D.C. Metro, Washington D.C.
I first road Washington's metro system when it was relatively new and I was impressed. I kept thinking why cannot Toronto's subway look like this as Washington's was so clean and modern. It has such neat gimmicks as flashing lights as the trains approached and the station looked like beehives. I still enjoyed riding the metro when I visited in 1995 but I understand that service has been on the decline since. It has become overcrowded and maintenance issues persists.
Riding the metro is best for tourists at none peak times. Tickets are bought from a dispenser which takes only coins and fares depend on how far you are traveling upon the system. They can cost as much as $5.00. There are also daypasses and weekpasses which can be usual but not for me since I was relatively close to most of Washington's attractions during my last visit.
Entrances to each metro station are marked by tall brown columns with a large "M" on each side and with the name of the station, just like on my picture of Pentagon City Station in Arlington. The color stripes at the top (blue and yellow on my picture) show which Metrorail lines serve that station. The stations are always marked on all maps of Washington DC, I saw.
To get to the nearest metro station you can:
- take a metrobus
- take a shuttle van/bus from your hotel (ask at the desk).
Keep in mind that in a downtown the metrorail goes underground whereas outside they often run above ground with the station located above as well. Follow the link below to see up-to-date list of metro stations/stops.
To use the vending machines at metrorail stations small bills are recommended. There are no change machines in stations and farecard machines provide only up to $5.00 in change (in coins). The machines accept coins of 5 (nickels), 10 (dimes) and 25 c (quarters) and bills 1, 5, 10 and 20 dollars.
PASSES/FARECARDS vending machine
The machine, on my picture, accepts both cash and credit cards (for sure of Visa and Mastercard system) and sells both passes and single or multiple farecards. I used it to buy two One Day Passes ($6.50 each)
It had a display screen in the center of the machine which guided me through my transaction. I simply followed the prompts. The A, B and C buttons are located to the left of the screen. They are used to choose your purchase:
A - pass
B - single farecard
C - multiple farecards
When I chose what to buy (A) and how many (2) I inserted money (alternatively you may insert and quickly remove your credit card). Remember not to insert more than $5 over your price. Well, the machine gave me 2 One Day Passes and with nice casino-like sound got my change in coins.
FARECARDS vending machine
It doesn't accept credit cards and sells exclusively single farecards. Keep in mind that you purchase single farecard of particular exact value (you must know it), not a farecard to specified station.
When I put money in the slot (not more than 5$ over the fare value) I selected the value of my farecard by pressing the minus (-) or plus (+) button until the value I wanted was displayed. Then I pressed the push for farecard button (red one - I forgot it at first attempt) and removed my farecard. My change was returned in coins near the bottom of the machine.
As a local, I'm forever riding the Metro. It's SAFE, CLEAN and EASY to use! It takes you from VA to MD back to DC in just minutes (well, given that they all are so colse). Just use the Metro website and enter your starting location and destination and it will tell you the quickest route, and how long it will take. You can also get info on bus routes on this site.
To choose my metro itinerary wisely I had to look at maps of both Washington DCand Arlington, where I lived, and compare them with the metro map. I got all the above maps at the Days Inn Arlington motel.
If you forgot the maps, no worries. Pocket metro map is available free at the kiosk by the entry (gates) in each metro station. There are large metro maps and area maps put both outside the gates, on platforms and in the metro car itself. Pay attention to the name of the last station of chosen line, not to get to the platform of trains running in the opposite direction. On the front of each approaching metro car is the colour of the line and on the sides is the destination (or last) station.
I noticed that it's sometimes better to choose longer itinerary by one metro line instead of shorter one changing lines, especially when the weather is bad. It's not only more comfortable but the travel may take less time, especially when fewer trains go, off the peak hours.
Metro opens at 5.00 am on weekdays and at 7.00 am on weekends.
It closes at midnight on Sunday - Thursday and at 3.00 am on Friday - Saturday nights.
Warning: when traveling at night, please check the last train departure times posted in the stations. Last trains leave many stations before midnight (between 2.30 and 3.30 am on Friday and Saturday). On Public Holiday hours vary. Check holiday schedule here.
Expect crowded, busy metro stations, short lines to metro fare vending machines, and no free seats in the platforms and in the metro cars at the peak hours, that is on weekdays:
- in the morning from 5.00 am to 9.30 am but especially from 7.00 am to 9.00 am;
- in the afternoon from 3.00 pm to 7.00 pm but especially from 5.00 pm to 6.00 pm.
I travelled from Rosslyn to Reagan Washington National Airport station before 9.00 am on weekday and my metro car was almost empty, as you can see on my picture. Another time there were more folks but I was never packed like sardines.
First time, at Rosslyn metro station, when I already bought my single fare I came closer to the gates to observe locals how they go through the automatic gates and what they do with the farecards. Well, European metro gates, I know, sometimes work a different way.
There are a few automatic metal gates seperated by machines validating farecards/passes at the entrance and similar gates at the exit. Each machine has two slots in the upper surface - one before the gate, the second behind.
CROSSING THE GATES
1. Entrance gates
Put your farecard or pass to the first slot of the machine in the way indicated on the farecard (look at the writing INSERT AND ARROW). Urszula did it wrong and the gates didn't open :-), her farecard hide in the machine and after a moment it jumped out. When you put your farecard right, the gate opens, your farecard hides in the machine and after a moment (for validating) it jumps out from the second slot. DO NOT FORGET TO TAKE IT. It's your validated farecard or pass. You will need it to cross the exit gates. On the pass you can find the date and hour of its validity now.
