Metro Confidential – Expert Tips to Hack Your Trip

January 7th, 2016

In 2016, resolve to travel like a transit pro with these five Metro master tips and tricks.

Even the most seasoned Washingtonian learns a thing or two each day about a tip, tweak, hack, or just plain common sense adjustment to their transit trip that makes their journey quicker, hassle-free, and more fun!  Here are some of our favorites that we hope you’ll try in 2016 – happy transiting!

We've all been there. These tips will help you master train crowding and more. Image: WMATA

We’ve all been there. These tips will help you master train crowding and more. Image: WMATA

  1. Set up Auto Reload – You’ve got more important things to do than fuddle with a 1970s era fare machine or to get stuck at the end of your trip without enough stored value to exit the system.  Set it and forget it to skip this step forever!  Auto Reload allows you to set up stored value and pass products so they can be automatically reloaded to your SmarTrip® or CharmCard® when your stored value runs low or your pass is about to expire.
  2. When it comes to train cars, there’s usually more room up front or in back.  WMATA runs trains in two different “consists” – those with eight cars, and those with six.  For whatever reason, customers tend to gather on the platforms near the middle cars and pack them way too tightly.  Meanwhile, even when the middle cars are overloaded, there is often room in the first or last car in the train (Cars 1 and 6/8).  We don’t know exactly why human behavior fosters “bunching” (we do know that lack of traffic priority fosters bus bunching) but now that you know, try the first or last cars when you want to spread out and/or have a seat.
  3. You’ve heard of Next Bus – try Next Station.  What’s that?  A new app?  New service?  Nope – it’s a handy tip for making your journey simpler.  The next time you’re approaching your destination, try peeking up from your phone and get into the aisle (not vestibule, and please don’t block priority seating if our most sensitive customers are standing!) one stop ahead.  That way you are pre-positioned to exit the train without pushing/shoving through on boarding passengers (or getting elbowed yourself as you slow everyone else down!)
  4. Plan an exit strategy.  I’m a Red Line rider and my office at WMATA is convenient to Judiciary Square.  I try and make sure to board the train at Car 3, door 1.  That way I’m exactly where the escalator meets the platform when I disembark.  Try figuring out your exit strategy next time you travel, or use the Metro Master website.  Which car and door makes the most sense for your journey?  How does that work with/against the tips above?
  5. There’s an App for that.  WMATA works with the developer community to help them help you.  Choose from the multitude of apps out there that help you plan the perfect transit trip.  Is your line running smoothly or gummed up?  Hop on a bus or take the train?  Blue for you or Hello Yellow? Eliminate the guesswork and join the transit technology revolution – you’ll be surprised how much easier your trip is when you app before you tap.

What other tips help you ride Metro like a regular?


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  1. Jay
    January 11th, 2016 at 01:46 | #1

    “For whatever reason, customers tend to gather on the platforms near the middle cars”

    That is because people don’t know where the first or last cars will end up. So we bunch in the middle where there will definitely be a car, even if a crowded one. Sure the first car should be at the very end of the platform, but not always, and with a 6 car train you can’t predict where the 6th car will be to avoid having to run to get the last car.

    Ideas? Markers on the floor to show where first and last cars will be? 1st car is easy. The 6th and 8th need to be clearly marked so you don’t wait at the car 8 spot for a 6 car train. (So on Last Car Here marker.)

  2. January 12th, 2016 at 08:20 | #2


    Fair enough and I’m not arguing the point. The mixed consists can be confusing for some. Here’s a tip – the PIDs (those signs that show the next train arrival) tell everyone whether the next train is going to be an 8-car or 6-car train. By glancing at the PIDs, one can prepare for getting to cars 7/8 for an 8-car train (and getting a seat) or getting closer to where the 6-car train might stop.

    One thing for all of the readers to know is that the door spacing between the 7k (#newtrain) and the other series is slightly different, so until we have a fleet of new cars (can you say Momentum, people?) any markings on the ground would make things more confusing because they would only be right for certain trains and not others.

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