Commuting to Washington, DC: Transportation Options

Traffic on the road with State Capitol Building in the background, Washington, DC

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Commuting to Washington, DC is challenging, and the region’s traffic problems are legendary. Residents of Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia travel to work using a wide range of transportation options that includes driving, mass transit, carpooling, bicycling, and walking. The following guide will help you learn about commuting alternatives for the Washington, DC area.


Driving allows the most flexibility and gives you the freedom to travel on your own schedule. However, it can also be the most time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating way to get around the Washington, DC area. Be sure to allow plenty of time for backups and to find parking once you arrive at your destination. Check traffic alerts before you get on the road. If you can form a carpool, you’ll save money on gas and enjoy some company during your commute. 

  • Traffic Alerts – Plan ahead and get traffic reports providing up-to-date traffic information. Find detours and ways to get around the heaviest routes.
  • Carpools - By sharing the ride, carpoolers save money on fuel and car maintenance. Carpooling can also reduce time spent on the road because carpools can use HOV lanes, which usually move faster than the other lanes.
  • Slug Lines - Slugging is an organized system where people commuting into the city stop to pick up other passengers. Both participants benefit, the passenger saves gas money, and the driver saves time by using HOV lanes (only allowed with three or more occupants).

Metrorail and Metrobus

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is a government agency that provides public transportation within the Washington, DC metropolitan area. The Metrorail subway system includes five lines, 86 stations, and 106.3 miles of track. Metrobus operates 1,500 buses. Both transit systems connect to bus lines in the Maryland and Northern Virginia suburbs. By using public transportation to commute, you can multitask by reading, sleeping, or working along the way. See guides to using the Washington Metro and Metrobus.

Commuter Rail

There are two major commuter rail systems serving the Washington, DC area: Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) and Virginia Railway Express (VRE). Both systems operate Monday through Friday only and have cross honor agreements with Amtrak to offer reduced fares for commuters.

  • MARC Train - The 187-mile commuter rail system, provides service on three lines between Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland; Washington DC and Perryville, Maryland; and Washington DC and Martinsburg, West Virginia.
  • Virginia Railway Express - VRE connects northern Virginia and Washington, DC with commuter rail service on two lines, one from Fredericksburg and one from Manassas. VRE stations in the Washington metropolitan area are Crystal City (Arlington, Virginia), L'Enfant Plaza (Washington DC), and Union Station (Washington DC).

Commuting by Bike

In recent years, Washington, DC has become a bike-friendly city adding more than 40 miles of bike lanes and leading the nation with Capital Bikeshare, the largest bike sharing program in the United States. The new regional program provides 1100 bikes dispersed throughout Washington DC and Arlington, Virginia. Local residents can sign up for a membership and use the bikes for an environmentally friendly commute.