beat D.C.'s rush-hour traffic
by PH2 (AW) Corey Lewis
Sluggers begin their afternoon journey home from
the L'Enfant Plaza metro station. A government
sponsored program created to help local citizens solve
commuter problems, sluglines are located in various
parts of D.C., Maryland and northern Virginia.
As a rule, hitchhikers play a risky game of Road Roulette.
Thumbing a ride is not strictly legal, not very reliable and
certainly not safe. But the ancient art of hitching has had a
positive image-makeover in the form of "slugging" --
a legitimate commuting alternative.
Slugging is a grassroots movement that started in the
Washington, D.C., metro area around 1971. It has since evolved
into a highly organized -- and free -- commuting system. The
slug culture has a strong foothold in D.C. and Northern
Virginia with some presence in Maryland Larry Eckert; AWS/Smartship
Coordinator at BAE Systems, lives in Dale City, Va., and is a
three-year veteran of slugging. He observes that initially the
less-than-conventional commuting concept takes some getting
used to. "At first it seemed pretty strange. My parents
live in North Carolina and they think I'm nuts," he said.
But, Eckert quickly became a convert to the system and has
found slugging to be mainly smooth sailing.
The system works by bringing drivers and commuters (slugs)
together at designated pickup points where they form slug
lines. Drivers who want to travel in the High Occupancy
Vehicle (HOV) lanes during restricted hours, which fall on
rush hours, pull in to marshalling areas, call out their
destination, scoop up some slugs and continue on their way. It
is considered a win-win situation. "I think it's great. I
save money, I get to work on time and I've met some really
great people. We look out for each other by setting people up
rides in the afternoon or squeezing in extra people,"
said Kathy Bouchard, Technical Editor at Naval Audit Service,
Washington Navy Yard (WNY). She lives in Woodbridge, Va., and
has been slugging for three years.
The afternoon ride home varies from the morning commute
because sluggers can make individual pick-up arrangements with
drivers via the Internet -- as well as having the option of
joining a regular slug line.
Participants on both sides of the slugging equation can
join a general "Slug Group" mailing list at http://www.slug-lines.com/Slug_Groups_Join_Form.asp
The Navy Yard has its own news group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/eslug
/. Participating drivers can receive messages with departure
times, drop-off points and contact details. The slug and
potential slug-hauler then have the option of coordinating to
meet for the ride home.
Erica Wright, Executive Administrator, PEO Ships at WNY
notes that it can be an unpredictable business, but confirms
the general consensus that the morning hours are a more
fertile slugging ground. "In the morning it's easy to get
a ride, but sometimes it can be kind of tough in the
afternoons. I usually send out an email for the trip home at 8
A slugger since January 2003, she lives in Alexandria, Va.,
and joins the morning slug line at Horner Rd. In the afternoon
she meets rides at the Isaac Hull Gate or outside her building
at the Navy Yard.
Most of the commuters interviewed, including Pablo Rajos,
Systems Administrator at NAVSEA, noted that, "The best
time for catching a quick ride is between 6 and 7 a.m."
He is a four-year slugger from Manassas, Va., and an
enthusiastic supporter of the system. "It used to take me
up to two hours to commute each way everyday, now it takes an
hour. I sit back, relax and take a nap," said Rajos. He
adds, "I've never been stranded and the longest I've had
to wait is about forty minutes." In the afternoon he uses
the Yahoo News Group for the Navy Yard and said that, "On
average you line up a ride within one hour."
During the afternoon, slugs have identified the optimum
ride-catching time is between 4 and 5 p.m. with 4:30 being the
peak. By 5:30 p.m rides apparently become thin on the ground.
Eckert commutes from M street to Horner Rd and has rarely been
stranded. "I always seem to find a ride -- the exception
was one evening when I had to work until 7 p.m. On that
occasion I got a 'Guaranteed Ride Home," he said.
The 'Guaranteed Ride Home' program is offered by Commuter
Connections, a regional network of transportation
organizations. They offer a free ride home four times a year
in the event of unscheduled overtime or a personal emergency
for members that use van and carpools, mass transit, cycle or
walk to work. Call 1-800- 745-RIDE or go to http://www.mwcog.org/commuter/Bdy-Grh.htmlat
for more information. In reference to slugging, Nicholas
Ramfos, chief of Alternative Commute Programs, Commuter
Connections said, "It's a solution to transport
congestion in the area, but we don't actively promote it ? and
they're not looking for Government intervention. We encourage
people to car and van pool. We have a formal ride matching
system that connects commuters with people who live and work
The system is governed by a set of rules -- and drivers and
riders are expected to adhere to a slugging etiquette. Reports
of bizarre or threatening encounters are rare and the
alternative commuting option seems to have had a trouble-free
ride throughout its thirty-three year history.
Most incidents that have occurred appear to be relatively
minor inconveniences. "I once got into a car and the
driver ran out of gas at Rosslyn. Luckily VDOT came by and
gave us enough gas to get to the next gas station," said
Bouchard. Eckert notes that, "People generally follow
etiquette. But there is a small group of people who cut in on
the line." But some, like Rajos, have had somewhat more
"There's a lady who blares gospel music all the way --
if you're not religious when you get in, you will be by the
time you get out!" he said.
To avoid these types of situations, Rajos simply exercises
his right of refusal.
Visit the website of choice for the Washington metro area
slug community -- slugging.com -- for slug line locations,
commuter parking lots, the etiquette guide and all matters
slug-related at http://www.slug-lines.com