DC Metro question
September 12, 2012 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I'll be visiting DC in several weeks for 5-6 days, doing a lot of the usual tourist stuff, staying at the Hyatt in Bethesda (partner will be attending a conference there). What is the best method for me / us for getting around DC on the Metro? They seem to have several smart card-like alternatives, and I am also wondering if there is a particular pre-pay plan that might be appropriate for visitors. Last but not least, would the Bethesda Metro station (beneath the Hyatt as I understand) have the kiosk necessary to purchase whatever best solution this thread recommends (is it a major enough station)?
posted by aught to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is a day-pass available for $14 that is sold in the kiosks. You don't have to use the smart card-- you can purchase paper ticket-cards, though the fares are slightly higher. If you really must buy a SmartTrip card, they are sold at local CVSes.
posted by deanc at 11:47 AM on September 12, 2012

You can buy a one-week rail pass for $35, with the caveat that it only covers you for $3.50 a trip during rush hour times -- which start at 3 pm for afternoon rush, annoyingly. Sadly that may not be quite enough to get you from Bethesda to downtown (Bethesda to the Smithsonian is $3.55 at peak hours).
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:49 AM on September 12, 2012

You can get a paper ticket at the Bethesda station - you will pay a higher price per trip using paper but as long as you don't plan to also use metro buses (they don't accept paper transfers anymore), then you will be fine with paper for less than a week.

If you want to get a Smart Trip card, there are a ton of details here.

Before getting a day pass, check your route, either online or on the map, and see how much you would spend otherwise. It's possible that you would just take metro to the mall and spend all day there, then go back - $14 would be too much to pay just for that. (Or just to Dupont, Eastern Market, where ever you will spend the day.)
posted by cessair at 11:50 AM on September 12, 2012

Zarquon - what happens when you try to use a one-week pass for a trip that is slightly more than allowed? Is there a way to make up the difference?
posted by aught at 11:51 AM on September 12, 2012

Per their site, you can use a paper farecard to pay the balance, without being subject to the surcharge they otherwise tack onto the paper payments.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:53 AM on September 12, 2012

Thanks all for the links. I was googling around last weekend and for some reason didn't turn up that FAQ page.
posted by aught at 12:04 PM on September 12, 2012

I would very strongly recommend getting smartrip cards. Every time I've had people come to visit, they end up somehow de-magnetizing their paper fare cards (something about cell phones?) and then wasting a few hours trying to get their $20 back from the metro gods.

Smartrip cards are magic, you can buy them online ahead of time (or at lots of places once you arrive) and they are very easy to fill up as you go (or even online), and you can hop on buses without worrying whether or not you have exact change. They have made my family's visits at least 25% less stressful (though not 100%, they aren't *that* magic).
posted by joJeppson at 12:12 PM on September 12, 2012

It can be a little confusing. If you think a day pass is overkill, your best bet will probably be to get a SmarTrip card. You can buy those at kiosks at any metro station (Bethesda will have one), and when you buy one, you pay $10 and get a SmarTrip card with $5. If you register the card online (which is quick and painless to do), you get a $3 rebate on the $5 card price, which is credited to the SmarTrip card (but maybe not in time for you to use on your trip*).

The $1 paper farecard surcharge is per trip, so if you're taking 5 or more trips, you'll be better off with the SmarTrip card even if you don't get the rebate before you leave.

*Personally, I've always found that the online transactions generally happen more quickly than their estimate indicates.

I JUST lost our extra SmarTrip card, otherwise I would lend it to you :(
posted by amarynth at 12:18 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

That should say "get a SmarTrip card with $5 in stored value on it."

I'm not sure, but I think part of the reason that they charge the extra $5 for the card is that you can go in the hole with it (if you have $2 on the card, and make a $5 trip, you can still get out of the station, but your card will have -$3 on it, and you won't be able to use it again until you add money to it).
posted by amarynth at 12:22 PM on September 12, 2012

Have a look at this.

On the escalators, if you're standing, keep to the right so that people can walk on the left.
posted by exogenous at 12:25 PM on September 12, 2012

Actually you can't buy a smart trip card at every metro, just metros that have parking, and Metro Center. Bethesda does have parking, so you're set. I wouldn't want you to find yourself at, say, U-Street having a half-smoke at Ben's, (highly recommended) then decide to buy a smart trip card and being out of luck.

I've also had a tourist friend have her paper card get de-magnitized, allegedly from holding it next to her cellphone. You might as well get the Smart Trip card for $5, and keep it for the next time you find yourself in DC.

And yeah remember: "don't be an esca-lefter". DC's code of courtesy is to stand to the right if you aren't going to walk up the escalator. This keeps the left open for people in a hurry.
posted by fontophilic at 12:31 PM on September 12, 2012

Actually you can't buy a smart trip card at every metro, just metros that have parking, and Metro Center.

Yikes, sorry! Thanks, fontophilic; I don't know how I got that impression, but I'm definitely glad to have it corrected!
posted by amarynth at 12:49 PM on September 12, 2012

You can no longer go in the home on smart trip. Changed recently. I guess to get through the gate you have to have the shortest trip amount (i admit I have no idea hOw much it costs to take the metro anywhere bc even though it's my mode of transport, my company metro benefits covers all my trips everywhere. Thanks, company!
posted by atomicstone at 12:58 PM on September 12, 2012

*in the hole. As in negative.
posted by atomicstone at 12:58 PM on September 12, 2012

Well that's crappy.

