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Slug-Lines.com - Slugging and Slug Lines Information For Washington DC
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Slug-Lines.com - Slugging and Slug Lines Information For Washington DC
  Newspaper and Radio Stories

April 27, 2006
Slugging to work makes good commuting sense

by NDW Public Affairs
The Waterline

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 carpooling lanes.

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 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.

Participants on both sides of the slugging equation can join a general "Slug Group" mailing list at www.slug-lines.com/Slug_Groups_Join_ Form.asp.

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 line."

But some, like Rajos, have had somewhat more curious experiences.

"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 /.
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