There are three types of fare cards on the Washington, DC metro: the day pass, the traditional fare card, and the SmartTrip card. The day pass is just what you might think – a pass that you pay a set fee for which allows you to ride all day. The traditional fare card is like the day pass except that it can be used multiple times on multiple days until the value of the card reaches zero. The SmartTrip card is like a traditional fare card except that it is formed like a credit card and contains a magnetic strip that you can glide across the entrance/exit turnstiles for faster commuting.
To purchase any one of these fare cards, you will need to look to the side walls of the metro station upon entering. You will see kiosks for buying your passes there. On the wall, you will be presented with either a blue kiosk or an older brown and white one. You may buy all of the fare cards mentioned above at the blue kiosks, but not at the brown one. The brown ones dispense only the paper fare cards and thus are available for use when purchasing either the day pass or the traditional fare card.
Once you decide which fare card you’d like to purchase, simply read the instructions on the screen to buy the one you want. Metro officials have created a simplistic system that walks buyers through each step of the process. You will see buttons marked A, B, and C to the left of the screen, and just below, you will see buttons marked with arrows to indicate up or down. Use the lettered buttons to choose options on the screen. Use the buttons marked with arrows to select dollar values. The up/down button on the left changes dollar values, and the up/down button on the left changes coin values.
You may pay with either a credit card, a debit card, or cash, and you may request a printed receipt if desired. Your receipt will come out through a bezel on the right. When you have fully completed your transaction, your metro card will come out through a dispenser just below the bezel with your receipt.
To buy a SmartTrip card, you must visit a metro station that has a parking lot. They are not available anywhere else. The reason behind this is because the SmartTrip card was originally introduced as an alternative to paying for parking with cash. It was intended primarily for driving commuters to move them quickly out of the parking lots. However, due to the popularity of the SmartTrip card with commuters of all types and the introduction of credit swipe machines, the SmartTrip card is no longer necessary for parking at selected metro stations.
You cannot buy a SmartTrip card from the kiosks on the side walls. Instead, you must look for a separate kiosk (usually located nearby the entrance) that allows you to buy the cards. You may not purchase fare cards from this special kiosk, only the SmartTrip card.
For both the traditional fare card and the SmartTrip, you will find yourself needing or wanting to add more money to your card. To do this, simply walk over to the kiosks on the side walls and follow the instructions on the screen. You may add money to your SmartCard at the blue kiosks only.
For related articles, check out the Washington, DC destinations page at the start of the MidAtlantic USA site.