Trying to get around Montgomery County and Washington D.C. is a headache, especially if you rely on public transportation as I do. It doesn’t have to be impossible, though. While the fares and rules are constantly in flux thanks to a record $175 million budget gap as reported in Greater Greater Washington, there are a few tips and tricks I can recommend to help reduce the inevitable stress resulting from trying to get around my neighborhood.
Buy a SmarTrip
This is less a choice than a requirement when it comes to public transportation. You can’t get on the Metro without a SmarTrip, and you can’t fully benefit from Ride On bus trip transfers if you just pay cash. For instance, you get a reduced fare on Ride On trips if you had previously ridden on the Metro. You’ll need to make sure that SmarTrip has a positive balance on it at all times, too. Traditionally, one could exit the Metro carrying a negative balance, but they have recently ended that practice.
Google Maps now offers commuters a chance to select public transportation rather than just driving to map out the best way to get from one point to another. It includes the bus numbers and estimated pick-up times. If you have to get to the bus stop on foot, it’s not a bad idea to get there a few minutes early and bring a book. Ride On buses are often unreliable, sometimes arriving early or late due to the region’s notoriously bad traffic.
Pick up a Monthly Bus Pass
As of this writing, monthly bus passes run $30. If you intend to use the bus a lot, it’s not a bad investment. They can usually be picked up from local Giant grocery stores, and other locations. But before you make that purchase, be sure to verify you’ll actually get your money’s worth for the month. I recently stopped buying the pass when I realized my monthly commute would cost less if I made a few adjustments in my trip.
Beware the Cherry Blossom Festival
DC commuters and travelers are always acutely aware of any big event taking place downtown, such as the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. During those times, the Metro is usually tightly packed and moving a bit slower than usual. As a rule, we also try to pay attention to any changes in Metro’s schedule due to weekend maintenance. The same goes for Ride On, which is often recalibrating its schedule, its stops, and sometimes alters or eliminates lines altogether.
As for the dread festival itself, it is one of those events that, if you can get there, it’s well worth seeing once in your life. For those of us who have seen it, a little drive around the area should do the trick. We take a lot of pride in our blossoms and the region is entirely in bloom during spring anyway, with apple and cherry blossoms everywhere you look.
A great resource for the latest info on Metro is their website. Montgomery County also maintains fare information and Ride On schedules online.
Grab Some Reading Material
There’s plenty of free papers on offer at the Metro stations, so help yourself. There are crossword puzzles and Sudoku in the back of most free papers, so you may want to bring a pen. Just be sure to recycle your paper; there are recycling bins at the exits for all stations.
David Alpert, “Metro budget gap now $175 million” Greater Greater Washington
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
Montgomery County, “Ride On Routes and Schedules”
Montgomery County, “Fares”