Why are Cabs from Dulles to DC so expensive?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Jen Tuohy

A reader asks:

“I’m living out of the US at the moment, and was planning a trip back to Washington. I noticed on this Dulles Airport page with “Estimated Taxi Fares” (of course, pretty much locked in with Washington Flyer), that the estimated cost from Dulles Airport to Rosslyn is $28.00 for 25 Miles. However, cross the bridge into DC (26-28 Miles) and the cost for Dulles-DC is suddenly estimated at $60.00-$64.00. Same thing for Dulles to Pentagon City (26 Miles, estimated cost is suddenly $64.00).
See for yourself.

I was just a bit astounded by this…. It’s a bit over the top.

I’m a bit flummoxed… is there some sort of tax or surcharge to these places? Just a truly wild disparity.”

76 Comment

  • Uber it. It’ll be 1/3 cheaper.

    • I actually don’t mind the Flyer Bus ($5) to the Silver Line – but I guess that depends on where you live in the city.

      • Does this work for the opposite route? I hardly ever fly out of Dulles but just happen to be doing so on Friday evening and was weighing my options to get from work downtown out to IAD by 6 p.m.

        • I’ve done it a few times. It’s pretty easy.

          • I agree. I’ve always found the Flyer bus to be easy and pleasant. Plus, it goes on the Dulles access road, so you’ll never get stuck in rush hour traffic. The Silver line will take about 45 minutes to get from Metro Center to Wiehle.

        • I’ve only ever done it going in that direction. It’s much more reliable than the possibly getting stuck in traffic on the 5A (which I think they might be getting rid of) or in a cab. The silver line comes fairly often during rush hour and the bus ride isn’t as long as it was before. It’s definitely not like taking the Marc to BWI where there are constant shuttles coming back and forth making the short trip to the airport and back, but the bus is fairly reliable and the trip is short enough that it shouldn’t get stuck in traffic.

        • Super easy, just make sure you have cash at the ready. I got on the shuttle from the Silver Line to Dulles, and was confused why no one checked to take my fare when I got on the bus (not that I was complaining, just confused). Got off the bus, and was heading into the airport when someone started collecting $5 from all of us before we could proceed into the airport.

        • Yes – it’s $5 one way. They take Cash or Credit but if you’re heading TO the airport I’d recommend cash (As you always pay at Dulles regardless if you departing or arriving). Much easier/faster to hand the person a $5 bill then wait in the line of people paying credit.

        • Yes, but depending on where you live it can take a VERY long time.

    • Just ran a fare estimate for IAD to the White House. UberX cost estimate is $37-$49.

    • i take uber from iad to columbia heights regularly just before morning rush hour, and it’s $35-40. silver line is your best bet if you have time to spare and not too much luggage.

    • No, it won’t. It might’ve been roughly equivalent (not counting surge pricing) before Uber changed its rate structure (moving from flat fee to distance), but there’s no way Uber is cheaper than a taxi from Dulles to the District.

  • Probably a typo.

  • Seems like the Rossyln price is an error. All the other destinations at 25 miles are much more – like Middleburg and Bethesda which are also 25 miles and are priced at $58.

    • +1 I noticed the same thing about the 25 mile benchmark. I once took a cab from the Wiehle Metro to Dulles once and the fare was about $20 so I agree that the price to Rosslyn is a typo.

  • Well you can take shorter trips than Rosslyn (to Leesburg or Tysons Corner, for example) and pay more than $40. Clearly the fares aren’t based on mileage. Unless things have changed, only the Washington Flyer (or whatever they’re called) cabs are allowed to pick up passengers at the airport – and whatever you think of normal cab drivers these guys are way worse. Since these guys have a monopoly on the airport, I’ll bet the fares are based on how hard it is for them to get back to the airport for another fare.
    My suggestion is to do whatever you can to not take a cab from the airport.

    • Or maybe the Rosslyn price is a typo as others have said. I really dislike those cabs so I’m going with my original rant. 😉

  • Dulles is pretty far from DC proper. As an alternative, consider flying into another airport on the East Coast (e.g., JFK, PHL, ATL) and catch a connecting flight into DCA.

    • IMHO, unless the schedule for a Dulles flight is really unfavorable, this is more trouble than it’s worth 99% of the time. After 10 or 20+ hours in the air or in foreign airports, once you add the hassle of clearing customs and immigration somewhere else, rechecking bags and re-clearing security for the domestic leg, any time saved from not flying into Dulles isn’t worth it, even with Global Entry/Pre-Check.

      • Agreed — having to transfer airports is a hassle, and in the transfer process you lose any time you might have gained.
        And sometimes the intermediate flight is a hassle. I was once flying abroad from DCA via Newark, and that flight turned out to be a PROPELLER PLANE and was incredibly noisy. I was glad that I had earplugs handy.
        IIRC, there are no international flights out of DCA except to the Caribbean. So if you’re flying abroad, you’re looking pretty much at IAD and BWI.

