`Slugging' has proved to
be a success
by Steve Eldridge, The
23 Oct 01
The word "slug" generally doesn't
conjure up anything positive. Slugs are slow, slimy things
that don't seem to serve a real purpose. Except for the slugs
that line the Interstate 95 corridor in Virginia.
The Washington, D.C., region is part of an unusual,
self-perpetuated social experiment called slugging. You may
think of it as glorified hitchhiking or casual car pooling,
but most would have to agree: It's a success.
Here's how it works: At the numerous commuter lots along
the I-95 corridor, and at a number of commercial lots as well,
people gather for rides. Drivers who need an extra passenger
or two to qualify for a quicker commute in the high occupancy
vehicle (HOV) lanes will pull into these lots looking for
Most of the lots are organized to the point that potential
riders heading toward Rosslyn will gather on one side of the
lot, riders heading to the Pentagon at another, and so on.
Much of the information is passed by postings on bulletin
boards at the offices, by word of mouth or on one of the three
Web sites that have grown up to serve this audience.
The riders get a free ride into work, and the drivers get
to use lanes that are generally less congested and move a bit
quicker. It would seem to be a win-win situation.
Why such a goofy name?
Here's the best explanation I've heard for the name:
Slugging started in the early 1970s, when Virginia opened the
first HOV lanes. Back then, just about all of the bus fares
were paid in coins and bus drivers were taught to watch for
counterfeit coins, or "slugs." Because there were
few, if any, commuter lots, many slugs gathered near bus stops
in order to get rides. It was the bus drivers that began to
call these "counterfeit" commuters by the name that
has stuck for 30 years: slugs.
Things are very confusing now at the Pentagon. They have
one line for the entire slug community. I know my country is
at war, but didn't the president tell us to get back to
normal? The Metro has returned to normal. Isn't there a reason
to return the slug lines back to normal as well?
- Pablo, Occoquan
I agree with you to a degree, Pablo. But I think everyone
would agree that it's much better to err on the side of
safety. The slug lines started being moved further away from
the main building about a year ago as the bus stops were being
moved. This is all done in the name of safety and doesn't
reflect any slight on the part of Pentagon officials.
Many of the planners at the Pentagon actually appreciate
the ability of slug lines to reduce the number of cars in the
parking lots. Fewer cars make the job of managing traffic
throughout the complex a bit easier.
I'm told it could be a while before the multiple pickup
points come back. If this is confusing, perhaps some of the
slugs could organize and go back to one of the areas in
Pentagon City. Several were set up after Sept. 11 when the
Pentagon parking lots were shut down or severely restricted.
Let me know what happens over there.
I mentioned that there are several Web sites that serve the
slugging community. These sites have everything, from breaking
news (usually changes in lot availability) to lost and found
to complete guides on slugging etiquette. You can find the
sites at www.slug-line.com, www.slug-lines.com
Many of the commuter lots along I-95 were added because of
the Springfield "Mixing Bowl" construction. I think
they did this to get more people to use public transportation
and to car pool. What's going to happen to those lots when the
construction project is done?
- Mary, Lake Ridge
That's a really good question, Mary, and I turned to the
Virginia Department of Transportation's Joan Morris for an
"Those lots are staying," Morris says. "When
we started construction of the Mixing Bowl, we planned on
adding 1,200 spaces. But we've added 2,400 spaces already and
have many more on the way. In fact, we will have a total of
15,000 spaces along the I-95 corridor between Fairfax and
At the same time, Morris points out that some of the lots
are being leased by VDOT and the leases probably won't be
renewed when the construction is finished. One of the leased
lots is at the Macy's store at Springfield Mall.
VDOT is also in the midst of studying all their lots and
looking at where they might expand. One of the lots still
underutilized is the one at Route 123 and I-95. This 700-space
lot went through a major renovation last year in an attempt to
make it more accessible.
Lastly, if you're wondering why slug lines don't or won't
work elsewhere, consider this. Many of the riders and drivers
work for the same company: the federal government. The
three-passenger requirement makes it more difficult for
drivers to qualify. Finally, the HOV lanes in the corridor
have limited access; there are only a few places where a
driver with bad intentions could divert course.
Slug lines aren't for everyone. You have to be able to deal
with numerous personalities and driving habits. There are
stories about cars with old food and other trash in them
combined with drivers who seem intent on beating everyone to
But more often than not, people enjoy them and they work.
Thirty years of experience should prove that.
Steve Eldridge is a veteran traffic reporter in Virginia,
Maryland and Washington. For more Sprawl & Crawl, tune in
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