How to Save on Transportation in Washington DC

If you’re planning to visit or work in Washington DC, you’ve probably thought about transportation.

DC is known for its sprawling public transit system that can take you almost anywhere in the DC metro area.

However, while public transit is cheaper than driving elsewhere in the nation, it’s not always the case in the capital city.

If you take the train during rush hour, it can easily cost you up to $5.90 one way ($11.8 both ways) or $259.6/month.

If you don’t live within walking distance from the metro, you’ll need to drive to the metro station and pay at least $5 for parking before you hop on the train.

If you want to get around in downtown DC on top of commuting to work, be prepared to pay extra for parking (except for Sunday) or for the train.

Life’s too short to fret over transportation. Below are 6 ways to cut travel costs in the capital city.

1. Slugging

I first heard this term from a colleague who uses slugging to go to work.  Slugging is “a unique form of commuting found in the Washington, DC area” where commuters pick up total strangers and drive them to the city.

Slugging has its ow rules, etiquette, and a map of locations. Thousands of drivers and commuters take advantage of this unique DC carpooling system.

It’s mutually beneficial. Drivers can meet the required 3-person high occupancy vehicle (HOV) minimum to drive on a faster lane while passengers can commute for FREE.

I haven’t tried slugging before, but my colleague has done it for 3 years and has never had any issues (i.e. safety).

2. Avoid taking the Metro rail during rush hours

The Metro rail is open during the following hours:

Opens

— 5 am Weekdays

— 7 am Weekends

Closes

— 12 am Daily

Unless you have to be somewhere at a specific time, try to avoid riding the train during rush hours on weekdays: 5 – 9:30 AM & 3 – 7 PM.

— $2.15 minimum

— $5.90 maximum

Off-peak hours are all other times.

— $1.75 minimum

— $3.60 maximum

The longer your train ride is, the more expensive the fare will be.

If you’re in school and have to take the train during rush hours, try to squeeze 2-3 classes in one day. It might be stressful to go through so many classes back to back, but you will be able to save a lot of commute time and money.

One of my friends in grad school had 3 classes on Thursdays and didn’t go to school the rest of the week. She spent 1.5 hours commuting to school and back instead of 4.5 hours. She was able to devote that 3-hour difference to her a full-time job and family.

DC Metro during rush hours

3. Taking the Metro bus instead of the Metro rail

You can easily get from point A to point B sometimes by taking either the bus or the train. While riding the train can cost up to $5.90 during rush hour (the longer the distance, the more you have to pay), taking the bus is only $1.75 no matter where you go.

For example:

— If you take the train from Shady Grove Metro Station to Silver Spring Metro Station (red line), it will take roughly 60 minutes and cost $5.90 during rush hour and or $4.65 during off-peak hours.

— If you take the bus, it will take 79 minutes and cost $1.75.

You can look at the DC Rail and Bus Maps or type in your location in the WMATA Trip Planner to see all the options.

4. Biking

If you’re a fan of biking, you can take advantage of Capital Bikeshare, which offers 3,700 bikes and 440 stations in 5 jurisdictions: Washington, DC.; Arlington, VA; Alexandria, VA; Montgomery, MD and Fairfax County, VA.

This is a quick guide of Bikeshare. You can pay $2 for a single trip, $8 for a 24-hour, or $85 for annual membership for trips under 30 minutes. If you want to rent a bike for the whole day, you can explore different options on Bike Rentals.

Some of my colleagues bike for 30 minutes to get to work from home. Some bike to the Metro stations (which offer bike trails for you to lock your bikes) to avoid paying for parking and then take the train.

5. Walking

If you choose to live near your job, chances are you can walk to work and are close to many amenities in the city. It’s common for people to walk 20-30 minutes to work or to school in DC. If you live within a 15-minute walk from school, work, or a Metro station, you’re lucky.

Living downtown is expensive, but if the high rent can be offset by not having any transportation costs, it’s golden.

6. Carpooling

It’s very common for people in DC to have a one-hour commute one way. Downtown DC is expensive, so many residents choose to live in Maryland or Virginia and commute into the city. I had a colleague who spent 3 hours commuting every day. If your commute is less than 30 minutes, consider yourself lucky.

You can ask your colleagues, friends, or classmates to see if they live near you and are willing to carpool with you either straight to work/class or just to the metro. In return, you can offer to pay for gas if you don’t have a car and can’t take turns driving.

Conclusion

Living in an expensive city, I always find ways to cut costs and want to help others do the same. I hope this post will be useful to you if you live in DC or when you come to the city one day.



27 thoughts on “How to Save on Transportation in Washington DC”

  • Oh wow, slugging, sounds invigorating and dangerous. But heck, if it saves money!

    I had no idea the cost of the metro changed, but it makes sense.

    My favorite is biking! If I lived in a city that was walkable, I’d be riding my bike for sure.

    • A lot of people in my office bike too. It can definitely help us save money and stay fit. I’m also hesitant to try slugging. It sounds a bit adventurous to me >_<

  • Thanks for the post! Thankfully the City I live in doesn’t have peak-hour fare hikes, but I think your advice is pretty much universal. There’s definitely sacrifices to be made in our commute-based culture; it makes working from home seem all the more tempting!

    • I know! Sometimes I wonder how much work I can get done if I didn’t have to commute. Some people in my office can telecommute, but most need to be physically present in the office. That’s why I kinda enjoy it when our office is closed for snow days (aka telecommuting allowed). 😀

  • I don’t live in DC, but I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and it takes me more than an hour to get to work one way. I take the commuter train to work. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive, but it beats being in traffic for two hours each way. Lucky for me, my workplace and Home are less than ten minutes from the stations.

    I can believe that the fair is higher during rush hour for the train. It sucks to have a 9-5 job in DC.

