What's the fare to New York nowadays? If you're flying, it can cost as little as $19 or as much as $173 for a one-way ticket. That's some spread!

In an action given little notice in the news columns at the time, the no-frills People Express airline on Oct. 25 cut its off-peak fare to its Newark hub from both Washington-Dulles and Baltimore-Washington International airports from $29 to $19 one way. I used the bargain-basement fare last weekend from Dulles, and it works. More on that later.

At the other end of the cost spectrum is the $173 first-class fare charged by Pan American World Airways, although Pan Am does offer a coach excursion costing as little as $39 one way and a weekend round trip of $99 if ordered and ticketed well in advance. Its normal one-way coach fare is $99.

The Eastern Air-Shuttle, which began as a low-cost service, charged $16 one way back in 1964, but it now costs $75 at most times. A tightly restricted $90 round-trip excursion is offered on weekends.

Here is Metro Scene's handy-dandy guide to the various fares offered in the air and on the ground from here to New York. All fares are quoted here as round trips, chiefly to take account of various excursion offers, but you can often fly one way at a peak-hour fare and the other way at a reduced off-peak rate. Pan Am and Eastern's fares, detailed already, are not repeated. Their fares are comparable to other nondiscount airlines, which also are not listed.

*By bus, Greyhound and Trailways charge $49 round trip. (One way is $25.)

*By rail, Amtrak charges $74 for an unrestricted standard round trip, $56 for an excursion that generally prohibits Friday and Sunday afternoon travel and $94 for a reserved-seat, high-speed Metroliner.

*Piedmont, from BWI, $118.

*New York Air, $150 round trip in peak hours and $45 off-peak, including some hours on weekends.

*People Express, from National to Newark, $90 round trip in peak hours and $58 off-peak. From Dulles and BWI, $58 round trip in peak hours and $38 off-peak.

To the air fares, of course, the cost of airport access and/or parking is added. New Jersey Transit, a state-owned system, runs buses on its Rte. 300 from Newark Airport to the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan every 15 minutes for $4. A private company serves other Manhattan points at the same fare.

My own trip, $19 going to New York and $29 returning Monday afternoon, shaved only about an hour from the portal-to-portal train time. Because People Express has eliminated one of the frills, check-in is required 45 minutes before departure. My advice: take that seriously. Every seat was filled. The airline also charges for checked baggage. Only carry-on luggage small enough to fit into overhead lockers goes free.

N.J. Transit would do well to add a line in its timetable advising those trying to travel from the New York terminal to Newark that its so-called Air Trans Center is most conveniently reached by a direct doorway from 42nd Street. Lugging baggage two blocks from the terminal building's main entrance at 41st Street and Eighth Avenue is awkward and time-consuming.