The Metro is awesome. Sure, it has delays and it can get crowded and it seems like they raise the prices every other hour…but it is awesome. You can easily get to most places in the city you want to go to, it runs frequently enough to be convenient and you don’t have to worry about parking! It can be a little daunting at first but trust me, it is easy to pick up and you’ll be able to get just where you want to go in no time. Plus, it is a perfect rainy-day activity since kids seem content to just treat the Metro like it is an amusement park ride. Take it out to where it goes above ground and then it is doubly fun!
Below are a couple of different “how tos” for the Metro. Hopefully it gives you a bit more confidence when you go to tackle the system for the first time. Don’t be shy about asking Metro employees for help or talking to someone at your hotel or that you are staying with. I would even say it is ok to ask a stranger in the station. Everyone had a learning curve with Metro and will want to help you avoid their mistakes!
How to find a Metro Station
- Almost all Metro stations are marked on the outside by a brown pylon with a large “M” on top. They usually have colors on them to tell you what lines run through it.
- Signs and maps throughout the city will be marked with an “M” and an arrow to let you know which way to walk and find the entrance.
- If you see someone with a business suit and sneakers on it is probably a commuter! You can ask them to point you in the right direction. A lot of DC people walk fast and look really hassled and busy, but they will rarely point a visitor wrong.
Figuring Out Where to Go
- The Metro map is not that complicated, but it will take a few minutes to acquaint yourself with it. You can pick one up in any station or find it at www.wmata.com . You should probably pull up a copy of it as you read the rest of these tips or it may seem more complicated than it really is!
- Also on wmata.com is a “trip planner.” This will let you enter in where you are starting from and where you want to end and give you step by step directions for how to get from A to B. Really nice to have when you are going somewhere on a schedule or just aren’t sure what route to take!
- Metro is divided into the Red, Blue, Orange, Yellow and Green lines. They criss-cross the city and extend out into Virginia and Maryland.
- When you are looking at the map, each station is going to sit on one or more colored lines. This will let you know that you take one of those colors to get to the station. So, the Smithsonian stop sits squarely on the Orange and Blue line, meaning you can take either color to reach that station.
- A bulls-eye symbol on the map lets you know that the station is a big intersection. Metro Center is a good example, that station has the Orange, Blue AND Red Line going through it.
- The last station on the line is what Metro uses to tell you which direction the trains are headed in. So, if you are on the Orange Line and it says “Vienna” on the train you know it is an Orange Line train that is ultimately going to end up in Vienna…after hitting every station between where you are now and there.
- Metro is starting something called “Rush +” that should help out commuters in the morning (before 9:00am) and the late afternoon (after 4:30). The map will look a bit different and you will want to pay attention to the station name listed on the train so that you are sure the train is headed where you want to go. Read up on Rush+ on Metro’s website.
Buying a Ticket
- Every rider on Metro needs their own ticket. You use it to enter AND exit the stations, so don’t bury it in your purse or pocket! Also, Metro is not a “one fare fits all” system, it costs different amounts of money to get to different stations. Keep that in mind when you are planning your day and buying your ticket.
- Just before the gates there will be farecard machines. They may look a little intimidating, but they are actually pretty logical.
- An all brown machine will ONLY take cash and give you a standard farecard. At the top of the machine is a list of stations and how much it will cost you to get there. Unless you are traveling at rush hour on the weekday, you will be able to get by on the “reduced” fare price. Insert your money, push the arrows up and down until it is the price you want and then push the button for your card. Be warned, your change will all be in…change.
- A machine with a blue and white border on it will do cash, credit or debit cards and you can buy a day/multi-day pass. For these machines you first choose the type of farecard you want, either a single farecard or a pass, then insert your money or card and follow the directions on the screen.
- When all else fails, go up to the kiosk and ask the wonderful station managers for assistance! You can also look over the shoulder of someone else getting a ticket, they will probably take pity on you and walk you through what to do.
- When you are ready to enter the Metro, look for a gate with a green arrow pointing towards it. Insert your ticket into the slot on the front side of the machine and pull it out through the top. The gates will open for you to pass through.
- Go down the stairs or escalator and look at the pylons along the platform, they will tell you which side your train will be coming on.
- When the train arrives, let people get off the train first (the announcements will remind you of this CONSTANTLY). Then, go ahead and get on the train! Either find a seat or move to the center of the car and hang on.
- The conductor will announce stations as you come in, and you can also look at the maps on the wall or at the walls of the station as you pull in. When you get to your station, don’t panic! They really do give you enough time to get off the train.
Things to Remember
- STAND TO THE RIGHT ON THE ESCALATOR. Nothing will enrage a “local” more than a big group packing the left side of the elevator. We are so glad that you are on vacation and enjoying yourself, but some of us are really late for work and having clear access up the escalator will make us treat you much more kindly.
- CHILDREN FOUR AND UNDER RIDE FREE. Unfortunately, once they turn five they need their own ticket
- DOORS DO NOT BOUNCE BACK OPEN. You’ll hear the announcements repeat endlessly that Metro doors are not like elevator doors…but it is so true. I’ve seen purses, briefcases and even someone’s head get stuck in the door. Get in the door and move away from it.
- HOLDING THE DOOR OPEN WILL MAKE YOU REALLY UNPOPULAR. If you hold open the doors or try to pry them open, they malfunction. When that happens the whole train gets offloaded and everyone stands angrily on the platform. Don’t be the cause of that anger.