        • DCA also has flights to Canada. But, yes, very limited.

        • There ARE direct international flights to Canada out of DCA, FWIW…

        • Meh, it really depends on the situation and if your bags can be checked through to your destination. I once flew to London with the routing Dulles-Amsterdam-London City Airport. I did not find the Amsterdam connection to be a hassle whatsoever (no customs in Holland) and cleared customs at London City Airport in 10 minutes. I think this routing saved me time over the IAD-Heathrow nonstop when you factor in LHR’s long lines for customs and transit time (London City is in London proper, LHR is out like Dulles).

          • That’s because most of the world has sensible international connection policies, where as long as you and your luggage never leave the airport secure area, everything is checked straight through to your final destination. In the era of OMG terrorists!!!, the US in its wisdom decided all international connecting passengers needed to clear US customs and immigration, even if just continuing on to another country. Regardless, in all cases, you need to clear the authorities wherever you’re eventually traveling to.

          • I don’t think the annoying U.S system (of having to clear customs and immigration at the first U.S. airport you go through) is an “era of OMG terrorists!!!” thing — I remember this being the case when I went on trips to Japan in the late 1990s.

        • Emmaleigh504

          Newark is on a Hell Mouth. I never want to transfer from an international flight to a domestic flight at Newark again.

  • DC20009 is right, that’s an error. I used to live extremely close to Rosslyn. A cab from Dulles was usually about $55.

  • Part of the problem is that traffic into the city from Dulles is horrendous. I once took a flight to Dulles from Chicago and it took me longer to get into DC from Dulles than it did to fly from Chicago. I disagree that cabs are the worst, the Super Shuttle is waayy worse. They always do DC neighborhood drop offs last.

    • I have always had good Super Shuttle experiences from Dulles to DC. But I will NOT take it from DCA to DC — it’s a huge waste of time and money.

    • Even if you don’t have to deal with traffic it takes forever. This summer I had dinner with a friend in Reston. She hopped in a cab to Dulles to fly home to Boston. I took a cab to the Wiehle metro stop. I got home to Takoma at nearly the same time she landed in Boston.

    • “I once took a flight to Dulles from Chicago and it took me longer to get into DC from Dulles than it did to fly from Chicago.”
      Ha! So sad but so true.

    • Agreed. Super Shuttle from Dulles to DC was one of the worst experiences of my life. It took them 2 hours to get me home. I’ll pay the full cab fare rather than ever go that route again.

      • Agreed – I once used Super Shuttle to get from home to Dulles and they picked me up first. 45 minutes later I was only 4 blocks from home due to the other pick-ups…

        • I’ll never take it there, but it’s usually my go-to when I’m coming back. I once took it for a work trip that was connecting in PHL where the people paying for the trip paid for everyone to take Super Shuttle from their homes to the airport. After a 1.5 hr ride, we got to the airport with more than two hours to spare. They might as well have just rented an SUV and driven us to Philly. On the way back, I want to just hop in a vehicle and be dropped off at my house, so I don’t care if it takes two hours.

      • Yep. Plus last time I took the Shuttle from BWI to DC, I had the super awesome experience of a tourist couple saying racist things about Mount Pleasant and DC in general, as they were terrified to be in a neighborhood because of the “type of people” who live in DC. Not Super Shuttle’s fault for that one, but good times.

        • I once had the experience of having a super shuttle DRIVER say super awkward and racist things during a 2am drive from the airport…

  • Because until recently Washington Flyer had a monopoly. But now you can take Uber for about half, so definitely do that.

  • Has anyone taken an Uber from BWI? I’m flying into BWI at 10:45 pm in a few months, too late to get a MARC train. The taxi estimator says it’s an $80 fare to DC. Are there typically Ubers near BWI later in the evening?

    • I used to use Amtrak all the time from BWI into DC (Union Station). There’s a shuttle that takes you from the airport to the BWI Amtrak station. Might be worth checking out!

    • Just took an UberX last night from BWI into NE DC – cost about $40 even

    • I haven’t, but have you considered Amtrak from BWI? There’s a couple of very late Northeast Regional trains.

      • Amtrak is a great idea if the timing works and you live/can leave a car decently close to Union Station. If you’ll need to get a cab from Union Station, read some of the past Popville posts about getting a cab from there late at night. It is like the wild, wild west – cabbies won’t take you to certain places and will overcharge you. Not very fun.

      • There’s a bus that runs from Greenbelt to BWI – the D30

      • this. you can sometimes hop an Acela which takes less than 20 minutes to get to union station from the BWI train station. The track between these two points is mostly upgraded and high speed once you get past the switching yard at Union Station.

