As a born-and-bred, self-described “sharp and savvy” New Yorker, Alec Baldwin thought he was immune to the city’s scammers.
Yet this week the 61-year-old actor found himself fleeced out of $200 (£161) after buying $40 tickets for a Statue of Liberty “tour” for himself, his wife and their three children – and then being asked to board not a boat, but a bus to New Jersey.
“We paid, then we read the tickets,” he wrote on Instagram. “This is a scam.”
Indeed, as Baldwin learnt to his cost, the best way to see the Statue of Liberty is using the free Staten Island ferry – which goes straight past the landmark.
But what are the other New York City rip-offs to avoid?
Avoid: Fake Ubers
Instead: Use the subway
It starts on arriving in the city, at JFK airport.
Touts standing outside the airport will offer “Uber-style” transfers to the city. Avoid at all costs. Despite living in the city for several years, they got me good and proper – arriving tired and just wanting to go home, and with Uber saying there was a 10-minute wait for the next car, I figured they would be about the same cost as the $US70-odd trip. Foolishly, I hopped into the car, and was charged $120.
Be sure to use a genuine Uber or Lyft, rather than the “Uber-style” alternative. Better yet, use the subway. Pay $5 for the airport air train, then it’s $2.75 to anywhere in the city. Furthermore, during the day it’s often significantly quicker.
Avoid: Cycle rickshaws
Instead: Use CitiBike
When in the city, Manhattan really is best experienced by foot. Alternatively, if you are feeling brave – it’s actually not as scary as you think – download the CitiBike app and use the bike share system. The cycle lanes are good and separated by the traffic by parked cars. You do need your wits about you, but for $3 per single 30 minute ride, or $12 for 24 hours, it’s a great way to get about the city.
Avoid the cycle rickshaws, even though they look fun. They will charge you significantly more than a yellow taxi – one friend recently told of being charged $60 to go a 10-minute journey.
Avoid: Times Square
Instead: Branch out to Brooklyn
Of course you’re going to want to see Times Square. But honestly, don’t loiter around there; you will be fleeced.
It’s not hard core criminals who will get you – this isn’t the 1980s. Rather it’s the overpriced and not very good restaurants, the expensive and soulless hotels, and the aggressive cartoon characters hustling for a photo.
The problem of Times Square’s costumed characters and hustlers is so great that on Thursday the Times Square Alliance offered Baldwin and his family free tickets to any Broadway show, in the hope that he sees what a hassle the area is, puts it on Instagram, as with the ticket touts, and Mayor Bill de Blasio responds.
“We saw how quickly City Hall and City agencies responded to the Statue of Liberty scam once Alec Baldwin Instagrammed about it, so we figured we had nothing to lose by inviting Alec to Times Square,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the alliance.
“Given how frequently someone is scammed, shaken down, hustled, hassled or touched without consent in Times Square, we figured the odds are extremely good that Alec will experience what every theatergoer knows is a huge problem in Times Square.”
So don’t hang around. Instead, hop on the subway downtown – the East Village, Lower East Side and Brooklyn districts all offer a far more relaxing and authentic taste of New York.