April 27, 2006
Slugging to work makes good commuting sense
by NDW Public Affairs
Photo by PH3 Jeffrey Blakley
"Slugging" has existed in Washington, D.C.,
since 1971. Commuters simply park their vehicle near a
designated slug line, and catch a ride to and from
work with fellow sluggers, allowing access to the
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
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 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 a few 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.
The Navy Yard has its own news group at
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.m."
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 every day, 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 www.mwcog.org/
commuter/Bdy-Grh.html 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 vanpool. We have a formal ride
matching system that connects commuters with people
who live and work near them."
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-five 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
But some, like Rajos, have had somewhat more curious
"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 Web site 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 www.slug-lines.com