The DC Public Transportation Commuter Guide

Why Public Transportation?

Whether you’re moving to DC or just planning a visit, it’s likely you’ll be taking advantage of the city’s vast public transportation system to get around. We want to help our future residents and visitors alike navigate the Metrorail and Metrobus seamlessly so they can take full advantage of everything the Capital and surrounding areas have to offer.

Buckle in, because we’re going for a ride. A ride on the Metro, of course.

Getting Ready to Ride

“All you need is the plan, the roadmap, and the courage to press on to your destination” -Earl Nightingale

Before arriving in DC, there are a few things you can do to help prepare for riding the Metro.

Get a SmarTrip® Card

The SmarTrip® Card is the urban commuter’s most valuable tool. Since the city phased out the old paper farecards in 2016, you must have one to enter and exit the Metrorail (you can pay Metrobus fares with cash, but must have exact change). It’s a permanent, rechargeable card made from plastic. It has the thickness of a typical credit card and includes a chip to store the card’s value.

It can be used for the Metrorail, Metrobus, DASH, Ride On, Fairfax Connector, ART, CUE, Loudoun County Transit, Omniride, TheBus, DC Circulator, Maryland Transit Administration Local Bus, Light Rail and Metro Subway and registered vanpools. You can also use it to pay for parking at WMATA lots.

You can get yours online now with any major debit or credit card so you’ll have it in hand before you ever set foot in the city. It costs $10 but comes loaded with $8 in credit. You should get it in the mail in 5-10 business days.

Already in DC? No problem, you can also purchase your SmarTrip® card at any station with cash or card.

Once you have your card, you should register it. This will allow you to reload your card online conveniently, set up Auto Reload, track your fare history, and get a replacement card while keeping its value if it is lost or stolen.

Keep in mind: Each person must have their own Smartrip® Card, but up to two children under five years old may accompany you for free.

Understand Peak Hours & Fares

Peak hours are a fancy way to say the rush hour. The reason they are important is that fares are increased during these times.

Peak hours are on weekdays from opening until 9:30 am and between 3-7 pm. If possible, plan your commute outside of peak hours, and you’ll save a lot of cash in the long run.

Peak Hours: $2.25 min-$6.00 max

Off-Peak Hours: $2.00 min-$3.85 max

Become Familiar with Metrorail and Metrobus Rules & Etiquette

Commuters following the rules and guidelines set by WMATA is critical to ensuring everybody can have an enjoyable trip. Remember that the Capital welcomes millions of visitors throughout the year, and our conduct is a reflection of our community. You can find a full list of rules online, but some notable ones are:

  • No Eating, Drinking, or Smoking (Metro Transit Police will issue citations and make arrests).
  • Don’t block vehicle doors or escalators.
  • Always wear headphones if listening to audio.
  • Give senior citizens and riders with disabilities priority for seating and elevators.

Where the Rubber Meets the Rail

“The only impossible journey is the one you never begin” -Tony Robbins

We’ve got our SmarTrip® card in hand, we understand fares, and we’ve promised to be courteous riders. All that’s left is to make the journey! First, we’ll talk about the Metrorail system; then we’ll talk a bit about Metrobus.

Planning Your Route

We’re ready to go for a ride, all we need to do is some route planning. Take a look at the stylized system map (download a full one here).

This is the same map you’ll see all over the Metrorail stations. It shows the Routes of the six Metrorail lines, each having its own color.

Red: The red line serves northern DC, making stops at Union Station, Metro Center, Chinatown, and Dupont circle among others.

Blue: The blue line serves Eastern DC, runs through downtown and turns South into Virginia.

Silver: The silver line runs through downtown and connects the city to Dulles Airport, Tysons Corner, Reston, Herndon, and Ashburn.

Orange: The orange line runs East-West through the city alongside the silver and blue lines in the downtown area.

Green: The green line runs North-South. It shares a portion of its route with the yellow line from Fort Totten to L’Enfant Plaza, where it heads Southeast.

Yellow:  The yellow line runs North-South from Fort Totten to Huntington, VA.

DC metro map

With an idea of where you are and where you need to go, you can use the map to identify which station and which line(s) you’ll need to use.

You can use WMATA’s route planner tool to plan routes that involve bus and rail transit. It will also help you calculate the total fare.

Finding a Station

If you’re driving, you can use traffic signs to direct you to a station entrance.

You can identify Metrorail station entrances by their tall brown columns with a large letter “M.”

On the column, you’ll see colored stripes below the M that show what lines the stations serves, and the station’s name will be printed on the column.

Here you can see that you are at Stadium-Armory Station and that it serves the blue and orange lines.

Need to find the nearest stations? Use WMATA’s Service Nearby tool to locate bus stops and rail stations within a certain distance.

public transportation in DC

Entering the Station and Riding

Still got that SmarTrip® Card handy? I hope so because you’ll need it. Most station entrances begin with an escalator ride down to the platform.

Some stations have a center platform with tracks to each side, and others have center tracks with a platform to each side. If your station has center tracks, you’ll need to be sure to take the correct escalator down. Look for a sign with the list of destinations at the top of the escalators to know which one to take.

Use your smart card to pass through the turnstiles. Keep it handy; you will need to use it again to exit the station at your destination.