    • I totally agree with you that sometimes the more expensive options can save you more time and money down the road. I didn’t know your commute was also one our one way. I try to comment on blog posts or listen to podcasts on the train. Sometimes I just take a quick nap during the ride hehe.

    • Thank you, Mrs. Adventure Rich! I personally have never tried slugging. It scares me a little bit, but it’s apparently very popular in DC @_@.

  • The slugline sounded sooo sketchy when I first heard about it, but after meeting several people who have done it for decades, it’s really just a normal part of life here. Haven’t heard of any problems with the sluglines whereas there are lots of issues with the metro (breakdowns, delays, muggings, flashers, assaults), so go figure. That being said, I take the metro to work with the option to telework a few times a week to make it bearable. We had considered moving away further from downtown to find more affordable housing but with the metro being so shitty with all of its delays, we decided to stay as close to DC as possible. To us, having to sacrifice a larger living space is definitely worth it to have a shorter commute time.

    The bus system is pretty decent too, but time-wise it’s not very fast and the bus will often drive right by unless you make eye contact with the driver or stand right at the curb to indicate that you want to catch that particular bus. I made the rookie mistake of sitting at the bus stop playing on my phone and the bus just drove right by!! There are also some great metro/metrobus apps that let you know when your metrobus will arrive at your stop and if there are any delays.

  • Having lived in/close to major metro areas, these are great options to keep in mind when I visit DC next. I doubt I’d try slugging myself though :), although it does seem very interesting.

    • Public transit can definitely take you to a lot of tourist attractions in DC. I hope you had a great time in the city! 😀

  • Phenomenal tips!!! I’ve heard of slugging but aha, different terms, we call it hopping here.

    I didn’t know that DC transit was soooo expensive. That’s crazy! In Seattle it’s $2.75 for rush hour and you can go anywhere for the 2 hour period. It’s $2.50 for non rush hour. Same price for the train. It’s still cheaper than a car but the margins are smaller to make you question the worth.

    • I was totally shocked when I first came to DC. The expensive transit made me just want to stay at home if I didn’t have to go to school #poorstudentlife >_<

  • Great post Ms. FAF! I’ve visited DC a couple of times and the awesome public transit really allows you to make the most of your trip without having to rent a car! I admittedly had no idea that they charge you different rates during rush hour- the Boston public transportation system is not very efficient OR reliable, but at least it’s a flat rate regardless of time!

    I’ve never heard of slugging, but I think I’ve watched too many episodes of Law and Order SVU to take it, haha.

  • Interesting. I always assumed DC transportation was similar to NYC but I guess not. Also, didn’t know about slugging…not sure I would go that route! Here, on the subway and bus, it’s the same price no matter how far you go. You can also transfer from between the two for free. I think NYC’s public transportation is good…well relatively speaking…the infrastructure is definitely getting old but it’s tough to upgrade when it’s open 24/7. Oh and we took a family trip a few months back and passed by DC…got stuck in rush hour traffic…it’s pretty crazy there but as a New Yorker, I’m used to it!

  • Walking? Biking? Metro?

    Well, I live in the DC region too and I can tell you none of those is a good option, not when it’s 108° (heat index) or -20° (windchill) out. It’s just easier to hop into a car. But then there’s the awful traffic.

    In short, DC sucks — to put it nicely.

  • Walking? Biking? Metro?

    I live in DC too and I can tell you none of those options is good, not when it’s 108° (heat index) or -20° (windchill) out. It’s just easier to hop into a car, but then there’s the awful traffic.

    In short, DC sucks — to put it nicely

  • Hi there!

    I’ve lived in the DC area for quite some time and I’ve tried all of these methods It’s amazing how mundane slugging is. I mean, my mother is the most terrified person in the world. She watches all sorts of True Crime shows and warns me about every random fear the local news broadcasts. But she had no problem slugging for decades. And I did it for awhile as well. I felt safer than being in a taxi. It goes to show that the vast majority of people are normal and just trying to get to work.

    I currently bike to work but it’s only feasible because I have a gym and bike rack in my office and I take the metro when it’s icy or rainy. Also I don’t mind biking in cold or hot weather or the possibility of getting hit by cars or harassed. I don’t recommend biking because of the many pitfalls but I do really love it.

    There are also a number of Ridesharing options that have sprung up like Via – where every ride is $3. That’s not cheaper than the metro but sometimes they run promotions – like this week every ride is $1.

    • I have never heard of Via before. But it’s good to know. We have a bike rack and showers in our office, and many of my colleagues have been taking advantage of that! 😉

  • +1 to slugging! Well our casual carpool is the equivalent here in the Bay 🙂 It’s been super convenient, cheap, and never sketchy. It helps that they take 2 people so you’re not alone with a stranger! I always found it so stressful that the metro in DC has varying prices based on distance, but I guess our BART system is kind of the same. I really miss flat rate commutes, mostly because I like to make rent cheaper by living further out but on a convenient rail line!

    • I love cheap flat rate fare. It makes me feel so much more mobile than stressing about the distance and the price. But I guess the local govt in DC needs to generate some revenue somehow >_<

  • I was so surprised when I learned how common the slug lines are in DC. Seems like a crazy concept to me, but seems to work for a lot of people. I do a lot of walking once I’m in the city. I also load up my SmartTrip with commuter benefits so I can use tax free dollars for that, which helps. I have yet to try BikeShare. My home and office are separated by the 14th Street Bridge, which doesn’t have any bike lanes, so it hasn’t made much sense to try.

    • I use tax free dollars for the SmartTrip too! It saves me hundreds of dollars a year. I’m also surprised at how common slugging is in DC although it sound sketchy like many readers have pointed out.

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