The secrets of riding Metro-North

Each week, dozens of people ride Metro-North for the first time. This week’s column is to let both new and veteran commuters in on the secrets of a successful rail commute.

Parking: You can’t take the train if you can’t get to the station, so invest in your commuting future by getting your name on your town’s (and neighboring towns’) waiting list for annual parking permits. In four or five years, when your name rises to the top of the list, you’ll thank yourself. Meantime, opt for legal day-parking, find a friend to ride to the station with, or try biking. There are free bike racks at most stations.

Platform positioning: There’s a science to deciding where on the platform to wait for your train. Many commuters position themselves at the front or rear of the train for a quick getaway when they arrive in Grand Central. Contrarian that I am, I tend toward the center of the train because that’s where there’s a better chance of getting a seat.

Finding a seat: Believe me … your commute will be a lot better seated than standing. Seats are in short supply, so here’s the strategy. As your train pulls in, scan the cars that pass you and see how the passenger load looks. As the doors open, move quickly inside, eyeball your target seat and get there fast. Put your carry-ons in the overhead rack and sit down. If you hesitate, you’re toast and will be a standee.

On trains leaving Grand Central you may be able to get onboard up to 20 minutes before departure. Take a window or aisle seat on the three-seat side. The middle seat next to you will be the last to be filled.

Standee strategy: If you didn’t get a seat on boarding, don’t give up. A few people on most trains get off in Stamford, so look for them and position yourself to get their seat before it gets cold. Here’s the secret: intermediate passengers have seat checks with a tear down the middle or a torn corner. Look for them and just before Stamford, position yourself near their row and, bingo, you’ve got a seat!

Tickets: Do not make the mistake of boarding a train without a ticket, or you’ll get hit with up to a $6.50 penalty for buying a ticket on the train with cash. But if you’re thrifty, don’t buy a ticket from a ticket window or ticket machine. No, the cheapest tickets are available only online, at www.mta.info. Go for the 10-trip tickets for an additional discount.

On-board etiquette: Train time is not “your own” time but shared time. So be considerate of your fellow commuters. Don’t hog empty seats … use the overhead racks. Keep your feet off the seats. If you must use your cell phone, go to the vestibule. Be like the Boy Scouts: Anything you carry onto the train (including newspapers, coffee cups, etc.) carry off the train and dispose of properly.

If you’ve got your own “secrets” for a successful commute, send them along and I’ll include them in upcoming columns. Just email me at [email protected]

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and a member of the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at [email protected]. For a full collection of Talking Transportation columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.

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