Riding The Washington Metro: A Beginner’s Guide

Hello new commuter, and welcome to the wonderful world of the Washington Metro! As a new rider, you likely have many questions about our Metro system. Whether you’re from a major city with high expectations of how public transportation should work or if you’re visiting from a town that has only heard of light switches in song and legend, you’re likely unprepared for the District’s unique take on mass transit. With this in mind, I’m here to answer any and all questions you may have about your journey. So without further ado, let’s dive right in.


The Washington DC Metro system was created after residents in the city thought there might be a better way to get across town than riding their bikes like communist China. Driving is also technically an option, but since the President can fuck up traffic any time he wants to step out for a snow cone, this is suggested to be avoided at all costs. The first line opened on March 27, 1976. This means that Washington DC, the capital of the most powerful nation in the world, was actually the 53rd major subway system launched in the world. Most would wonder why it took our fair city so long to get it together. Some say it was because of budgetary issues in conflict with building the Inner Loop of I-495. Others say it’s because all of the white people were living in Virginia at the time. Whatever the case, we did beat out opening our system six months ahead of the Brussels System in Europe. This would explain why the initial slogan for the DC Metro was “Eat Our Dicks, Belgium!”


DC’s Metro system is structured into six different lines:

  • Red Line: From Shady Grove to Glenmont. This will be broken. Always. Learn to love it.
  • Blue Line: From Franconia-Springfield to Largo Town Center. Shares most of it’s stations with other lines. The only feasible reason to take this is to walk around a big cemetery.
  • Orange Line: From Vienna to New Carrolton. From Maryland to Virginia and back again. Expect to find bewildered tourists weeping at what they see as a Kafka-designed labyrinth.
  • Yellow Line: From Huntington to Fort Totten. This line could easily extend to the rest of the tracks, but fuck you.
  • Green Line: From Branch Avenue to Greenbelt. This line will take you into SW DC. You have been warned.
  • Silver Line: From Wiehle-Reston East to Largo Town Center. This is the newest line. If you ever need to make up a station name, just say it’s on the Silver line. We will believe you.

Before You Ride

The first step on your Metro journey is to buy your farecard. Before doing this, make sure to stand in front of the card dispenser for at least ten minutes while you try to figure out exactly how much money you will need on your card. Feel free to ignore the people behind you. As a tourist, you clearly come first. Once you have cracked the complicated mathematics of addition, now’s the time to buy your card. Make sure to put it in one of fourteen possible pockets on your person so you can frantically grope yourself as you approach the turnstile. Don’t feel bad. You could ride the Metro in a latex body suit (ed note: please don’t) and you would still misplace your card right before needing it.

The next obstacle in your travels will be the the escalator. If you’re not from a big city, there’s a chance that you may have seen these only once or twice in your life. Firstly, let me promise that this is not a monster who wants to eat you. It’s worth noting that escalators kill less people per year than cancer. Considerably less, as a matter of fact. Rather than fearing this lusus naturae of moving stairs, we would like to suggest that you stand in the middle of escalator without paying attention to anyone behind you. Anyone who is trying to get around you to make a train or bus is likely just a jerk who can suck your new-rider ass.

While waiting on the platform, you may feel the need to use your phone to call someone about your travels. To make this easier, we will be playing cochlear-jarring recorded announcements every 2 minutes asking if that’s your bag. Screens are provided to let you know when your train is arriving to the station. Despite this, we will be using those screens to inform you of broken elevators at stations you never intend on visiting. These are just two platform features the Metro is happy to provide.

If you’re traveling with us during rush hour, our conductors will be sure to yell at you in condescending tones about crowding around the doors. This is of course a problem that could be solved with more trains, more cars or trains that don’t stop short of the end of the line. However, we feel our conductors are timid people by nature and need an outlet to assert themselves. Remember: the happier a conductor is, the less chance that they’ll be high as balls while barreling through a dark tunnel at 85 mph.

For those of you who wish to have a fun night on the town while you’re in the city, keep in mind that the DC Metro closes at Midnight on weekdays and 3 AM on Saturday and Sunday. Running trains 24/7 would likely cut down on DUIs and fatal car crashes significantly, but we feel a better option would be to take that money and spend nine months fixing up some escalators. Sure it’s getting more and more difficult to visit our city late at night, especially with the police ticketing cars that try to stay overnight instead of driving home in whatever state they may or may not be in. But hot damn, have you seen those escalators?