If you do decide to go the SmartTrip route, make sure to keep it stocked, then - they keep the machines where you put money on the card outside of the turnstiles!
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:59 PM on September 12, 2012

There's a CVS where you can buy a smartcard a couple blocks north of the Hyatt on Wisconsin, or on every other corner in DC. *feels pang of nostalgia for People's Drug*

The Bethesda metro escalators - one of the longest in the Western hemisphere, they say - have lately been a lot more reliable than they used to be, but be prepared for some kind of construction/repairs there or somewhere on the system while you're here.

And I'm not sure when it takes effect, but they're changing the rules so you can't get out of the station with a negative balance anymore.

The Hyatt's in a pretty bleak location, but "downtown" Bethesda a couple of blocks away is OK to stroll around and get a bite to eat.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 1:07 PM on September 12, 2012

Actually you can't buy a smart trip card at every metro, just metros that have parking, and Metro Center.

Well, the machines to buy them are in every station now. And shut down because they're not ADA compliant. Ah WMATA, you are the comedy gift that keeps on giving.

You can get them other places as well. The WMATA website lists retail locations and there's also commuter stores at non-parking locations, such as the Ballston metro stop.

That aside, I also suggest getting one. As stated above, you can go negative on them which is a HUGE benefit; there is little in life more frustrating than getting to the exit gate and being told to go add more money. Being behind those people comes close.

What you cannot do is enter the station with less than a certain amount on them - $1.20 to be exact. You can still easily run that into the negative, given the most expensive possible peak fare of $5.75; you simply will not be able to get back in again till you add more.

Be warned if your trip encompasses the weekend. That's when they do track work and it can slow things down to the point where it sucks your will to live. You may want to plan your activities accordingly.
posted by phearlez at 1:23 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

On the escalators, if you're standing, keep to the right so that people can walk on the left.

Good to know. I've traveled enough in airports and big cities in general that even though I live in a small college town with maybe no escalators (I can't think of one) I am in the habit of doing this and get annoyed when others don't.
posted by aught at 1:45 PM on September 12, 2012

Be warned if your trip encompasses the weekend. That's when they do track work and it can slow things down to the point where it sucks your will to live.

Thanks, it will, so also good to know. My partner may need to get back to Bethesda for conference things at specific times.
posted by aught at 1:49 PM on September 12, 2012

Also with a SmarTrip you can replenish it online and keep track of balance, etc. I think you probably have enough time to have them mail you one, which is what I did when I moved here.
posted by exogenous at 3:23 PM on September 12, 2012

The main benefit of the Smarttrip card is that you won't look like a tourist, which is pretty much the worst possible faux pas in DC. (Even in the post-apocalyptic wastes of Fallout 3, "tourist" is the worst insult you ever suffer.)

Metro to WMata bus to Circulator to RideOn bus transfer? Smarttrip is the only way to transfer between modes without paying again.

If you start with a paper fare card, you can add that value back on to the Smarttrip.

If you're a real cheapskate, Baltimore's CharmCard is compatible and only costs $2.50 ordered online.

Or be the envy of all the other tourists and order the Obama inauguration commemoration card for only $10...
posted by Skwirl at 4:39 PM on September 12, 2012

Also note that the day/week passes generally aren't a great deal, unless you're riding the Metro a *lot*.

I'd recommend a Capital Bikeshare day-pass instead. Everything downtown is decently close together, and it's much nicer to see the city aboveground.
posted by schmod at 9:53 PM on September 12, 2012

Seconding Capital Bikeshare. Especially since there is a MARVELOUS trail called the Crescent that winds down from Bethesda to Georgetown, and from there, you ride along the trail waterfront to the monuments. It's downhill from Bethesda.

Also seconding caution on the weekends. The Red Line is the oldest line in DC and generally needs the most maintenance. If the Nationals are in town, the Green line will be choked for about and hour or two before and after the game.
posted by Thistledown at 9:37 AM on September 14, 2012

Hmm, going back to the question of if you can buy a Smart trip card at every station: I just noticed there's a big poster at my metro that says "Coming September 1st, you can buy a smart trip card at every station!"

Somewhat predictably, it's September 18th and that station does not have a smart trip dispensing machine. Hopefully my station is the exception, not the rule, and hopefully this won't be an issue for tourists in the future. But its WMATA we're talking about..
posted by fontophilic at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2012

For those who might possible care: we bought SmartCards, after a little tussle with the CC readers in the dispensing kiosk -- apparently the little graphic shows you the wrong way to swipe the CC? -- at the Bethesda station (collaboratively troubleshot the problem with a couple of smart friendly German tourists) and used them effortlessly the 6 days we were in DC area. Thanks again for the advice all.

And excellent museum visits and restaurant experiences were had: White House and Capitol tours, Hirschorn, National Art Museum -- a bunch of Francis Bacons in person, view from the Old Post Office tower, the Lib of Congress I have amazingly never visited before, and the bonsai at the National Arboretum; Rasika West (wow), Ceiba, Zaytinya, Ethiopian at Etete (pan fried whole fish ftw), the wacky felafel place in Adams Morgan whose toppings were really great but whose fries did not live up to the hype and also the other diners made me feel really old which I kind of am getting to be, Fast Gourmet's great chivito sandwich, overpriced but very tasty/interesting food in the cafeteria at the American Indian museum, and a Moby Dick kebop plate. Oh and white/spinach slices from Voce in Bethesda on the way out of town.

Thanks for having a cool city, DC folks.
posted by aught at 7:17 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

« Older Looking for travel insurance recommendations.   |   Idiopathic delayed note syndrome Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.