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Washington DC is home to one of the USA’s most active populations, with many of the capital’s residents choosing to walk or cycle to work if they live close to the city centre. The city does, however, have a solid public transport network to assist commuters which includes various train and bus services.
New arrivals will find that most places in the city centre are located close to one another and sometimes walking, rather than driving or taking public transport, can actually be the quickest way to get somewhere.
Public transport in Washington DC
Washington DC’s public transport network consists of train and bus services. This network is operated on an integrated ticketing system, which covers all modes of transport.
New arrivals who plan on travelling in and around DC via public transport will need to buy a SmarTrip card, which can be purchased online or at a station. The card can be used on the Metrorail as well as on the Metrobus and DC Circulator. It's also possible to load flat-rate passes onto the card which give commuters an unlimited number of trips within a certain period. Otherwise, SmarTrip cards can be topped up online, at any Metro station and selected stores in the city.
The Metrorail lies at the heart of Washington DC’s public transport network. This system consists of six colour-coded lines which run primarily underground to serve downtown, and overground to some of Washington’s surrounding suburbs. The Metrorail operates until midnight daily but begins at 5am,7am or 8am depending on the day of the week.
While Washington DC’s metro is clean, safe and user-friendly, commuters often complain about the irregularity of services caused primarily by track maintenance and periodic breakdowns.
Washington DC’s bus system is useful for commuters as it allows them to reach destinations not covered by the city’s metro system.
The DC Circulator buses are shuttle services which operate on six fixed routes and follow a specific schedule. These shuttles primarily connect the main areas in the city centre with some of the popular residential neighbourhoods. The shuttles run approximately every 10 or 15 minutes.
Washington DC’s Metrobus service consists of hundreds of routes that cover the greater Washington DC area and serves areas that commuters can't reach using the Metrorail or DC Circulator services. These buses operate daily, beginning in the early morning until 11pm or 1am on weekends, while specific late night buses operate through the night on certain routes.
Taxis in Washington DC
There are a huge number of cab companies to choose from in Washington DC, and taxis can be paid for by either cash or card. Taxis use a metered fare system and can be hailed on the street or ordered over the phone. Drivers are required to take passengers anywhere within the Metropolitan area of Washington DC, but most drivers are reluctant to travel out to Maryland and Virginia.
Rideshare services, such as Uber and Lyft, also operate in Washington DC. These services can be cheaper than using a regular taxi and new arrivals will have the advantage of knowing the fare before hand.
Cycling in Washington DC
The residents of Washington love to cycle and new arrivals will find that cycling is a great way to get around the city.
The city has an excellent bike-sharing system. The Capital Bikeshare network consists of more than 6,100 bicycles that can be picked up and dropped off at any one of the 600 docking stations across the city.
The government has taken steps to make Washington DC more cyclist-friendly by increasing the number of dedicated cycle lanes as well as the amount of safe bicycle storage facilities. This has certainly paid off as the city was named a "Gold" Bicycle Friendly Community in 2018, and it is currently the third most bike-friendly city in the US. Bicycles can also be brought onto both the Metrorail and Metrobuses in DC.
Driving in Washington DC
Driving in Washington DC is something that's best avoided, if possible. With the many excellent alternatives available, the majority of the capital’s residents opt to use public transport or cycle to work rather than driving, especially in the city centre.
Those who decide to drive in Washington DC will find that parking is expensive and hard to find. Traffic is also routinely congested and navigation is made complex by the one-way roads dotting the city centre.
► Read the Accommodation in Washington DC page to learn about the renting process in the city
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