Dude, Where’s My Car? – Transportation Around the Washington Metropolitan Area

To be honest, I’d rather enjoy a dental appointment morethan the ever-so fascinating subject of public transportation in D.C..But this is still an important topic for those of us living on tight schedules or budgets. Here are some tips to help you get around in the capital.

As CAPAL interns, we are paid a fixed stipend to work 8 hours a day for two months. This is pretty common for most summer interns across the country. But this also means that, for every extra minute that we either spend working or commuting, we are not compensated.

This might not seem like a big deal at first, but consider the following example. If I spend an extra half and hour per day getting to work, or 2.5 hours every week, I’d be spending a total of 20 extra hours unpaid after 2 months. Personally, I find no enjoyment from riding in the Metro, driving my car in traffic, or walking to work every day. And if there were a quicker, more efficient way to get to work every morning, I could find much better ways to use that extra time I’ve saved. If we assume that my free time is slightly more valuable than, say, the minimum wage, then i’d incur an opportunity cost of roughly $160. For anyone living on a budget, this is a pretty decent sum. And for those of you interns who drive, cutting time also saves you gas, which is even more extra money.

Again, $160 might not seem like a lot of savings for 2 months, but it’s actually about the price of 2 weeks worth of groceries, 3 round-trip tickets to New York City, a new work outfit,  or 320 Reese’s Cups. And 20 extra hours is basically an extra day of summer vacation. For college students living on their own for the first time, finding simple ways to save, in general, goes a long way. Cutting small things here or there adds up to a significant sum over the course of 2 months, and one of the most obvious and easy ways to do so is by cutting daily commutes.

Metro: For those of you who live in DC (excluding Northern Virginia residents), buy a SmarTrip Card either online or at any nearby grocery or convenience store. SmarTrip Cards save $1 per trip on MetroRail and $0.20 on MetroBus. Traffic is very easy to predict, as WMATA reports arrival times and any delays very accurately to the exact minute. During rush hour, the tunnels for MetroRail do get crowded, and some people get left off of a train and have to wait for the next one due to congestion. However, trains arrive very frequently for most stops, and the worst that can really happen is a 10 minute delay.

MetroRail stations are very accessible and chances are that there are many, if not only one, stations located within reasonable walking distance from where you live. For smartphone users, the app iTrans DC is an interactive map that shows all MetroRail stops and lines. The app also provides live updates for delays and construction. You can also plan your trip with the app, and it will give you a good estimation of your arrival time. Sometimes, there are many different Metro lines that will get you to the same destination. Use Google Maps, which factors in Metro and walking time, to determine which route saves the most time. Also, some routes that take more time and require more walking might actually save you money.

Driving: Taking a car to work in DC is not so predictable. Traffic varies depending on construction work, weather, and accidents. And because the roads of DC are very narrow, bumpy, and filled with seemingly random stoplights and stopsigns, rush hour is very congested. Drivers are very aggressive, and many bikers swerve in and out of driving lanes. If your commuting route is strictly located in DC, I would advise against driving. Because of the heavy traffic and small streets, driving will actually take more time. Adding in the cost of gas and the high prices of urban parking, using the Metro is a more cost-efficient method as well.

Bike riding is also another viable option in DC. There are plenty of biking lanes and trails throughout the entire city. However, aggressive car drivers and traffic along with confusing roads might make this a less safe option. And especially in the summer, heat and humidity will ruin your clothes after bikerides.

For interns living in Northern Virginia, the answer is less clear. The Metro does extend to certain areas in Arlington and Alexandria, but if you live anywhere else, you would have to walk a good amount or take a busline and transfer to the nearest MetroRail station. Take my case for example. I live midway between Alexandria and Arlington. If I were to use public transit, I would have to first take the 16D busline to the Pentagon Metro station. Then, I would ride 5 stops to arrive at the King Street Metro, which is near my work at NCUA. This would take 1 hour (one way) and cost a total of around $5 per day. However, driving only takes 15 minutes, and parking is provided. The amount of gas I would need costs around $2.50 per day. So by driving rather than taking the Metro, I would save $2.50 per day and 1.5 hours of driving. In other words, I’d save around $14.50 per day! So if you live close to a Metroline in Northern VA, I would still go with that. But otherwise, driving will save lots of time and money.

‘Till Next Week,


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