While You Ride

When entering a train, please take note of our lovely orange and brown color pattern. This is the same look of every piece of furniture from a 1972 Polaroid in order to give our trains the hip, retro, holy-shit-these-trains-are-not-from-this-decade’s-safety-standards feel. Also, there will be no seats available. This will be due either to the crowd or due to people much more comfortable with two seats instead of one. This can come in the way of fat people in puffy coats, women who respect their bags more than humans or men spreading their knees as if they’re receiving a blowjob from a ghost. Feel free to hold onto a railing that everyone with the flu has held onto and attempt to surf the train like Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf. While on the train our conductor will be notifying you when he reaches certain stations. You will not be able to understand that, though, as our PA system is an elaborate series of tin cans on strings with no consideration for sound quality. Also most of our conductors have suffered a series of strokes, so diction isn’t really their specialty.

While traveling in the Metro, the train will be making several sudden stops in between the stations. This is because, more often than not, another train will be sitting in the station we need to get to. Many people ask how it’s possible that trains can be riding each other’s asses so closely when they had to stand on a platform for ten minutes until a new train arrived. The truth is that each Metro tunnel significantly bends the laws of time and space. Time is not linear, it’s much more wibbly-wobbly than that. This is also why there is no cell reception between the stations. Cell reception was disabled once several riders found themselves taking calls from themselves twenty years in the future. Rather than disrupt the time flow and end up in an alternate universe where Hitler won the World Series, we figured it was better to just nip that in the bud.

Delays are inevitable while riding the Metro. There are several reasons why a line may be delayed. Switch problems, equipment malfunctions and broken trains are all reasons you may have to add a hour or so to your travel time. However, the most common delay culprit is actually due to the Metro’s Community Outreach Program. Every night as the Metro closes, we invite a group of Men’s Rights Activists to our tunnels. We paint the tracks to look like vaginas and allow them to beat the tracks with large hammers until their arms are tired. Then we let them have a cry-wank while a motherly figure tells them that it’s not their fault and women are all terrible. Many people wonder why we offer this service, seeing as these men are mostly just pathetic dipshits who nobody should take seriously. However, we at Metro feel that this is a better outlet for their sexual frustrations than threatening to rape anonymous women on Twitter.

While on our trains, there are several different types of travelers you may encounter. Here’s a partial list:

  • The Wonderful Parent: Whether their kids are running around the poles like a playground or their baby is screaming it’s head off, The Wonderful Parent knows that it’s your problem, not theirs. None of this is enough to interrupt their game of Candy Crush. They may or may not be pushing a double-decker stroller to prove that they don’t believe in pulling out.
  • The Next Jay-Z: This guy will be holding an iPhone, playing a mangled hip-hop beat and mumbling bad free style lyrics. He thinks Suge Knight is riding the Metro and will sign him on the spot. He will not.
  • The World Traveler: This person is walking across country and stopping at the Metro to give their legs a rest. Their five bags will take up more space than your apartment and they’ll probably smack you with at least two of them.
  • The Best Friends: This group of BFFs will be holding very loud and very energetic conversations, most likely when you’re trying to think or read quietly. Though you must agree, there’s no possible way that you could guess what that stuck up bitch Trina did last night.
  • The $1 Earbuds: Why spend good money on ear buds when you could be buying tacos and herpes medication instead? Just go to the dollar store and pick up a pair. You shitty music will be bleeding through to everyone around you, but a playlist like yours shouldn’t be kept a secret anyway.
  • The Temple Guard: This person will be standing like a statue in the middle of the doorway. They will not move to let people on or off. The only way to get them to budge is to give them a full Pendant of Life you won from Olmec at the Temple Games.

Reaching Your Destination

Once you reach your desired station, the train will slowly come to a complete stop. Then it will move again. Then one more time. Our conductors are incredibly anal retentive about hitting the exact spot and will gladly send a crowd of passengers barreling to the floor for the sake of it. Once the doors open, you’re likely going to have to throw some elbows like a hockey player to fight the avalanche of people coming into your door.

When you’re free, please notice which exit you should take. Most major stations have multiple exits which lead to different parts of the neighborhood. Choosing the correct exit could mean the difference between arriving to your destination on time and having to hurdle trumpet players, street-sense vendors and hobos for an extra three blocks.

And with that, we come to the end of our guide. Thank you for taking the time to read it and we hope you find it invaluable for the next time you visit our fair city.

If it hasn’t been helpful at all, we here at WMATA would suggest that you go play hide and go fuck yourself. Go ahead, drive. Spend 2 hours in traffic to go 10 miles and drop $25 on parking. Give it a shot. In the meantime, we’ll be here hiking up fares and offering you nothing in return. And we can promise that you’ll still come crawling back to us.



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