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Navigating the DC Metro: Tips and Tricks from the Pros

Posted on Monday, September 12, 2016

Since the DC Metro opened in 1976, it's served hundreds of thousands of people every day; last year, there were more than 215 million trips on the Metro, and it's growing every year. With six separate lines, 91 stations, and 116 miles of track, the Metro can be a daunting prospect for anyone who's unfamiliar with the train's route through the city.  

If you're intimidated by the thought of traversing the Metro, don't worry. We're here to help. We've got some helpful tips if you've decided to save some steps and take the train. 

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1. Download Apps

Apps are a tremendous time-saver for a Metro newbie. The iTrans DC Metro app, available on iPhone, posts departure times and provides a street-level map that will help you find the entrance of the station. (Bonus? It's free.) The DC Metro and Bus app is a good option for iPhone and Android; it gives you up-to-the-minute departure and arrival times as well as a helpful map. The DC Rider app, available on Android and iPhone, not only offers maps and departure and arrival times, but a rolling Twitter feed fueled by Metro riders as well as Metro news. 

2. Purchase a SmarTrip Card

If you're planning to be in DC for more than a few days, the SmarTrip Card will pay for itself in convenience alone. Yes, it will cost you $5.00 up front, but you'll save $1.00 paper FareCard surcharge on every trip you take. You can purchase it online or at a Metrorail station or sales office, and you can add funds to your account online as well. Also, you can use it on other modes of transit, such as the DC Circulator, Ride On, DASH, Light Rail and Metro Subway, and more. Additionally, this will save you time— you won't have to wait in line to purchase a FareCard, potentially missing your train. You're paying for peace of mind as well as convenience.

3. Choose Your Ride Time Carefully

Of course, if you're trying to get to a meeting on time, you don't have a whole lot of choice in the matter. But if you do have a little leeway, it's smart to avoid the peak riding times— from opening to 9:30am and from 3:00pm to 7:00pm. Not only will you find your ride more comfortable (and you're more likely to get a seat), but you'll save some cash. Fares range from $2.10 to $5.75 during peak times, while they're only $1.70 to $3.50 if you ride at the off-hours. 

4. Head to the Front of the Train

Your best bet for avoiding the crush of a crowded Metro train is to take a moment to get your bearings and determine which way the train will be arriving. Once you've done that, move to where the front of the train will be. Most people head to the middle of the platform, and move in a mass to the central door on the train. If you work around this, you will find a significantly emptier car, and, most likely, a free seat. 

5. Be Prepared to Wait 

Sometimes, a car is so full, you're not sure where you'll stand. The best solution? Skip it, and wait for the next train to come by. The good news is there's ALWAYS another train, and hopefully the next one won't make you feel like a sardine in a can. You can just check the board and see when the next train will arrive.

6. Clear the Doors

This might sound like a no-brainer, but you must stay away from the doors of the Metro. These aren't like elevator doors—if they start to close on you, they WON'T automatically open again, and the train won't move with a jammed door. This could be a painful lesson for you to learn, so just keep your arms, legs, and possessions clear of the doors. 

7. Don't Be a Litterbug

 DC is justifiably proud of the Metro's reputation as one of the cleanest forms of public transit in the country; please help them maintain the train's tidiness by not dropping your trash on the floor of the station or in the train. Remember, there's no eating or drinking permitted on the trains, either. Respect the Metro's rules, and enjoy your tidy ride. 

8. Stand on the Right

Ah, the escalator. There are many, MANY escalators in the Metro's 91 stations, and they're wide enough to accommodate two lanes of traffic. It's an unspoken rule among DC natives that you stand in the right lane, and walk on the left. So, if you're in a hurry to catch a train, you know can sprint up the left lane of the escalator. If you're taking a more leisurely approach to your day, you can stand on the right and enjoy your ride. If you remember this rule, you'll garner the respect of your fellow commuters. 

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