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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Mass Transit Tips

This lifelong Mets fan rarely feels badly for Yankees fans. But there was a fleeting moment (it is gone now) last month when I did, and it occurred days after the Yankees won their first World Series in nine years.

Thousands of Long Island Yankee fans traveled into Penn Station via the LIRR early on Friday, Nov. 6 for the city’s parade in the team’s honor. That was a smart move. Driving into Manhattan during the morning rush hours makes little sense. Yet, owing to their unfamiliarity with either the LIRR or traveling around the city, few of these Long Islanders thought about purchasing a MetroCard until arriving in Manhattan. The situation created MetroCard lines that day around 7:30 a.m. which went at least a hundred-deep at Penn Station’s manned New York City Transit ticket windows as well as its unmanned ticket machines. MetroCards, for the uninitiated, are the thin plastic cards needed to pay electronically for subway and bus fares.

The episode got me thinking about all the Long Islanders who are equally unfamiliar with the LIRR and the city’s subways, and how many of the Yankees fans’ rookie mistakes can be avoided as mass transit newbies journey into Manhattan during the holiday season.

For starters, buy if possible a MetroCard at the LIRR station where you purchase your LIRR ticket. Although the number of manned LIRR ticket windows is dwindling, they sell round-trip MetroCards. A one-way subway ride is $2.25 so a round-trip MetroCard costs $4.50. Taxi cab rides are more expensive and time-consuming than the typical subway trip.

Also, give yourself enough time to buy a LIRR ticket before you board an LIRR train. Buying a LIRR ticket from a LIRR conductor can cost you anywhere from $5.75 to $6.50 extra, beyond the cost of the one-way trip itself, if you boarded at a station which had either an open ticket window or an operational ticket machine. Senior citizens, people with disabilities and Medicare customers are exempt from the higher LIRR on-board fares, the MTA’s Web site says. Moreover, the LIRR’s conductors will only accept cash, and no bills larger than $50.

Newcomers to mass transit may not welcome the crowds. There are, however, more places to stand and sit than you might think. You’re probably not going to get a seat on the subway but should look for room to stand in the middle of the subway car. Don’t panic if you feel as though you might have to climb over five people to exit; many passengers are getting off at the same stop as you.

There are frequently places to sit on even the most crowded LIRR trains. The key to finding them is assessing the many instances when a passenger is sitting in an aisle seat while having placed their lap top, back pack, and tuba in the adjoining window seat. These inanimate objects have not paid for a seat, and you have. Be not afraid to ask these aisle seat passengers, in a polite manner, to move their things because, after they stack their belongings onto the often-empty overhead baggage rack, there’s a nice seat waiting there for you.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: