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Tips & Tricks to Riding DC Metro

The Washingtonian metro system can be a little tricky for those who aren’t familiar with it. It is both an underground and aboveground railing system that can help you get around the city and surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.

March 2016 was the last time the metro accepted the paper fare cards and now only accepts the stored-value SmarTrip cards. Simply scan the card at the top of the enter/exit gate and voila – Welcome to the chaos.

Following these tricks will help you reach your destination safely and efficiently – especially during the current SafeTrack work.

Buy a SmarTrip card / Load your SmarTrip

They have a kiosk available at every station. You can also purchase cards online or retail outlets. Cards are $10, however, $5 is for you to use.

My advice: Put enough money on your card for the entire day. Rushing to put money on your card while your train is arriving has got to be the saddest thing. Load your card at the station or online (website below) by registering your card and inputting the serial number located on the back.

Keep in mind that the machines will only return a maximum of $5 in change in either quarters or dollar coins. Your card can go into the negatives if you don’t have enough money, however, you will have to pay it back the next time you use it. (Your trip is $3.50 and your card is at -$1.50. You have to add at least $5)

Keep $1, $5, and $10 bills aside for transportation. Most people aren’t eager to exchange money while they’re rushing themselves.

Board the first or last train cart during rush hour

Most people, especially those stragglers running from the escalators, board the carts in the middle. Why? Because it’s less walking and better access to the station exits. You have a better chance for a seat in the first or last cart.

Use the opposite side of the exit gate to exit the station

I bet you never realized that the handicap/one exit on the opposite side of the gate is usually green to exit. While others are scrambling to figure out why their card isn’t working, sneak your way out the hidden exit.

Use a different metro station during busy events 

Avoid using the recommended metro stop during crowded events in DC. Most likely there’s another station within walking distance that’ll save you time and a headache.


Avoid rush hour and special event days if possible

If you don’t have somewhere urgent to be, just avoid taking the metro during these times altogether. You’ll most likely end up getting stuffed under someone’s sweaty under pits or shoved to the side by someone who isn’t willing to wait 5 minutes for the next one.

Rush Hour: 7am – 9am and 4pm – 7pm. Discounted fares are available between 9:30am and 3pm.

Download “DC Metro Transit” App

This app has been my life saver. It tells you exactly when the next train is coming from any line and metro station. It also provides the metro map, metro alert, searches the nearest metro, and more. Planning your route ahead of time will save you the confusion once entering the station. Be advised that end stations tend to be less accurate than others.

Check for delays and track work

Before planning your trip, check the DC Metro Transit app for metro alerts. Sometimes random track work and incidents do occur.

Metro station locations 
Metro stations are marked with a white “M” on tall black poles. For your convenience, the line of color at the top indicates which metro line is available at that station.

The stations are also a great place to get information on where you need to go. Maps, fare information from each station, and more. Speak with a metro operator or visit http://www.wmata.com/ for more information.

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