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How to Ride the Metro in Washington DC

Here is a map of the DC Metro System
Here is a map of the DC Metro System
How to Ride the Metro in Washington DC

So you are visiting DC and you'd like a cheap and quick way to navigate the capital. The DC Metrorail system is a great way to get around--it's clean, it's safe, it's accessible, and it's efficient. But you don't want to look like an ignorant tourist while riding, so here are a few tips on how to tackle the public transportation system.

Difficulty: Moderately Easy

Things You'll Need:

  • Cash or credit/debit card
  • Metro map (optional)
  1. Step 1
    This is what the metro pillar signs look like.
    This is what the metro pillar signs look like.

    Locate the closest Metro station to where you are staying and what lines run through that station. There are several lines navigating through the city and into the surrounding suburbs, all identified with a different color. All Metro stations have pillars outside of them with the Metro logo. The colored stripes on the pillars indicate which lines you can access from that station.

  2. Step 2
    This is one of the newer card machines.
    This is one of the newer card machines.

    Once you get into the station you need to buy fare cards from the machines. Go to the machines and follow the instructions on purchasing single fare cards. Use the +/- buttons to indicate how much you would like to put on the card. These cards are reusable, so you should plan to put enough money to cover the number of rides you anticipate taking over the course of your trip. Pricing is calculated by distance; the farther between your Point A and Point B, the more expensive the ride will be. The maximum fare is nearly $4.50, although going from points closer together within the city is $1.65 per ride. Don't worry about trying to figure out exactly how much it will cost you for the exact rides you will take--you can always add more fare when exiting if you do not have enough to cover your ride and you can purchase more cards the next time you have to take the Metro. Also note that each person needs a fare card. Because of the distance pricing method, there are no sharing cards.

  3. Step 3

    Now that you have your fare card, you need to go through the gates. Go through the gates that have a green arrow. Gates with red dashes are only open to people who are exiting. Stick your fare card with the arrow towards the gate into the feed (it looks like where you stick your card in an ATM) on the side of the gate. The machine will quickly read the card and feed it into the top of the gate. When it pops out, retrieve your card and the styles will open, allowing you to pass. KEEP YOUR FARE CARD ACCESSIBLE. You will need your card to exit when you reach your destination.

  4. Step 4

    When you pass through the gates, pay attention to the signs that indicate where you should go to access certain lines (if there are multiple lines in the station) and to which platform you need to go to access a line going in your direction. The stations are marked with maps to help you determine in which direction you need to go. And if you have questions, just ask another friendly rider!

  5. Step 5

    When you reach the platform, look at the arrival board to determine how long it will be until your train arrives. The circular lights on the edge of the platform will flash when a train is approaching. When the train arrives, simply get on and find a seat or grab onto a hand rail while standing. Pay attention to the conductor, for he or she will often call out the next station stop. Alternatively, at each stop look out the window onto the wall where there will be signs indicating which station at which you are currently stopped.

  6. Step 6

    When your train reaches your destination, simply exit the train and follow the signs indicating which direction you wish to exit the station. When you reach the exit, you will encounter gates as you did when you entered. Use the same fare card you used to enter and feed the card into the reader, as you did when you entered. The reader will spit back out your card and on a small screen on the gate you can see how much money you have left on your fare card. If you have money left over, you may use that fare card again. Exit the station and enjoy your visit!

Tips & Warnings
  • Regular Metro riders adhere to specific rules of courtesy and they expect you to follow them as well:
  • When on escalators, stand right and walk left. Commuters are often in a hurry and will walk down the left hand side to reach a train.
  • If you are on vacation and use Metro as a tourist, consider riding after the morning rush hour and before the afternoon rush hour. Discounts are available to you if you ride between 10 am and 3 pm. During rush hour, the Metro will be packed and crowded.
  • When waiting to exit the train, stand back and allow riders to exit the train before you enter.
  • When entering the train, find a seat or step into the aisle in the middle of the car, as to let more passengers enter the train.
  • Do not stand at the bottom or top of escalators.
  • Metro closes at 12 am on weeknights and 3 am on weekends.


cyawman said

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on 3/11/2009 Don't be an escaleftor! Haha good article my fellow DC Metro resident.


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