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Washington DC - Driving & Public Transport
DC's traffic situation is well known. More than one third of all urban interstate miles within DC are severely congested during morning and evening rush hours. The average commute time for DC residents in the city itself has increased by 54% in the last decade to 34 minutes in 2001. In 2003, 20% of DC commuters spent at least 45 minutes commuting each day. Some expatriates prefer to live close to where they work to minimize commuting times. Commuting to work by subway (Metro), train or bus can be less stressful than driving a car, as finding a parking space in the city itself can be a nightmare. Expatriates who do not work within the DC city itself but in one of the suburbs sometimes prefer to drive.
DC's Metrorail (regional subway system) is clean and reliable, and is a great way to move around the city. There are 5 subway lines serving 86 stations on 106 miles of track. The subway lines intersect at various stations, allowing passengers to change trains and directions. The Metrobus is the regional bus service that complements the Metrorail stations by connecting the stations into other local bus systems around the region. The Washington Metropolitan Area Authority website has information on fares and stations for both the Metrorail and Metrobus services. There is useful a metro trip planner that is great to familiarize oneself with the metro system.
For expatriates who intend to commute via the DC metro system, investing in a SmarTrip card will save you the inconvenience of carrying exact fare for the commuting rides.
The DC Circulator is a popular bus route that connects the Union Station with Georgetown, the national mall and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. For schedules, route maps and updates, visit their website.
For expatriates who live in the suburbs, there is a range of train and bus services available daily for the commuter. For example, the MARC Train Service is a commuter train service along 4 routes from Baltimore, Frederick and Perryville, MD and Martinsburg to Union Station located in DC City itself. The Virginia Railway Express service runs from Frederickburg to Broad Run Airport in Bristow, VA to Union Station in DC. Bus systems operate within counties and link to metro stations. For example, the ART-Arlington Transit operates within Arlington County, VA and links to the Crystal City Metro station. The City of Fairfax CUE bus system operates within the City of Fairfax and links to the Fairfax-GMU Metrorail station. The DASH (Alexandria) bus system operates within the City of Alexandria. Other commuter bus services operate in Loudoun County, Prince William County, Montgomery County and Prince George's County.
For expatriates who prefer to drive, you will need to convert your driving license to a Virginia or Maryland or DC driver's license. In the US, a driving license is widely used as an identification document. If your driver's license is not in English, it is recommended that you get your driver's license translated. Licenses are issued by state agencies – there is no such thing as a US driving license. Depending on which state you choose to register for a driver's license, you may take to take road tests or courses. Rules and regulations are subject to interpretation by the officers and have been known to change. Some countries have special arrangements, and expatriates from Germany, France and Canada, for example, need not take some of the driving tests stipulated by the state agency.
For more information about driving in DC and driver's licenses, refer to the Washington DC Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website. Depending on where you work, you may also wish to check out the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) or the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website.
It is not only expensive to park in DC city itself – it is also extremely difficult to get parking facilities, especially during peak hours. Outside DC City, driving is relatively convenient. Expatriates should be aware of the associated costs of owning a car in the US, such as car insurance and paying for a parking space (a parking space can cost US$20,000 per year if you work in DC City itself).
One affordable option some expatriates are turning to is the hire a car on a needs-basis for temporary use, or on weekends for family outings or for special occasions. www.zipcar.com is a car-sharing scheme that is available in DC.
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