Whether you’re new to DC or a seasoned traveler, here are 10 Tips for Riding the Metro in Washington DC.
1. The Metro Map – The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), also known as Metro, currently has 5 lines. The lines include the Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, and Blue lines. Each line has two end points with metro stops between each end. Starting some time in 2014, a 6th line will be added to the system, the Silver line. Some metro stops have multiple lines pick up at that location, so it’s important to be aware of what color train you’re getting on and what direction that train is heading. The trains will be labeled based on their final stop, Vienna for example on the Orange line, which means the train is traveling towards Vienna. You will need to know which direction you are traveling in order to get on the right train. There will also be handy maps on various columns on the platform to help you, but it’s better to know where you’re going before you enter the metro station. For example, if you get on the metro at the Smithsonian stop and need to get to Metro Center, you will need to take the Orange Line train to Vienna or the Blue Line train to Franconia-Springfield in order to reach Metro Center.
2. Hours of Operation – The metro opens at 5AM Monday – Friday and 7AM Saturday and Sunday. The metro closes at 12AM Sunday – Thursday and 3AM Friday – Saturday. The metro also functions under Peak hours and Off-Peak hours. Peak fares are in effect on weekdays from 5AM-9:30AM and 3PM-7PM and weekends from 12AM-3AM ($2.10 minimum and $5.75 maximum). Off-Peak hours include all other times ($1.70 minimum and $3.50 maximum).
3. Paying For Your Trip– Once you know where you’re going you’ll need to buy a ticket in order to travel on metro. There are two methods for paying for your metro trip. The metro, unlike NYC, does not charge a flat rate fee for rides. Each trip will cost you a different amount depending on where you get on the train and where you get off the train. You can use the rate chart on each fare machine to determine the cost of your trip, but keep in mind whether it is a “peak” or “off-peak” time! Now, you can either A. Buy a paper ticket with an amount you determine or B. Purchase a $10 SmarTrip card to reload (which includes the card with $8 loaded on it). The benefit of the paper ticket is that you don’t have to invest $10 into buying a SmarTrip card, but the downside is that you must add $1 to your trip each way because you’re not using a SmarTrip card. Essentially, metro is trying to get away from paper tickets and this is a step towards doing so. The benefit of the SmarTrip card is that it’s a “load and go”, but you first have to spend $10 to get the card. Please note that if you don’t add the $1 to your fare for the paper ticket, the metro will not let you exit the gate without first adding more money to your paper ticket.
4. Look at the Gates– After buying your ticket or SmarTip card you’ll need to enter the gates. On the front of the gates there is an indicator light that will tell you whether it’s an entrance or an exit. If the light is green, you can use that gate to enter. If it’s red, the gate will not allow you to enter. I know this seems simple but plenty of people waste time trying to enter a gate that isn’t open. If you are using a SmartTrip card you will touch the card to the top of the gate on the SmarTrip pad. As soon as it reads your card the gate will open and you can walk right through. It’ll also tell you how much is left on your card. If you are using a paper card you will need to insert the ticket into the front of the machine and it’ll come out of the top. You must pull the ticket out of the machine and then the gates will open. The exception are the handicap gates, which you’ll most likely need to use if you have a disability, stroller, or large suitcase as the smaller fare gates are not accommodating. For this gate the SmarTrip reader is on the inside of the gate and the paper reader will return your ticket out of the same slot versus the other machines. Be patient with this gate and give those with a disability the right of way!
5. Those Pesky Escalators– Now that you’ve made it through the gates you’ll first need to put your card in a safe place. You’ll need that same ticket or card upon exiting so don’t lose it. If you have children, take their card from them. Next you’ll most likely either go up or down an escalator to reach the platform. This is probably my biggest tip for riding the metro so listen up: STAND ON THE RIGHT AND WALK ON THE LEFT! In DC, very few people actually ride the escalator, we walk the escalator. Most tourists don’t realize this so they just stand and block the whole escalator. In order to avoid nasty comments and/or shoves, stand on the right or walk on the left with the locals. Also, don’t be surprised if escalators are turned off from time to time. The metro escalators are notorious for breaking down. There is an elevator at each station and if that too is broken, a bus will take you to the next station with an elevator.
6. The platform – Once on the platform you’ll need to look to see which side you’ll be catching your train from. The trains will be labeled based on their final stop. Remember, you will need to know which direction you are traveling in order to get on the right train. If you look down on the ground, there will be a strip of tile with small bumps on it right along the platform. It is best to stay off of that tile until the train has arrived and come to a complete stop. Those who stand right on the edge are a danger to themselves and all of those around them. Keep your children away from the edge. The red lights on the platform ground will flash when the train is arriving!
7. Getting on the train – There are 3 doors to each train car. Move to the door closest to you and FIRST let those exiting the train exit. You will cause a jam and again make enemies if you try to get on the train before letting people off the train. Please also note that though it’s summer, people in DC still go to work and use metro to get there! The metro has peak hours, aka rush hours, from 5AM-9:30AM and 3PM-7PM on weekdays, so please keep this in mind when you’re traveling. You are less likely to get a seat during the peak hours so be ready to stand. As soon as you get on the train you need to move away from the doors. There may be people behind you trying to get on the train too so it’s important that you move to the center of the train or find a seat. Trust me, you don’t want to stand near either door. You will be pushed and shoved each time the train stops in order for people to exit and enter the train. It’s best to move to the center of the train.
8. The Metro Train Doors – You will hear this recording multiple times but they actually mean it, the metro doors do not open and close like elevator doors. If the doors are closing and you stick something in the doors they will NOT automatically open. Please do not stick your stroller in the door, hand, bag, etc. The doors will continue to shut. This is scary for a lot of tourists but I think they all learn their lesson. The doors will be reopened by the conductor on most occasions as they have an indicator that the door is not completely closed. Again, this is scary, but just trust me. They doors will not automatically reopen when you shove your body in between the doors.
10. A Few Tips – Tip 1: first thing in the morning the train will be really quiet because most of us just woke up and are heading into work. Chatty Cathy’s at 8AM are the worst, so be respectful of what time of day it is. At all other times of day, go for it, chat away! Tip 2: If you’re standing or sitting by the doors, watch your stuff. There have been thefts on metro these past few years where people will gab your cell phone or purse out of your hands and run onto the platform as the doors are closing. Just be careful with your stuff. Tip 3: Scoot over! Don’t leave the seat next to the window open. Scoot over and allow someone to sit down. Don’t use the extra seat for your bag. Be kind and allow those standing up to sit down. Your bag will forgive you. Tip 4: Pay attention to if you’re sitting in a handicap seat. These seats are reserved for those with a disability or for the elderly. If you do sit in a handicap seat and someone boards the train who needs it, please get up and give them your seat. Tip 5: If traveling on the weekend, visit the metro website before traveling in order to determine if any stations are closed for maintenance. Metro loves to shut down stops on weekends, which means that trains arrive less often and you may need to find an alternative route.
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