Given that the recent "Doomsday Budget" has been passed by the MTA board, we are now facing a fare increase from $81 to $103 for the 30 day unlimited pass. For those that end up buying a pass every month, your annual spending just went up from $972 to $1236 - an increase of $264! (There is still time to undo this - call your state senator!)
Luckily, there are still some techniques that one can use to help themselves save money on public transit. These tips are catered mostly towards commuters and not tourists, and they revolve around the subway and the bus systems, but could be applicable to Metro North, LIRR, PATH, and taxis also.
Here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order):
1) Be aware of any credit card / bank promotions that may be going on. Bank of America recently had a promotion going on where you would get $10 back for every $100 spent. Chase is currently offering $10 back for every $150 spent on an enrolled card (hurry, ends 4/30/09). This ends up being a 6.6% to 10% discount!
2) This is a follow up to the credit card promotions. Know and have any credit cards that give you bonus cash back or points for transit purchases. For example, the Citi PremierPass Elite card gives you 2% back in points + 2% matching flight points for a total of 4% back in points.
3) This method works only a few times, but could potentially save you a lot of money. It applies only when you have paid for a 30 day metro card, but will end up being out of town for a period of time (1-2 weeks) during the middle of a 30 day card period. For example, I purchased a 30 day metrocard and used it for 15 days, but I will be out of town for the remaining 15 days. One could decide to instead go pay as you go, or buy a 14 day unlimited for the first 15 days, but with this method, you can still use the 30 day metrocard and there by have the lowest cost.
The way to do this is with the Metrocard Balance Protection Program. This program will automatically prorate and refund any unused portion of your unlimited metrocard when you call in and report your card "lost or stolen". By doing this, you have essentially custom created a personal xx-day metrocard at the 30 day unlimited metrocard rate! Note, you can ony do this once a calendar year for free, the 2nd time will cost you an extra $5. You can also use multiple credit cards to get around this.
4) Lastly, commuters on MetroNorth or LIRR should know that they can get a 5% discount by purchasing their tickets and passes online at mta.info. MTA will then mail the tickets to you for free!
5) Oh and one more thing, if the fare hikes do happen, you can normally stock up on a few 30 day unlimited metrocards at the old price and still have them work! I will update this as more information is available.
I hope this helps. If you have any tips to share, please feel free to leave them in the comments!