July 13, 2012

Top 10 things to know before using the D.C. Metro

I'm putting the most important nugget of information first, so commit this to memory.  Write it on your hand.  Save it to your smartphone.  Put it on a Post-It and stick it to your guidebook.  Ready?  Here it is:
  1. While on the Metro escalators, stand all the way on the right hand side of the escalator.  That also applies to your spouse and your children.  If you are in a hurry, want to look like a local, or just want a bit of exercise, feel free to branch out to the left hand side where people actually walk.  The locals will thank you for it.  They will also make you move your butt over to the right if you forget it - there will be no standing politely behind you and waiting.  There.  You have been warned.  And now, on to other less vital (but still useful) tips for shooting through the underground tubes of our nation’s capital.
  2. Use the Trip Planner tool at www.wmata.com.  It's much easier than dissecting a map in a Metro station that’s faded, beat up, and hard to make out.  It'll even give you walking directions from your final Metro stop to your destination.
  3. You cannot take the Metro to Georgetown.  Don’t be the guy that approached me on the train recently and asked where the Georgetown stop is.  There isn’t one, and no I’m not pulling your leg because you’re from out of town, in a suit, and stumbling drunk.  You can, however, get out at Foggy Bottom or Rosslyn and walk 15-20 minutes to get there.  Or you can take a cab.
  4. Don’t fall into the trap of buying that $14 day pass.  Unless you plan on taking a tour of every single Metro station, it’s not worth it.  Just get a garden-variety card and put some money on it.  You can always add more to it later.
  5. If you plan on using the Metro more than 5 times during your stay, you might as well just go ahead and buy yourself a $5 SmarTrip card.  Starting in July 2012, Metro now charges an extra $1 for each trip if you use the garden-variety paper card.  I guess they’re trying to be friendly to the environment while being unfriendly to your wallet. 
  6. Don't be a jackass - let passengers get off the train first.   It’s proper etiquette to let people departing the train get off before you stuff yourself and your brood inside.  Don’t worry, the train driver won’t leave you.  Well, he might not. 
  7. When you get to your destination of choice, make sure you’ve still got that card with you.  Because just as a little extra annoyance, you have to use it to get out of the station, too.  
  8. Metro elevators and escalators break down all the time.  It’s annoying as hell. So you might have to hoof it up and down those escalators, after all.
  9. Trains randomly stop in the middle of tunnels.  You are not going to die.  There’s probably just another train in front of the one you’re on.  Or it’s the zombie apocalypse.  Either way, no big deal.
  10. Riding during rush hour is not pleasant.  You’ll be crammed into train cars with a bunch of sulking suits that are glued to their blackberries.  I mean, they spend 8-10 hours a day stuck in gray, fluorescent-lit government cubicles.  Wouldn’t you be ornery, too?
So enjoy your stay, stand on the right, and walk on the left.  You're golden.


  1. Don't keep your metro card anywhere near your cell phone or you may have to keep buying them!

  2. That's exactly right - good one! The phone can de-magnetize the strip on the paper cards, which is just a pain.

  3. OMG, I'm going to print this out and hand it to people on the metro... Today I had to repeat "stand on the right!" multiple times while weaving past people and running up the escalator to try to catch my shuttle. Worth noting, I really hate tourists.