Washington D.C. Workers Embrace Smarter Commute

There's nothing like trying to fight off the Monday morning blues on a Metro platform filled with hundreds of other commuters. Throw in a delay down the line and you'll be counting down the days to Friday before you even reach the office. 

Navigating your way to work in Washington D.C. can be an especially difficult task. A 2011 study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that workers in the District have an average commute time of 34.5 minutes, second only to New York City. Additionally, 27% of people working in the nation's capital face a commute 60 minutes or longer, according to the study. Getting to work on time for most D.C. commuters presents a dilemma: drive to work, endure terrible traffic and fight for a pricey parking spot, or take the Metro and subject yourself to unpredictability and overwhelming crowds.

Photo Courtesy of Curbed D.C.

But not everyone has to submit to systematic delays brought about by congestion and poor planning, there is a better way. Being more informed and tapping into the rise in transportation apps and services over the past few years can enable commuters to select the fastest, most cost efficient and reliable transportation methods before they even leave the house. We've conglomerated the latest news, trends, and tools pertaining to D.C. commuters to allow you to outsmart the crowd and take control of your commute. 

Recent Metro Woes Put Drivers on the Road, Make Room for Transportation Apps

Photo Courtesy of Democratic Underground

The Washington D.C. Metro system consists of six rail lines and provides residents of the District and its surrounding suburbs with a cost efficient, environmentally responsible alternative to driving. Riders can sidestep gas, car insurance, and parking fees by hopping on a bus or rail that will deliver them to tens of downtown stations within easy walking distance of their office. Make use of the Transit Authority's savings calculator to see exactly how much money Metro can help you redirect from transportation costs.

From Rockville, Silver Spring, and Bethesda in the north to Vienna, Arlington and Alexandria in the south, Metro serviced 477 million riders between their bus and rail programs in the 2014 calendar year alone. This amounted to a collected savings of 41 million gallons of fuel and 400,000 tons of carbon emissions by keeping cars off the road. The economic, societal, and environmental benefits of the system are undeniable, but Metro has often come under fire for being unreliable, overcrowded, and unpleasant to navigate during peak rush hours.

For many riders trying to get to work from the suburbs on Metro, frequent mechanical issues and unpredictable delays have forced them to take to the road. "Part of the reason that I started driving was because I just found myself not being able to rely on Metro," said Mark L., a disgruntled Red Liner. "There would be a time when you would want to get downtown quickly but then there's a delay and you're stuck on the train or at the station". 

There's even a popular Twitter account for riders to share bad experiences that they've had on Metro. The account, @UnSuckDCMetro, is littered with horror stories about delays and safety scares. It also keeps followed updated on recent transportation news.

Austin, Texas based RideScout leads a number of smartphone apps that allow users to compare travel times across al methods of transportation. The service notes which Metro lines may be delayed on a given morning, enabling commuters to make an easier decision about whether to drive or not. Making a habit out of checking the app in the morning can shave minutes off of a commute and allow users to outsmart the crowds.


Drivers Embrace Smarter Commute by Making Use of Transportation Apps

Image Courtesy of Google Maps 

While Metro can be hit or miss at times, it remains a competitive transportation option when compared to the prospects of driving to work in Washington D.C.. A study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that drivers headed to work in D.C. endure 82 hours of delays a year per commuter, the most in the entire country. If you do decide that taking to the road is your best option, there are a number of tools that will help make your commute as efficient as possible.

Community-based traffic and navigation app Waze allows drivers to join "forces with other drivers nearby to outsmart traffic, save time and improve everyone's daily commute," according to the apps Facebook page. "That might mean helping them avoid the frustration of sitting in traffic, cluing them in to a police trap or shaving five minutes off of their regular commute by showing them new routes they never even knew about". See a pothole or accident in the left lane? Report it on Waze and help other drivers avoid the ensuing log jam. 

Sometimes, particularly in D.C., getting to the office is only half of the battle. Finding cheap, available parking on a daily basis can present a challenge of its own. But what if you knew you had a parking spot waiting for you before you even left your house? Baltimore based Parking Panda aims to take the stress out of the parking experience by allowing users to search for an reserve guaranteed parking spots ahead of time. Enter an address where you need parking, compare prices in the area, and make a reservation. Gone are the days of price gouging, uncertainty about hours of operation, and arriving to a garage only to find it sold out. 

Mary Carney is a government worker in Washington D.C. who has started utilizing Parking Panda to save her a parking spot at a desired garage near her office. Carney regularly begins her commute later in the morning instead of fighting through traffic during peak rush hours. Often times, this meant that the most convenient parking locations would be full upon her arrival. No longer. "The garage across the street from my office costs $23. Through Parking Panda I pay $16 per day and have a spot waiting for me," said Carney. Jessie Stuckley, a longtime D.C. resident and worker echoes that sentiment: "You would go to a garage, the attendant's would oversell it, you couldn't get a parking space, and the price was astronomical. Now I am assured of a space because I have a reservation." Where you're headed, Parking Panda will have a spot waiting for you. 

Times have changed. The days of helplessly sitting in traffic or on a platform at the will of the commute Gods are over. Making use of a few simple tools can allow workers to have a more efficient, informed commute. With the development of the self driving car well underway, it's time to get on board with the saner, smarter commute.