2. Exit gates
You need again the farecard or pass to cross the exit gate and leave the metro station. The machine works similar like at entrance gate. It checks whether you traveled with correct farecard/pass, if not - you will not be let out :-). Single farecard stays inside the machine whereas pass and multiply fare jumps out by the second slot. DO NOT FORGET TO TAKE IT, you will need it for next metro travels.
CHOOSE CORRECT PLATFORM
When I crossed the metro gates I had to find correct platform following the signs indicating the line (colour) and direction (name of the last station).
In Arlington there are two transfer metro stations where 2 lines cross:
- Rosslyn (Blue and Orange line)
- Pentagon (Blue and Yellow line).
Look at the clickable metro map here.
AT THE PLATFORM
There are always limited places to sit down at each platform, just in case you are tired or still have a jet-lag :-). I read information displaed at electronic tables. They inform about the next train and show time to its arrival, information on delays etc. At night they show time of departure of the last train. Electronic signs in stations and flashing lights along the platform edge signal a train's arrival.
On the front of each approaching metro car is the colour of the line and on the sides is the destination (or last) station. Check it before boarding. Sometimes the train doesn't go to the last station, especially the last train.
Don't look for any button to open the door. There are none, the doors open and shut automatically. Listen for the chimes that signal the car doors are closing. If the train is full (it never happened to me), step back and wait for the next train. Unlike elevator doors, train doors do not reopen automatically.
IN CASE OF TAKING WRONG METRO LINE
When you make a mistake and ride in oposite direction or wrong line get out of the car at the next station. Then double back to the station you missed in a train going the opposite direction. It won't cost you any more money if you don't put your metro card through the exit gates. Just stay on this side of the gates, look for the train going in the opposite direction, and double back.
There are a few bans in metro stations and cars which were displayed by pictograms at the bottom of area maps put at each metro station.
NO DOGS AND PETS
You are not allowed to transport your dog or any other pet both by metro rails and metro buses. The only animals that are permitted are service animals that assist people with disabilities. However, a pet can be transported on Metrorail and Metrobus in a secure container as long as there is no possibility that the pet can get free.
Bicycles are permitted on Metrorail (limited to two bicycles per car) weekdays except rush hours, from 7.00 am to 10.00 am and 4 pm to 7 pm. Bicycles are permitted all day Saturday and Sunday as well as most holidays (limited to four bicycles per car). Bicycles are not permitted on July 4th and other special events or holidays when large crowds use the system.
OTHER BANS in metro stations and metro cars
1. No smoking
2. No eating or drinking (wow!)
3. No dangerous or flammable items
4. No litter or spitting
5. No audio and video devices (without earphones)
1. On escalators always stay to the right unless you plan on walking up or down the steps immediately upon entering them.
2. Stay AWAY from the doors - move to the center of the train or take a seat.
3. Let passengers leaving the bus or train get off before you try to get on.
Kids up to 4 years old don't need a farecard to enter and exit a metro station.
great system, very clean and cheap to use. Day ticket travel a bargin. Helpful staff if there is a problem you come up against. I use the London tube, beleive me its does not even compete with the DC system. I understand the DC one is much newer but still, its a pleasure travelling on the DC system.
The DC Metro is a great way to get around the city once you get over the strange fare system. There are five lines that cover the entire downtown area and stretch into the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, covering 106 miles. There are several stops in the city center near the famous monuments, landmarks, museums, and government buildings making the metro a great way for tourists to see the city.
The biggest problem with DC's metro is the crazy fare system. Not only do they charge different fees throughout the day ("peak" or "off-peak"), but you never know the fares between any two stations until you look on the fare chart. Prices range from $1.35 to $3.90 (and everything in between) depending on which stations you travel from and to... and the time of day.
Luckily you can buy a pre-paid, stored value fare cards for almost any amount, which takes the guesswork out of figuring out the cost.
The Metro closes at midnight on weeknights and 3am on Friday and Saturday nights.
Depending on your travel, the metro can cost anywhere from US$1.65-US$4.50. Or.....you can purchase a one-day pass for US$7.80 or a 7 day rail pass for $39.00. Well, I did the math and for me, it worked out to pay the regular fee. You can put any amount on a card and it will decrement the cost depending on the distance of your travel. You can recharge your paper card which is rather simple. Using cash - put the cash in the machine first then select fare card. If you recharge a card, put the card in first then the cash. If you pay by credit card, you select amount first then swipe the credit card. It's all slightly complicated but you get the hang of it once you have used the machines a few times.
This was definitely the best mode of transportation in town.
DC has a wonderful metro rail system. The Smithsonian Metro Stop is in the mall and as you can see, quite popular with locals on this Sunday, 16 March 2008. On the south side of the metro stop are the Smithsonian castle and the Freer+Sackler museums. To the west is the Washington Monument.
An excellent and efficient Metro System makes travelling in Washington very easy. It is very clean and safe.
There are 5 lines. Some stations are very deep underground with long escalators. Tickets can be bought at the stations from vending machines. If you stay for more than a few days, a week pass could be a good option. Single fares depend on how far you travel, and also if it is on or off peak.
Very good website
Visiting D.C. is no real trip if you do not ride the subway. It is the most convenient way to get around D.C. You may drive, but between marches, demonstrations, street construction, general traffic and parking tickets, the subway is the best way to go. You also get to see the regular folks that live in D.C.