- Washington, D.C. has a ton of great options to get around. Stick to walking or public transportation if you can.
- Always budget 40 minutes to an hour to get anywhere, combining walking, metro services or buses, security checks, etc.
- Don’t bring your car: Parking is next to impossible due to space constraints, and mostly unaffordable due to high daily garage costs.
- The D.C. Circulator can be helpful in traveling between neighborhoods for cheap. Because the metro does not provide service to Georgetown, this is also the only public transportation option that can get you there.
- Rideshare services: If you like using Uber or Lyft, you’re best off saving your money unless it’s a rainy day (more in the weather section) or you have somewhere urgent to be.
Getting Started with the Metro
- What is the metro? While “metro” refers to both the bus and rail systems in D.C., this section will refer to mostly rail transportation. You can find more info at wmata.com.
- First thing’s first: Purchase a plastic, refillable SmarTrip card for $10 (it’s usually $2 and comes preloaded with $8, or there are $5 new card fee options). These are available at the vending machines at any metro station, or in stores like CVS.
- Note: Most government internships will pay for your metro expenses up to around $300 per month after your onboarding process (you’ll register your SmarTrip card with the Department of Transportation’s metro benefits program). The process is complex and there are a few online forms to complete, but it’s entirely worth it.
- Fares: There is no set fare for all trips. They depend on the time of day (peak rush hour is around a dollar more expensive than off hours), as well as how far your destination is. Fares could range from $2 to as high as $6 per trip during peak hours.
- Monitor your $$$: It’s important to check how much money you have left in your SmarTrip card every time you tap to enter or exit. You can refill your card at the vending machines located at each station. I suggest using cash, but you can also use your debit/credit card.
- WiFi? Yes, most metro stations have wifi. It’s meh, and you should still take security precautions as it is a public network.
- Air conditioning? Yes, most metro cars have air conditioning.
- There are a few unspoken, simple rules for the metro. If you follow them, you’ll be in the clear.
- Have your SmarTrip card ready to go: Take it out once you enter a metro station — don’t wait until you see the turnstile and the gates to take it out.
- Escalator rules: STAND to the RIGHT, WALK on the LEFT, and KEEP MOVING. People can and will remind you if done incorrectly.
- Boarding rules: Stand to the sides after the doors open. When entering a metro car, make sure everyone trying to exit has done so before boarding.
- In the metro car: Move to the center. Don’t lean on, block, or try to hold the doors open — they don’t bounce back like elevators and will close on you.
- Don’t hog up a seat: Do not take up more than one seat — if you have a backpack or bag, put it on the floor. Give your seats to the pregnant, those with children, and the elderly.
- Food and drinks: Never bring/consume any food or beverage in the metro. Transit police (and your fellow commuters) do enforce this rule aggressively and you could get a citation — or in extreme cases, could face arrest.
Navigating the Metro
- The metro has six color-coded lines: Red, Blue, Orange, Yellow, Green and Silver. Most stops service multiple lines and there are transfer stations to each of them. Look at the color and direction of the train (it will also say the final station of a line). I recommend using the Google Maps app for planning your route.
- Note: From May 25 — Sept. 8, 2019, all six Blue and Yellow line stations south of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport will be closed (Braddock Rd, King St-Old Town, Eisenhower Ave, Huntington, Van Dorn St, Franconia-Springfield). Add at least 30 minutes to your normal commute and plan alternative transportation routes here.
- Wait times: Be prepared to wait 4–10 minutes for your train during peak hours, and 10–20 minutes at off-peak times. If there is a major event that you are attending (aka July 4th celebrations), be prepared to wait 30–45 minutes for your train.
- Rush hours: Navigating the metro at rush hours (7:30–10am; 4–6pm) can be extremely challenging, so be sure to practice your route to work before your first day to make sure you’re comfortable. Also be prepared to push your way onto a metro car and go as far back as possible to let others in.
- Exits: Metro stations have multiple exits and using the wrong one can leave you multiple blocks further from your destination. Be sure to know which exit you’re looking for and consult the posted signs in the station; you can also look up the cross streets of your destination and see which one is closer to your exit.
- If you’re still unsure about how to use the metro, you can find the official rider guide at www.wmata.com/rider-guide.
- Unlike other transit systems in the U.S., the metro in D.C. does not run 24/7, so you need to plan around these hours:
- Monday — Thursday: 5am — 11:30pm
- Friday: 5am — 1am
- Saturday: 7am — 1am
- Sunday: 8am — 11pm
- FOR JULY 4, 2019 (Saturday), HOURS ARE ALTERED TO 7am — 11:30pm; there will be express service only, expect extreme crowding.
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