New to D.C? Came here for work or school? Did the carnival leave ya behind? :(

Doesn’t matter. What matters is that you’re here and you’ll need to learn how to get around in a metropolitan area that has among the most congested roads and highways in the nation, and with a struggling Metrorail system suffering from delays, maintenance issues, safety problems, management-union tensions and a massive budget shortfall.

Fear not, padawan. We can help. Follow these simple steps and you’ll be on your way to becoming a journeyman commuter in the nation’s capital.

Step One: Get a SmarTrip(R) card

A D.C. resident’s relationship with his SmarTrip(R) card is like that of a Marine and his rifle: “There are many like it, but this one is mine.” And it’s not if you will use a mass transit option in D.C., it’s when. Try as you might, it will likely be too much of a hassle to drive, then park everywhere you go - particularly if you need to get somewhere in downtown Washington.

A SmarTrip(R) card is a permanent, rechargeable card used to pay Metrorail and local bus system fares. It’s plastic, like a credit card, and is embedded with a special computer chip that keeps track of the value of the card.

Using a SmarTrip(R) card is fast and easy. Simply touch the SmarTrip(R) card to the circular targets on top of or inside station faregates. Likewise, you can tap the SmarTrip(R) farebox on Metrobus to pay your fare with SmarTrip(R).

Step Two: Get a Metrorail pocket guide

Yes, yes, yes—you have it bookmarked on your phone. Mobile reception is perfect underground, right? Yes, yes, yes, Metro is working on installing Wi-Fi access throughout the Metrorail system. But you can’t count on the digital map being available when you need it the most, such as when your train is pulling up to your stop (or maybe it’s the next stop). Just print off the pocket guide here and keep it in your wallet, purse or left-breast pocket.

Step Three: Get an E-ZPass

E-ZPass is an electronic toll collection system used on most tolled roads, bridges and tunnels in both Virginia and Maryland. You’ll inevitably use a toll road or highway to get around congestion. Rather than fumble around for dollars and quarters to throw into the toll booth receptacle (and what if you miss ... embarrassing!), E-ZPass holders simply zip through designated lanes and your mounted transponder electronically pays the toll. No stopping, no hassle.

Step Four: Get a Commuter Direct account

Place renewable orders for transit tickets and passes online and have them delivered to your home or office. Easy to remember, eh?

Step Five: Get a Capital Bikeshare membership

If you don’t have a bike, can’t afford one or don’t have the space for a two-wheeler, you can rent a bicycle on an as-needed basis through Capital Bikeshare. There are 440 Capital Bikeshare stations with 3,700 bikes throughout the Washington, D.C. area, accessible to landmarks, museums, and many city centers beyond the District. You can access most destinations using hundreds of miles of trails across the region. You just need to be willing to pedal a bit to get there—which is good exercise.

Cost: $2 for a quick trip under 30 minutes, $8 for a 24-hour pass and $85 for an annual pass.

One important caveat: you have to be at least 16 years old to use Bikeshare.

Step Six: Get a map

Sure, you could use to navigate through the busy streets and highways of the DMV. However, it helps to go old school every once in a while. Spread the map out and take a look at the locations of neighborhoods, roads, highways and trails linking them. After a few weeks or months, you’ll get the hang of driving around the area. But what better way to appreciate the environment than some simple map study before you get behind the wheel?

You can get a good D.C. metro area map from AAA Mid-Atlantic. If you’re a member of AAA, click here to order one. If not, here’s a laminated map courtesy of Amazon.

Step Seven: Understand your ridesharing options

What’s the difference between carpooling, vanpooling and slugging?

Carpooling is when two or more commuters ride together in a private automobile on a continuing basis, regardless of their relationship to each other or the cost of sharing agreements. Carpooling is the simplest and most common “ridesharing” arrangement.

Vanpooling is an important and economical option for individuals commuting long distances. This option is popular in the Metropolitan Washington DC area because of long commuting distances to work sites.

Slugging is a unique form of commuting during which motorists driving into the city stop to pick up strangers at designated stops so they can utilize the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. It saves time and it’s free. If you’re interested in slugging, check out our Slugging 101 post here.

After reading through that, check out potential slug lines, pickup and drop-off points here via our friends at

Easy day. Get out there, conquer D.C. and stay hungry!


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