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D.C. Metro pass, help

Old Jan 9th, 2016, 11:56 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 69
D.C. Metro pass, help

My younger brother and I will be taking a trip to DC in February and I need some help with deciding on how or which metro pass to buy for our circumstances. As I understand it prices vary depending on travel times, commuting hours and such, but I've also seen mention of cost from station to station etc. basically we will be there from Friday about 10 am until Monday am (feb 12-15) we have an early flight home so I don't imagine we would be using the metro to go anywhere that Monday, we are also across the street from our airport DCA, so I'm looking at metro travel for 3 days.
We have lots of places we want to see but because we don't know what our itinerary would be exactly I figured we'd need some flexibility for using the metro as far as times or whatnot. We are both fairly early risers so I don't imagine we wouldn't be able to beat the morning rush hour time frames but as for the rest we don't know.
I am use to the NY metro from my visits there, the 7 day unlimited pass has always worked out since I've always gone for a week at a time. We are looking to get the best value for our money with out over complicating things. Any suggestions would be so greatly appreciated. Thanks!!
littlemizrabbit is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2016, 12:08 PM
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 11,497
We used the SmarTrip cards; loaded each with about $20 and added more as necessary.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2016, 12:19 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,937
yea, DC has prices that vary depending how far apart the stations are -- at least outside the downtown area, it's not per trip the same price. It has gotten very expensive, last Sunday I went downtown from Silver SPring and I think it cost about $3 each way and that was the weekend. that's ridiculous, it seems like it only cost $1.50 or less not that long ago--and I had a smartrip card, it's $1 more per trip if you don't. A lot more expensive than some cities.

DCA to about Dupont circle costs about $3.30 in cash nonpeak hours. It's only $2.30 with a smartrip. That's only one way. But if you did about 4 of those trips, that's about $12 cash. Buying a Smartrip card would probably be best, it costs about $2. It's not that easy to buy, you can't get one from the machines in the station. You can get them at CVS drugstores and some major grocery store chains. Find a CVS would probably be easiest.

To be honest, the DC metro system is not very user friendly in fares compared to many other cities as even if you wanted to buy a 1 day unlimited pass for $15, I think you have to have a Smartrip card to do it (that's the electronic card that stores the value).
Christina is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2016, 12:56 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 22,458
Whatever you decide, some of the fare cards have magnetic strips that are very sensitive to becoming de-magnitized by some cell phones. Even with a receipt, you will then have to buy a new card and the value is gone. Happened to me when I carried it in same pocket as my cell phone.
gail is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2016, 02:15 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 4,039
Things have changed recently regarding Metro's SmarTrip cards, so some of the info you have gotten in the previous posts is out-of-date.

Paper farecards are no longer sold (as of December 2015) so you don't have to worry about magnetic strips. And SmarTrip cards are sold in special machines in EVERY Metro station now so you don't have to go to CVS to buy one.

My recommendation would be to buy a $10 SmarTrip Card at the first Metro station you go to (which will probably be the one at DCA). This $10 includes the cost of the card ($2) and $8 worth of fare.

As you use the card, you can see on the turnstile how much fare is left or you can check the fare on any of the fare machines in the Metro station. You can add fare to your card as needed with a credit card or cash. So, your goal is to leave D.C. with a zero-balance on your SmarTrip card!

I'll agree that the fare system in D.C. is a pain, but you can use the Trip Planner feature on the Metro website to find out how much any ride you take will cost. See:
longhorn55 is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2016, 02:38 PM
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Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 69
Thank you for all the info! And thank you Longhorn making sure I have the most up to date info, I feel a lot better about that. I think we will end up doing as you said and just adding money as needed. Thanks so much!
littlemizrabbit is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2016, 06:12 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 14,457
If you're staying in Arlington near Reagan and traveling downtown to tour, a single ride will almost certainly cost you under $3 regardless of the time of day. Much of what most visitors focus on seeing is in the vicinity of the National Mall and it is very walkable. With planning you might easily not need more than two metro rides a day -- in and out of the city. Do check a map of the sites you're most interested in visiting to see which metro stop is the shortest walk as there are a number of stations spread around the mall. You can also rent bikes to get from one place to another. See

Your SmarTrip card will also give you access to DC's Circulator Bus system ($1 a ride, I think) which includes a National Mall route, especially good for the monuments not near a metro stop.

DC's metro differs from NYC's in that it's a tap in and tap out system. I don't find the fare structure difficult or a pain. I do find Metro maintenance to be a pain which often occurs on weekends so check Metro's website so you're at least aware of potential delays. There are a number of apps available to help you get around. I like DCRider.

Also, unlike entering some stations in the NYC subway, the DC metro doesn't penalize you if you aren't sure which direction you're headed. You can always cross the tracks inside the station to get a train going in your direction.
obxgirl is offline  
Old Jan 9th, 2016, 10:25 PM
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Join Date: Dec 2014
Posts: 69
Obxgirl thank you for the extra info! Yes we will be basically be hitting the typical tourist areas lol I have downloaded a map of the area and marked the mains we wish to visit and they do seem to all be so close together but I also figured I should be prepared for it to be more spaced out than it looks, and I haven't taken a vacation w my brother in at least 11 years so while I think he'll be ok walking ok, I like to be prepared just in case �� Thanks so much for te help!
littlemizrabbit is offline  
Old Jan 10th, 2016, 04:22 PM
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 25,845
If you want to be REALLY prepared, you can order the SmartTrip card online and have it mailed to you in advance.
sf7307 is offline  
Old Jan 10th, 2016, 06:48 PM
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 3,105
As a visitor to DC, I agree with the Smartcard. We were there for 5 days and found this to be the best option. Even though we stayed next to the White House we still used the Metro 2-3 times a day just to save time and foot power (we walked 5+ miles each day). We each spent less than $30, including to and from the airport.

Have fun.
gardendiva is offline  
Old Jan 11th, 2016, 01:41 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 22,458
I am happy to hear that the paper cards with balky magnetic strips went out with the New Year.
gail is offline  
Old Jan 11th, 2016, 04:07 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 14,457
The phase out of the paper fare card began in 2009. Most people quit using them in 2012 when the $1 surcharge per ride was added.

gail, if you have a stock pile of extra paper fare cards you have until June of this year to trade them in for fare on a SmarTrip card. After that, kaput.

My recommendation would be to buy a $10 SmarTrip Card at the first Metro station you go to (which will probably be the one at DCA). This $10 includes the cost of the card ($2) and $8 worth of fare.

Some stations now have machines dispensing new SmarTrip cards with any dollar amount. Card is still $2.
obxgirl is offline  
Old Jan 11th, 2016, 05:50 AM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 10,429
I think compared to the NYC metro you will find the DC metro very easy to navigate. Also given that you are coming in February which can be very cold and perhaps snowy, you may ride the metro more than you would in nicer weather. Enjoy DC!
yestravel is offline  
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