Metro, still better than driving through gridlock, but not as good as usual

Strange things are definitely happening with DC public transit, and unfortunately it’s not fun for visitors or residents. A couple of weeks ago, on our way home from The Who and the What at Round House Theatre, our conductor abruptly announced that all passengers should get out at Woodley Park Station. We emerged and determined this looked like it might be a big delay, so even though it was raining we decided to take our chances on walking home as it only added one mile to our walk. As we went up the stairs from the platform, we saw smoke curling in from the southbound tunnel and the station manager was rushing people out of the station. That was a completely new experience for us, and still rare but more common than it should be.

In Just the Ticket: An Insider’s Guide to Great Evenings Out in Washington, DC we extol the virtues of the Metro system, especially Metro Rail, as a speedy and convenient way to get around the area.DC has some of the worst traffic in the country, and Metro is especially valuable during the otherwise gridlocked after-work hours when you’ll be wanting to get to your neighborhood for a great evening out. To a large extent, Metro still deserves to be your #1 travel choice for speed and reliability.

However, you may have picked up on news coverage that parts of the system have been discovered to need unusually high levels of maintenance. The operators of the system have announced “SafeTrack Surges,” or week-long periods when entire parts of the system will have reduced or no service. There’s one in progress right now that has two stations in SE DC completely closed until July 3rd.

That is clearly a huge inconvenience for thousands of locals.  For visitors, unless you are staying near one of the closed stations or outward from them, these closures shouldn’t have much impact on your enjoyment of the city.

Along with these Surges, some lines trains are running less frequently or “single tracking” at night and on weekends. While this is frustrating, the trains should still be able to get you home, you’ll just be waiting longer.

What can you do?  We suggest, first, doing a little bit of advance research:

  • Metro’s website: this web page has information on scheduled work that may disrupt your travel, through the end of the calendar year
  • Google: type “transit stops near [street address of your hotel or apartment]” into Google’s search field to learn more about public transit nearby
  • Your local hookup: call or email your concierge, Airbnb host, or a friend to ask for some backup transit advice
  • Your smartphone: download and set up Google Maps on your phone, which offers the best up-to-the-minute advice on transit options when you are on the ground in its Directions feature.  These include walking, Metrorail, buses, driving and hailing an Uber; speaking of which, download and set up the Uber app on your phone if you haven’t already.
  • Your wallet:  Of course, Uber and taxis are more expensive than public transit.  You may need to adjust your travel budget upwards for your trip this year — and invest in a decent pair of walking shoes, which will give you much more flexibility in this immensely walkable city.

Once you’re here in DC, you can use Google Maps/Directions, the Uber app, and the kindness of bartenders and theater house  managers to navigate the terrain.  And remember, in most neighborhoods in DC and almost all the neighborhoods we’re sending you to, you can hail a cab on the street or at a hotel as well (Shirlington is the main exception, and hailing an Uber works fine there).

Even with these delays, if you need to get on a weekday night from your just-closed museum on the Mall to a 6 PM dinner reservation in Bethesda, for instance a Metro Rail train is still a WAY better bet than trying to make the drive with thousands of homeward-bound commuters on the road. Hopefully, we’ll pass through SafeTrack Surges by the end of the fall, and get back to the more normal state in DC, which is of having one of the most useful and reliable transit systems in the USA.