Reading Platform Signage

On the platform, you’ll see signs that provide information about the coming trains. They have four pieces of information.

LN – This tells who which colored line the train is on.

CAR – Tells you how many cars are on that train. This is important because if you stand toward the end of the platform for shorter trains, the last car will pass by you. On the platform floor, decals show you where shorter trains end.

DEST – This is the last stop the train will arrive at.

MIN – The estimated time in minutes before the train arrives.

The signs show this information for the next four trains arriving.

DC metro transportation

Getting On the Train

Wait for the train to come to a complete stop before approaching the doors. Once the doors are open, allow the offboarding passengers to exit the vehicle before boarding.

Do not try and block a closing door. Unlike an elevator, it will not reopen. A chime will sound to signal that the doors are closing.

Once onboard, move toward the center and take a seat if one is available.

Getting Off the Train

Once you’ve arrived at your destination (hopefully it’s the right one), the train will stop, and the doors will open. Exit the train as quickly as possible (while carefully minding the gap) and move away from the train away from the onboarding passengers.

Leaving the Station

To exit the station, you’ll use your SmarTrip® again. This time, the digital display on the turnstile will show you the remaining balance on the card.

That’s all there is to it!

DC Metro Tips

Here’s a collection of tips for using the metro:

  • When using the escalators, stand as far-right possible if you aren’t moving to let commuters and other busy Washingtonians pass on the left.
  • You can bring your bike on the Metro during Off-peak hours.
  • Keep in mind that WMATA adjusts schedules and routes for special events and holidays.
  • Lights lining the track will light up when a train is about to arrive.
  • All DC Metro stations are handicapped-accessible.
  • If you’re moving to DC and will be using the system often, subscribe to service alerts for unexpected changes in scheduling.

Taking the Bus

“Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.” -Dan Rather

You can also use the Metrobus, and can even pay fares using your SmarTrip® Card. Unlike the Metrorail, there are far too many lines to list here. There are over 300 of them!

Thankfully, WMATA provides commuters with a comprehensive map, which you can download here. This map shows the major, local, commuter, and express routes as well as a schedule.

Types of Bus Routes

Major Routes – Provide frequent 7-day service along the core route.

Local Routes – Have less frequent service with only some evening and weekend service.

Commuter Routes – These routes run during Peak hours and connect residential areas to urban centers and Metrorail stations.

MetroExtra Routes – Longer routes with less frequent stops for quicker long commutes.

Airport Express Routes – Limited stop service to Dulles International Airport.

Metrobus Fares

Metrobus fares are as follows:

$2.00 for regular fares.

$4.25 for Express fares (buses P19, 11Y, 17B, 17G, 17H, 17K, 17L, 17M, 18G, 18H, 18P, 29W).

$7.50 for Airport Express fares.

Discounted fares are available for students, senior citizens, and people with disabilities.

On the Metrobus, each paying adult can be accompanied by two children four years old or younger for free.

Transfers

When you ride the Metrobus and pay with a SmarTrip® card, you can transfer to any other bus an unlimited number of times for free within two hours. When transferring from a Metrobus to the Metrorail, you will receive a 50¢ discount on your fare.

Metrobus Tips

Here’s an assortment of tips for riding the Metrobus:

  • Metrobus drivers do not carry money. If you pay your fare in cash, you must have exact change.
  • Check out the BusTrack DC app on iPhone or Android for real-time information on bus locations and activity.
  • Free transfers also apply to DC Circulator buses.
  • Georgetown University Students can get to Dupont Circle Station on the red line, then take the GUTS bus to the campus.

Public Transportation Guide for DARO Residents

We’ve compiled maps to help the newest members of the DARO community find the nearest Metro stations.

If your trip requires riding the bus, use the Trip Planner to find out which routes are available at the time of your commute.

Sixteen Hundred

Sixteen Hundred Apartment residents have service on the red line from Dupont Circle Station or on the green/yellow line to the North at the U Street/African-Amer Civil War Memorial/Cardozo Station.

1900 Lamont

1900 Lamont residents have access to the Columbia Heights Station on the green/yellow line. You can always hop on a bus on Irving St NW and get off at Irving & 14th, there are many stops along the way.

Archer

The archer has access by bus to Dupont Circle Station, Woodley Park-Zoo Station, and Cleveland Park Station. Take a bus headed toward Farragut Square and get off at Mass Ave & 20th.

Parkway

For Parkway residents, Cleveland Park Station on the red line is just a short walk up the street or take the bus up Connecticut Ave.

Parkwest

Parkwest residents can take a Metrobus up to Cleveland Park Station.

Phoenix

Residents of the Phoenix can take a roughly 10-minute walk down to McPherson Square Station for service on the silver, orange, and blue lines or a 15-minute walk to Dupont Circle on the red line.

Rodman

Our Rodman community members walk just 4 minutes South to Cleveland Park Station.

Rodney

The Rodney is less than a 5-minute walk to the Dupont Circle Station on the Red Line.

Sedgwick Gardens

Sedgwick Gardens residents can walk a few minutes down Connecticut Ave to reach the Cleveland Park Station.

Share with your friends!

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on linkedin
Linkedin
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on reddit
Reddit
Share on email
Email

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

You must be logged in to do this action.

Don’t have an account? Sign up