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Public transport questions for DC/NoVA locals - what to put on a fare card

My husband and I are flying down to DC for a wedding next weekend and we are going to make it a long weekend so we'll have Friday as a free day.

I lived College Park in my early 20s but moved back to NYC over 20 years ago and haven't been to DC since. I see that the DC metro is now using fare districts.

We'll be starting at the Crystal City metro and heading into DC around 9-9:30am. I'll be going to the National Gallery (Archives) and he'll be going to the Smithsonian Air & Space (L'Enfant Plaza) taking the Yellow line. We'll then meet at the Mall in between both museums at some fixed time and then my husband wants to see the monuments (I'll go too). I've read about a DC Circulator bus? We may stay on the bus or depart at a particular memorial/monument. We'll then have dinner around Dupont Circle as I want to return to the Front Page restaurant. I hope it's still a fun place to have dinner. We'll then take the metro back to Crystal City.

An unlimited day metro card is too pricy. I see we'll have to buy a Metro fare card each but I'm trying to figure out how much money to put on it given our agenda I wrote above. Are we able to use that fare card on the Circulator bus or is that a separate card? We don't want to pay the bus cash as that I believe is more expensive than a card.

Am I on the right track here? I appreciate your advice about the card system and what amount to put on the fare card(s) for each of us. Thanks.

Posted by
6767 posts

You'll have to do a manual calculation of each trip segment on the WMATA Trip Planner (see below link) and then add them up to see if total cost is < cost of unlimited day card. You'll be surprised how expensive the fares are (especially during peak hours) so it's worth checking. Here's the link to the Trip Planner: https://www.wmata.com/schedules/trip-planner/

Yes, you can use your Smart Trip card on the Circulator. The fare should be no more than $1, although it says a Metro-to-Circulator transfer fare is $0.50.
http://www.dccirculator.com/bus-basics/fares-payments/

Posted by
1022 posts

I would go to the Wmata.com website and use their trip planner to see how much your rides will cost and then buy a smartcard for the total amount amount. There are rush hour and non rush hour fares so it might be wise to travel after 9am.
You can use your Smartcard on the D.C. Circular and regular buses as well.

Posted by
3176 posts

Thank you for the links.

It looks like we'll need the metro rail for 2 rides: Crystal City to DC and then DC to Crystal City later that night. For the day in between, it looks like we can take the Circulator between the Mall, the Monuments/Memorials and Dupont Circle. We'll just need to change buses. According to the fare link, an unlimited on the Circulator is just $3 each.

Am I correct with that assumption? My thinking is the only negative is traffic to Dupont Circle. Is that a good plan?

Also, which free app do you recommend for iPhone to get the DC Circulator schedule, travel planner and map?

Posted by
6767 posts

Take a look at the Circulator route map. You'll see there is no direct northbound route from the monuments to Dupont Circle. The monuments route goes east to Union Station where you can catch the Metro red line to Dupont Circle. The blue route that goes to Dupont is the Rosslyn-Georgetown-Dupont route, which is different. The Circulator has no schedule (because it's supposed to be frequent service every 10 min or so)...I would just use the route map off the website. The stops are well-marked. The only app I know of is called Next Bus and it's supposedly pretty unreliable (or has been in the past).

http://www.dccirculator.com/ride/rider-tools/

Posted by
3176 posts

Thanks Agnes. Where do we buy the Circulator $3 daily unlimited? Can we add the unlimited Circulator to the SmarTrip card sold at metro stations?

On a different note, if we want to grab something to eat after the museums/before we go to the monuments, are there food trucks on the mall? There weren't 20+ years ago but now it seems food trucks are ubiquitous.

Posted by
6767 posts

Although the Circulator website says you can buy any kind of pass through CommuterDirect.com, a one-day unlimited pass doesn't exist in their purchase offerings (so maybe it has gone away but it is still incorrectly listed on the website). I would assume that there is no such pass and prepare to pay $1 on your Smart Trip card per ride.

As far as food trucks, the best ones seem to be around the L'Enfant Plaza Metro, with the broadest variety on a weekday around lunchtime (I think they come every day of the week but I'm not positive). There are also some by the Archives Metro, although there are a lot of places to eat around there as well. The regular stands you'll see everywhere are the awful Polish sausage and junk food and t-shirt stands that permeated the Mall before the food trucks finally broke through. If you want a good meal, the National Museum of the American Indian is excellent (although pricy) and the National Gallery of Art is second best.

Posted by
3296 posts

The app Transit is free and works all over the world. Where things are GPS enabled that info will just pop in and the next ride will be shown in real time. I know it works in DC. https://transitapp.com/region/all-regions#all-regions

Generally the DC metro is not very good for tourists as you are finding out. I don't know how long the red circulator has been running but it is perfect for tourists. Normally the metro is the better way to get to Dupont Circle.

Posted by
3176 posts

Although the Circulator website says you can buy any kind of pass
through CommuterDirect.com, a one-day unlimited pass doesn't exist in
their purchase offerings (so maybe it has gone away but it is still
incorrectly listed on the website).

Unreal! The website says it's available but in fact, it's not. Thanks for the heads up.

The website also says one can transfer from Circulator bus to Circulator bus for free if done in under 2 hours. Does that mean if we get off the bus at the Lincoln Memorial, we can get back on another bus to continue that route for free if we do so in under 2 hours? Should I also assume that the 2 hour time frame begins when we first board the bus?

Posted by
6767 posts

Yes, each time stamp occurs when you press your card on the reader each time you board. So I assume that the reduced fare applies within 2 hours of the prior time stamp.

Posted by
3176 posts

Thanks. I want to clarify something. The transfer within 2 hours to the same Circulator bus is FREE.

Transfers

The following discounted fares for transfers are applied only to
riders using a SmarTrip®Card.

*Transferring to Circulator

from Circulator (within 2 hours) – free

http://www.dccirculator.com/bus-basics/fares-payments/

Is the website correct?

Posted by
19427 posts

The L'Enfant Plaza Food truck location on Maryland Ave is convenient for people visiting the Air & Space Museum or the Hirshhorn. You can get an app that will help you track DC's food trucks (which do move from location to location by day of the week, and the space assignments are changed every month). Go to foodtruckfiesta.com.

7th St NW just north of Pennsylvania Avenue has a lot of attractive options.

Posted by
3176 posts

We bought lunch from one of the food trucks at L'Enfant Plaza and enjoyed outside on a bench in the shade. Lots of trucks with Mexican food.

We confirmed there is no unlimited Circulator day pass. Still it's a good deal in that if you use the SmarTrip card, you can hop on and off any of those buses even on the same route for as many times as you like within 2 hours of first boarding a bus.

We had a nice weekend.