Guest Post: Getting Around in Washington, D.C.
If you’re planning to visit Washington, D.C. and see its inspiring monuments and museums, dine at a diverse selection of restaurants or play in “the people’s” spacious parks and funky neighborhoods, then walking, biking or taking the Metro will get you there safely, and hassle-free. So many historic institutions here are free, there is little to no use to rent a car, and kids are welcome everywhere; making D.C. a budget-friendly and super educational destination!
Driving and parking are 2 things most local residents avoid at all costs; streets are narrow, there are plenty of government motorcades and rush hour backups, and too many 1-way streets to mention. Parking in garages is extremely expensive, and metered areas are speckled with ambiguous rules; and then there’s the problem of meter coin slots not working (due to ice storms or just mechanical challenges)—but of course that won’t keep you from getting a ticket. Over 40% of D.C.’s annual revenue comes from parking and driving tickets, which should be the only clue you need to stick to public transportation!
Washington, D.C.’s train service, known fondly as The Metro, has rail lines that are color-coded according to the direction in which you’re heading. Simply locate the stop closest to you and your destination stop and then figure out your route. Check online or merely ask the friendly station masters. The Metro is clean, well maintained and everyone rides; from capital staff to teachers, and used for getting to sports events to Saturday night dates. Locals are easy to approach for directions and there are directories inside each stop.
Metro paper passes can be purchased from vending machines with cash or credit cards. Plan ahead and purchase a Metro Card in order to get more for your money (these also work for Metro bus fares). Another option is buying a one-day pass, but check the hours with the station master to avoid any misunderstandings. Outside all of the downtown stations you will notice D.C. Information Staff dressed in red and blue and they can guide you anywhere you need to go, once you’ve arrived at your stop.
While many big cities have dirty, uncomfortable buses, Washington, D.C.’s bus system is modern, relatively clean, efficient and inexpensive. Many of the buses also stop at the metro stations and offer reasonably priced transfer options. With the exception of airport express buses, most rides cost no more than $3.85 per person. Weekly passes are also available and children under 4 ride for free. Check the website for routes and your closest stop for boarding and destination cross streets. Note you must have exact change or a pass, or you’ll be donating what would have been your change to the city.
Bikes are one of the best transportation options during D.C.’s warmer months. Ride past popular monuments, zip through Chinatown or feel the breeze against your face in Rock Creek Park. Biking also allows you to “mix and match” your transportation options. With the exception of peak hours, you can transport up to 2 bikes on a rack located on the front of each Metrobus. If you’re traveling by air, most carriers will charge a modest fee of $25, but if you’d prefer the convenience of renting a bike while in D.C., then check out the city’s Bikeshare program. Since you must become a member of Bikeshare in advance, it’s best to do some pre-trip planning by visiting capitalbikeshare.com. It’s not currently that cheap, but is getting better.
Like New York, London and Paris, Washington, D.C. is a city that’s meant for walking. Grab a comfy pair of shoes and wander through neighborhoods that range from cultural to quaint, and historic to hip. Spend hours meandering around Georgetown, Dupont Circle, Eastern Market and Penn Quarter. Keep in mind that if your tootsies begin to tire you can always take the Metrorail, the Metrobus.
A note about cabs: they are expensive, many drivers barely speak English, and they do not like credit cards (they have to pay the processing fee themselves). Remember you have the right to enter a cab you’ve flagged down, or not (if you feel uncomfortable). They must also post the number of the local taxi authority—be sure to file a complaint if you have a bad experience or the rude ones will never be weeded out. If you wonder why an empty cab won’t stop it’s either a) they are on their way to a reserved call, or b) they are from another county and not allowed to pick you up in D.C. If you happen to catch a great driver, ask for their card (most are independent) and make future appointments with them directly.
If your heart is set on taking a car for a spin around town, lease a car through the awesome company known as Zipcar. Zipcar is a for-profit, nationwide car-sharing program. Zipcar members simply make a reservation and then can go to the nearest company location to obtain their vehicle. While Zipcar’s prices include gas and insurance, you do need to become a member in advance of renting. Check out their website, zipcar.com and join before your trip (they actually check your driving record because they pay the insurance). You can pick up your Zipcard once you hit town or have it mailed if you have the lead time; your choice of cars will be parked within a block or two of most downtown locations (or at many Metro Stations), and can be easily reserved online or at the last minute on your smartphone.
With all these transportation methods, planning ahead will save you time and money. Consider the length of time you’ll be visiting, your budget and your interests. By giving your transportation in Washington, D.C. some thought, you’re certain to have a wonderful adventure in the most famous capital city in the world!
Tony Sutherland is an insurance consultant and he recommends checking online for auto insurance quotes when you are considering an out-of-state move. For example, if you live in Virginia you can instantly request Pennsylvania auto insurance quotes online.