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Get to Work Fast, Start a Slugfest
By Erik N. Nelson, Los Angeles Daily News 
13 Jan 02

The following was found on the LA Daily News homepage at: http://www.dailynews.com/opinions/articles/0102/13/vew01.asp

 

"Last week, giddy car-poolers got the pleasure of breezing by stopped traffic on the southbound San Diego Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass. Odds are you were not one of them.

Neither was I. 

No, we average Jane and Joe Commuters were, on some days, enjoying a brief easing of the usual congestion resulting from those few car-pool vehicles not taking up space in the remaining four lanes.

But most solitary commuters watch from the slow lanes, unable to see the blurred faces of the diamond-lane smirkers.

How can the average Southern California commuter, living hither and yon and working anywhere from Irvine to Oxnard, get another body into the car? The likelihood of finding someone who 1) lives in the same neighborhood; 2) works in the same neighborhood; 3) works the same schedule, consistently; and 4) doesn't mind going carless or being subject to the whims of a car-pool buddy are so slim that if you find such a person, you might as well marry him.

But in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., there are thousands of short-lived marriages of convenience consummated every day.

At remote suburban bus stops, commuters known as "slugs" line up and are picked up, two-by-two, by motorists known as "body snatchers."

With the requisite three people in the vehicle, the otherwise single driver can now drive down the HOV-3 (High-Occupancy Vehicle, three passengers) lanes past masses of stopped traffic, shaving from 30 minutes to an hour off the typical suburban commute into town.

These are not bums looking for a freebie, either. I've seen well-connected government officials, Marine lieutenant colonels and business-suited female lobbyists step off the curb and get into strange cars to ride with people they've never met.

"It really is a grass-roots effort by regular people trying to solve a problem with no government intervention," says Army Lt. Col. David Le Blanc, who runs a slugging Web site and has written a book about the phenomenon.

It started back in the 1970s, apparently when a daring motorist pulled up to a bus stop in Springfield and invited two riders for a free trip down the freeway.

Today the grass-roots practice has grown to the point where there is a slug lobby, which fights efforts to reduce the commuter lane requirements from three to two passengers. Even Virginia Sen. John Warner has issued proclamations in support of slug-friendly policies. The three-person rule, it has been said, along with a good bus system as a backup, provides the critical mass needed to keep this spontaneous car-pooling system going.

While entities like the Pentagon and suburban county governments provide bus shelters and even signage to support the slugs and body-snatchers, they don't sanction or regulate the practice, partly for fear of the liability involved.

It's a scary thing getting into a stranger's car for a free ride, but thousands of commuters do it every day. Some female slugs I've spoken to say the fact that there are two unrelated people in the car with them helps make them feel more secure than they would if it were just the driver alone.

Le Blanc said a check of local police departments turned up no reports of serious crimes against slugs or drivers.

If this kind of car-pooling were to happen here, it would have to start with people willing to take that risk.

Some motorists will simply roll down the window and announce the destination, while others hold up a sign.

In Virginia, there's even an informally codified slug etiquette, found, among other places, at www.slug-lines.com.

Among the rules: Don't talk unless the driver initiates the conversation, and don't talk about religion, politics or sex. Don't offer or receive money or gifts for the ride. Don't leave a woman standing alone in the slug line; gentlemen wait for the next car. Don't complain about the heat or radio station. Thank your slugs/body snatcher at the end of the ride.

As someone who commutes 1 1/2 hours each way to work, I've been sorely tempted to pull over at bus stops to pick up riders. The problem is, they'd think I was nuts.

After sitting in traffic for 30 hours a week, my sanity is a moot point."

---
Erik N. Nelson is a Daily News staff writer. 


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