Getting Around Town
Once you know where you are and where you want to go, Washington D.C. is a very easy city to navigate. The Metro system is safe, convenient, affordable, and fairly extensive throughout downtown. If the Metro doesn't go somewhere, the Metrobus system probably does, but it takes much longer, and buses do not run as frequently. Taxis are abundant and usually quite affordable.Take the Metro
The Metrorail system is run by Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which began in 1973. The Metro system now includes eighty-six stops and 106 miles of track.
The system runs efficiently throughout the downtown area (where most of the tourist sites are located) and to specific destinations in suburban Maryland and northern Virginia. If the Metro system can get you where you need to go, it is the best way to travel in the nation's capital.
Kids love the Metro; it's often an attraction in itself for them. Many of the stations (such as Dupont Circle) are deep below the ground, with long escalators and high, domed ceilings.
Each Metro station is marked with a brown obelisk with the capital letter M at the top. Every station has a station-manager kiosk on the premises, and you can usually ask them questions and for directions. Note that eating and drinking on the Metro system is strictly prohibited.
The deepest station is at Forest Glen on the Red Line, which is 196 feet below ground (twenty-one stories). The longest escalator is at Wheaton Station (also on the Red Line) — at 230 feet, it is the longest escalator in the Western Hemisphere.
Once you enter a Metro station, you have to buy a ticket at an automated machine. A chart shows you how much the fare is from your starting station to your destination. Currently, regular fare is $1.35 minimum, $3.90 maximum, from opening to 9:30
You can buy a round-trip ticket or a $6.50 one-day fare. If you plan your trips around a central location and use a combination of the Metro system, the bus system, and walking, it's unlikely that you'll spend $6.50 on the Metro in one day. A round-trip ticket is probably all you'll need.
Because it is a relatively new system, Metrorail has a science-fiction feel to it. It is a popular urban myth that it was designed by Disney architects, because it reminds people of Space Mountain or the monorail. The Metro's media department wouldn't corroborate this story, but it's been around ever since the Metro became operational in 1976, so you be the judge.
There are special discount passes as well. A full week's worth of Metro riding can be purchased for $22, which could certainly be a wise choice if you will be visiting the different neighborhoods of the city. However, there's a slight catch. Should any individual trip cost more than $2.20, you will be required to pay the additional amount before exiting the station. There is also a $32.50 seven-day card, if you know you'll be visiting the stations that require additional fees.
Once you have walked through the entrance turnstile, your ticket will pop back out at you. You must retain it and put it in the exit turnstile at your destination station. If you lose your ticket, you can buy another one inside the station to exit.The Metro Network
There are five lines in the D.C. Metro system: Red, Orange, Green, Yellow, and Blue. The Metro Center Station (in downtown Washington) connects three of them (Red, Blue, and Orange), and the next stop, Gallery Place-Chinatown, links the other two (Yellow and Green), so it is very easy to change trains. There are pocket Metro maps available in six languages outside most of these kiosks.
If you know you are going to take a bus later in the day (or you think you may get tired walking from one tourist site to another), look for the bus-ticket machine inside the station (before you exit) and take a transfer ticket. This will enable you to take a Metrobus for a 35-cent fee — otherwise, you would have to pay $1.25. There is no transfer from the bus to the train.
It took four decades of planning to create the Washington D.C. mass transit system. Congress authorized the creation of a planning commission to study mass transit in 1952, but the first Metro station didn't open until 1976. On the first day of service in March 1976, there were 19,913 passengers. In August 1988, the Metrorail carried its billionth rider.
The Metro system opens at 5:30
For more information on the Metro system call 202-962-1234 or visit the Web site at
The city's surface transit system is also extensive (over 15,000 stops) and works wonderfully, either in conjunction with the Metro system or for short rides when your feet give out on you. You can usually catch a bus within five to ten minutes of waiting, and most stops include a bus shelter where you can wait for the next bus.
You will need a Metrobus card or exact change for the bus, because the driver cannot give change, but the bus does take dollar bills. Rides are $1.25, and transfers are free. If you have a transfer from Metrorail, the fare is only 35 cents.Take a Taxi
Instead of a meter system, taxis in D.C. run on a zone system, which is posted in every cab. Most rides in the downtown area, or from downtown to Georgetown, are one fare zone, which is $6.50for one person and $1.50 extra for each additional person. There is a dollar surcharge for rush-hour traffic. Of course, you have to tip the driver — between 10 and 15 percent.
If you ask a cab to take you outside the city, you will be charged by the mile, which is how the airport fares are calculated. This fare system starts at $3.25 for the first half mile and adds 90 cents for each half mile after that.
The D.C. Taxi Commission Web site (
You can hail a cab on the street or call a cab service, which will cost you an additional $2. There are a gazillion cab companies available for radio service; a few are Diamond, 202-387-6200, Capitol, 202-636-1600, and Yellow Cab, 202-544-1212.
Make sure you pay attention to the driver's license number and the cab number when you get in the taxi. If you have a complaint about a driver, you can call the Taxi Commission at 202-645-6005 to report the problem.