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Navigating DC with Metro
All you need to know to ride DC’s world-class Metrorail
Metro closes nightly at midnight. The early closing is part of a larger project to improve Metrorail safety and restore service reliability.
How it works
Washington, DC’s Metro is one of the best and most efficient public transportation systems in the country. Its expansive network of tunnels and above ground tracks connect all four quadrants of DC with suburban Virginia and Maryland. The system is heavily used by local commuters and it’s a popular, convenient and affordable way for visitors to DC to get around the region.
The Metro consists of six color-coded lines: Red, Blue, Orange, Yellow, Green and Silver. The lines are connected to each other via transfer stations and many Metro stops are serviced by more than one color.
Each train car has an exterior electronic sign that marks the color and the direction of the train. Direction is indicated by the final station of that line. (For example, if you were at Gallery Place/Chinatown and wanted to ride to Woodley Park/National Zoo, you would get on a train marked Red-Shady Grove).
During peak hours (weekdays, 5-9:30 a.m. and 3-7 p.m.), trains usually arrive every 5-6 minutes. At off-peak times, trains come every 12 minutes, while late-night trains arrive every 15-20 minutes. Trains run until midnight Sunday-Thursday and until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Metro riders must pay via a SmarTrip card. These are plastic, rechargeable fare cards that can be purchased by cash or credit at any Metro station. You can also purchase your SmarTrip card in advance on wmata.com.
Fares are calculated by how many stops you travel and vary during peak and off-peak hours. During peak hours, fares range from $2.15 to $5.90 per trip. During off-peak hours, fares range from $1.75 to $3.60. You can calculate your fare between two stops using Metro’s Trip Planner.
The DC Metro is the second busiest in the U.S. and serves thousands of commuters and visitors each day. Because the train system is so heavily used by busy local commuters, there are a number of unspoken rules that visitors should be aware of. If possible, you may want to ride at off-peak hours when the train system is much less hectic.
When riding the escalator, stand to your right, walk to your left. Standing in a twosome that blocks the left side is strongly (and often loudly) discouraged by your fellow Metro riders.
When waiting to board a train, let riders exit the train first before trying to board. If the train is particularly crowded and you are standing in a doorway, step just outside the train to allow your fellow riders room to exit.
Another important note if the train is crowded: move to the middle of the car so others can board. You will have time to exit when you arrive at your stop.
During peak hours, trains arrive often. Don’t try to board a train that is too full. The automatic doors are very sensitive and if they can’t close, the train operator may offload the entire train because a door stopped working.
Each car usually has several seats for handicapped riders. Please don’t use these seats if there is a rider that needs to sit down.
Be sure and have your SmarTrip card out and ready to swipe when you go through the gate. Riders move through quickly and holding up the line is discouraged.
While the Metro can be a very busy place, most of your fellow riders are friendly and will point you in the right direction. There is also a station manager at each station. Don’t be afraid to ask if you have questions about navigating the Metro!
Now that you have read up on the Metrorail experience, learn about other ways to navigate DC. Check out transportation that works best for getting around the District.