some in Washington, commuting's a slug-fest
Thu Jul 27, 9:30 AM ET
Original Link: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060727/us_nm/life_slugs_dc
hour in Washington brings the slugs out into the light.
Each workday, members of a unique breed of commuters known as
"slugs" line up, sometimes at regular bus stops,
sometimes at special areas. Chatting quietly, they wait for
strangers to pick them up and drive them to the office, or
home at the end of the day.
The slugs constitute a decades-old system of casual
car-pooling that moves thousands of workers from the suburbs
to the city, with no money changing hands and no official
"No one's really in charge," said David LeBlanc, a
longtime slug who has written a book on the phenomenon.
"The slugs themselves will decide ... What always
prevails is common sense."
Slugging started in the early 1970s in the Washington area,
soon after a main commuter route instituted rush-hour express
lanes for vehicles carrying two or more people. Solo drivers
would troll local bus stops before getting on the highway,
hoping to pick up a rider and get in the express lane.
The riders became known as slugs, in a nod to the fake coins
fare-beating riders would use on public buses.
The U.S. Transportation Department has no official position on
slugging, but generally encourages car-pooling. In Washington,
where car commutes can take hours and parking can be costly,
only 40.5 percent of workers drive alone to their jobs. This
is the lowest percentage of solo car commuters in the United
States. Alabama has the highest percentage, with 85.4 percent.
Other U.S. cities encourage casual car-pooling, including San
Geronimo, California, where riders must register and wait at
designated spots. But Washington's slug lines have grown on
their own, apparently crime-free and remarkably effective.
A whole slug culture has evolved, with its own etiquette,
security, ratings, and even poetry. At a well-used Web site, www.slug-lines.com,
slugs pour our their hearts about scary drivers, dirty cars,
snoring fellow slugs and other annoyances.
Among the rules: Slugs are not supposed to talk during the
ride, but if they do, such topics as religion, politics and
sex are taboo. No money or gifts exchange hands. Cellphone
conversations are kept to a minimum. No smoking or eating by
either the driver or the slug. Slugs don't fiddle with the
radio, heat, air conditioning or windows. And a slug-line
never leaves a woman standing alone.
Why do they do it? Because it's fast, cheap and flexible.
Unlike regular car pools, slugging lets workers travel any
time the rush-hour car-pool lanes are open. They assemble at a
dozen or more spots in suburban Virginia in the morning and 10
places in the city and close-in areas in the afternoon.
LeBlanc said in a telephone interview that he saves 30 to 40
minutes each way on his daily commute from far suburban
Virginia to Crystal City, across the Potomac River from
However, Latoya, who declined to give her surname as she
waited in line two blocks from the White House, said the
weather can make her commute great or grim.
"When it's pouring down rain, that's a severe
minus," she said, adding that slugging does not
necessarily save her time. "The littlest thing on the
highway will throw off everything."
But she said she saves money, and gets an added dividend:
"Each day you get to pick and choose what kind of car you
want to ride in. So if you're out looking for a new car,
that's a way to test drive a car."