        • The lowest bucket Acela fare from BWI to Union Station is $39. Someone above just said that an Uber was $40. Given the hassle of getting to the BWI rail station and the infrequency of the Acela, I can’t think of why you would ever pick Acela over Uber–and that’s speaking as someone who loves trains and lives a five-minute walk from Union Station. Plus, the last Acela leaves BWI at 10:23.

    • Amtrak runs later and I’ve always been able to get a ticket for $15-$20 from BWI to DC

    • I took an uber from Columbia Heights to BWI a few months ago and it was $50 in mid-morning traffic.

    • Thanks, all! I’d considered Amtrak, but it’d have to be a midnight train, which is late since my flight arrives at 10:45 pm, and I won’t be checking a bag. With the cost of the train and the cost (and hassle) of a cab home from Union Station, it sounds like it wouldn’t cost much more to take an UberX.

    • I took UberX from Cap Hill to BWI in July and it cost $35.

  • In response to the heart of the question- the expense in general from Dulles- it’s because of the Washington Flyer monopoly on taxi pickups at Dulles. They have a sweet deal with MWAA. Thankfully UberX is likely putting a lot of pressure on that. Hopefully they will start to notice the empty taxis and think about dropping the price.

    At rush hour the bus to/from Wiehle Avenue and then the silver line works well and probably doesn’t take too much extra time because of the traffic. But outside of rush hour it’s probably not worth the extra 45 minutes that will take you.

  • This post is on point. I am flying into IAD next Sunday from vacation. My flight lands at 11pm. I plan to take silver line/flyer on my to Dulles at the beginning of the trip but I figure I will need to Uber or cab back to the city. What do folks think are my chances of scoring an Uber or UberX that late at night … on a Sunday.

    • binpetworth

      You could catch the last 5A bus of the night at 11:35. At that hour, with little traffic, it should move pretty fast.

    • Not sure how many Uber/Uber X vehicles there will be, but IAD did just make it easier for Uber drivers to pick up from IAD (they’ve now instituted a queue system in some waiting area for the drivers – they can’t get pick up requests until they drive into the lot and then, it’s first in, first out), so I imagine more drivers are willing to go there for pick ups now.

    • I landed in Dulles last night at 1:30am — I waited 6 minutes for an UberX….

      • Thanks all for feedback. I’d happily take the bus, just nervous with the people movers, etc. i wont get to curb in time. Glad to know theyve updated procedures for Uber and that late night folks have found them.

  • I take the 5A Metrobus. It stops once somewhere in Reston right by the parkway, then Rosslyn, then L’enfant plaza. It cost $7. I waited 10 minutes for the bus. The ride to Rosslyn was 25 minutes. Then I got a cab to Northwest for about $20. Took all of an hour, if that.

  • That quote is an error. Husband routinely takes a cab from IAD to his office in Rosslyn/Courthouse (right in between), it’s normally about 55-60$. If he takes it home to Columbia Heights, it’s 80-90 depending on traffic. Others are right that UberX, with no surcharge is cheaper…normally 50 or so IAD-CoHi.

  • It’s expensive because it’s 28 miles outside of DC.

    I use Lyft or UberX, either is about $40, versus $72.

    I’ve also taken the 5A, which is a good alternative, then gotten on Metro in Rosslyn.

    But I avoid Dulles unless it’s international or West Coast (nonstop) travel. Alternatively, if there is a flight from JFK or Newark or Toronto to where you’re going internationally, but not one from DC, you can take a tiny plane to there from DCA and connect.

    BWI is slightly less of a pain, I’ve taken MARC there which is pretty convenient, maybe less so on arrival. The WMATA bus to Greenbelt took a lot longer.

  • I usually get a black car from Groupon or Living Social. It’s about $60 or so.

  • Yes, the graphic has a typo. A good estimate to use is $2.50/mile which factors in like a 10% tip.

  • People still take cabs to/from the airport?

  • I recently travelled internationally out of Dulles for the first time since the Silver line opened. Took it outbound, got on the Flyer bus, everything worked great. On the way back, arriving on a Saturday midday (after having spent some time in a city with a real, functioning, modern metro network…), got on the Silver Line only to be offloaded in Reston and wait probably 30 minutes for a shuttle bus to somewhere else–maybe Rosslyn–then get back on the metro, then transfer to my line, then bus home from my nearest metro stop. It took at least two hours, maybe close to 3. So while in theory it’s a great solution…beware track work and make sure you check metro status before you commit!

  • I believe they call it “monopoly.” Uber is about $40.00. New ballgame!

  • I (well, my employer) paid $95 including tip for a taxi to Dulles on Saturday. It was during the triathlon, and the driver had to take a roundabout way to get out of the city to 66. On the flip side, since it was a business trip and I wasn’t footing the bill, I purposefully took a cab instead of an uber because I wanted a driver who would know how to get around the road closures.

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