"It was jam-packed," Smith said. "But it was also pretty quiet, no one was really talking ... I guess we were all just suffering in silence."
U.S. government offices, Congress and most schools remained open, although the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the federal workforce, gave employees the option of taking unscheduled leave or working from home.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the shutdown was necessary for a system where 18 people have been killed in rail accidents in the past 34 years.
"WMATA has a long, well-documented list of safety issues and needs to work aggressively to fix them," Foxx said in a statement. "While this shutdown is inconvenient, they are doing the right thing by putting the safety of their passengers and workers first."
Ted Cox, a 62-year-old immigration lawyer from New York, was among the many people who complained about crumbling infrastructure and gridlock stemming from the untimely subway shutdown.
"What kind of country are we in, that the nation's capital can't run a metro system?" he said. "It's sort of on a par with the infrastructure in the rest of the country. Hopefully this will get the attention of legislators to deal with infrastructure in general."
Cab drivers said traffic limited the number of trips they could take.
"Everywhere is crowded," said Asamenew Tesfaye as he drove a yellow cab in from suburban Alexandria, Virginia. "It looks busy for everybody, but we make less money than the other days."
Some commuters took to Twitter to express frustration at delays and crowding on buses, making #MetroShutdown the top-trending hashtag in the United States on Wednesday morning.