allow more and more extra time. :(

  2. guinness416 says:

    Here in Toronto the "alternate route" is fairly essential - unlike the NYC subway, we don't have express and local tracks here, so if one breaks down they all break down. I live close enough to bike to work if I have to though, and even walk if the subway gets me part of the way.

    I save cost by pre-ordering a years worth of passes. They're charged and mailed to me every month, have a 10% discounted cost built in, and are tax deductible. When I lived in New York, our passes were bought from pre-tax money too, automatically by my employer.

  3. Raymond says:

    Irish beer,
    Well in Washington D.C. we don't have express lanes, but sometimes you can take another train and get routed to another station to bypass train accidents for example. You might have to end up walking a bit more than usual, but it beats just sitting there.

    Mrs. Micah,
    I work at Metro Center and I hate the Red Line too... I remember 2 years ago I was stuck on the subway train for 1-2 hours during morning rush hour because another train had collided with another. There's also lots of crazy people on the subway...I've seen pretty much everything.

  4. Dividends4Life says:

    We vacationed in DC last summer. We parked our car at the hotel and didn't drive it for a week. We were able to get everywhere we wanted to go on the Metro with "minimal" walking. The Metro has to be one of the best run systems that I have used.

    Best Wishes,
    D4L

  5. southerngirl says:

    Hello, fellow DC-er. :) What I've found nice, as well, is using your company benefits to make Metro a bit cheaper - if your company offers MetroChecks or the Smart Trip benefit - my company has the latter, it's not overwhelmingly amazing, but it does help reduce your taxable income a little bit if you have a set amount automatically routed to your SmartTrip card each month. And it ends up being a bit cheaper as well, I believe.

    I complain about Metro all the time - the constant breakdowns and delays are really annoying and I know it's going to get very bad this winter once it starts snowing or sleetin gand they (again) don't know how to handle it, but on the whole, it's a pretty solid system.

  6. Shannon says:

    I live in LA, and we have monthly passes that run in the $60-$70 range, depending. The regional stamps will add to that, but unless you live a ways out, you don't generally need them.

    And I have a benefit at work (sounds like something else described above) that buys my pass pre-tax and mails it to me automatically. $62 for unlimited LA metro area travel? Can't beat it.

  7. Renae says:

    This spring break my family and I are going to take a seven day trip to Washington D.C. and were wondering 'How much are subway tickets?'

    Thanks for you help! =)
    Renae

  8. Raymond says:

    Renae,

    It really depends on how far you are traveling. The DC Metro charges by the number of subway stations you pass through on your way to your final destination. There are also different pricing charts for peek rush hour time and off peak/weekend times. Thus, you can see subway ticket prices for a single person to range anywhere from $2.50 to $3.75 per trip. Of course, they also have all day unlimited Metro riding passes...I think it's something like $5.00+

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