|locations. It has thousands
of vehicles at its disposal, moves thousands of
commuters daily, and the best part, it’s FREE!
Not only is it free, but it gets people to and from
work faster than the typical bus, metro, or
train. I think you'll find that it is the most
efficient, cost-effective form of commuting in the
The system of slugging is quite simple. A car needing
additional passengers to meet the required 3- person high
occupancy vehicle (HOV) minimum
pulls up to one of the known slug lines. The driver usually
positions the car so that the slugs are on the passenger
side. The driver either displays a sign with the destination
or simply lowers the passenger window, to call out
the destination, such as "Pentagon,"
Plaza," or "14th
& New York." The slugs first in line for that
particular destination then hop into the car, normally
confirming the destination, and off they go.
No money is exchanged because of the mutual benefit: the
car driver needs riders just as much as the slugs need a
ride. Each party needs the other in order to survive.
Normally, there is no conversation unless initiated by the
driver; usually the only words exchanged are "Thank
you" as the driver drops off the slugs at the
There doesn’t need to be any discussion about the
destination , such as giving directions, because the
drop-off points are generally understood.
"Rosslyn" means the Metro station in Rosslyn, not
at some other point along the way. The "Pentagon"
means the curb along Fern Street, not the North Parking Lot.
However, there are a few places where the destination
drop-off point is not
understood; in these cases, the slug must state where he or
she wishes to be dropped off. For example, at "Tackett’s
Mill," the driver usually asks "New or Old
Lot?" because the driver will take you to either. And
there is Crystal City, where drivers drop off slugs anywhere
between 12th Street and 23rd
streets. Later in the book these exceptions are explained in
It’s hard to believe that slugging has been around in
the Northern Virginia and Washington, DC, area for about 38 years!
That’s right; slugging debuted in around the 1975
timeframe, shortly after
the HOV lanes were opened to carpools and vanpools. Of course, the exact date
is uncertain because there really aren’t any official
government records that have studied slugging from its
infancy. The best source of information has been individual
interviews (I interviewed a man who started slugging back in
1982—that’s 20 years of slugging!). The next source has
been the numerous newspaper articles written on the subject
over the past few years. I’m sure that whatever I
determine as the "origin" of slugging, somebody
will have a brother-in-law with a Ph.D. in ‘Slug-ology"
with undeniable proof that slugging starting years prior….okay,
Here is an portion of an email I received in November
2004 from a fellow slug which suggests that slugging was
working in 1979. "I'd just like to
compliment you on your very interesting web site. I
worked in Washington DC as a college student in the
late 1970's and I would like to confirm your
claim that slugging began prior to the 1989 study.
During the summer of 1979, I commuted by bus from my
sister's house in Annandale to Naval Research
Lab. This trip required riding into downtown DC and catching
a cross-town in the morning, then the reverse in the
afternoon. On a few occasions I slugged the last leg of the
trip home in the afternoon. There was an informal slug
line in front of the FBI bldg, which took riders down the
Shirley Hwy corridor to various endpoints. When I worked in
DC from 1981 to 1985, there were indeed firmly established
slug lines at the locations you mention on Keene Mill Road,
as well as further out close to George Mason where
there was a park&ride. I was in a regular carpool at
this time and sometimes our driver picked up a slug or two
when a regular rider was absent so that we could still get
into the HOV lanes. Sincerely, Mary Ann"
Slugging can trace its roots back to the Arab oil embargo
of the 1970’s. During this era, gas prices soared, as it
became apparent that the United States was dependent on
foreign oil. In an attempt to reduce its dependence, the
United States adopted a number of measures to curb gasoline
consumption. Speed limits were reduced from 65+ m.p.h. to 55
m.p.h., car manufacturers were told to make cars more
efficient, and high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes were
constructed. These lanes were for vehicles with more than
three occupants. The benefit for the government was twofold:
reduced gasoline consumption as well as some environmental
This is quoted from page 1 of
"I-95/I-395 HOV RESTRICTION STUDY VOLUME I: SUMMARY
REPORT", Feb 1999, at www.virginiadot.org/travel/resources/studynova-hov395Final.pdf
"History of HOV in
"The Shirley Highway (I-395) component of the
I-95/I-395 HOV facility was the first freeway HOV lane in
the United States. Opened in 1969, it was originally a
bus-only lane. The initial 4.8 mile reversible bus-only lane
was extended and expanded into a 9 mile two-lane reversible
facility in 1975 when it was opened to carpools and vanpools
with four or more occupants (HOV 4+). In January 1989, the
HOV requirement was reduced to HOV 3+. Since that time, the
HOV facility has been extended further south on I-95
reaching its current limit just south of Route 234 in
Dumfries in 1997. This facility, which carries 14 percent
more persons during the morning HOV-restricted period (6:00
to 9:00) than the general purpose lanes and nearly 10
percent more persons during the evening HOV-restricted
period (3:30 to 6:00), is recognized by the transportation
community as the most successful HOV facility in the United
When the HOV lanes on "The Shirley Highway"
(I95/I395) were opened to carpools and vanpools in 1975, the first slug lines began to emerged. With these high
occupancy lanes being strictly enforced, drivers had to
abide by the HOV-4 rule (later changed to HOV-3) or pay
When a driver did not have enough passengers for the HOV,
he would pull up to a line of commuters waiting for the bus
and offer a ride to anybody in the line. Faced with waiting
in the summer heat or winter cold for a bus that could be
late or full to capacity, some commuters began opting for
the car. Soon word began to spread as drivers found an easy
solution to meeting the HOV requirements, and bus riders
found a faster, cheaper alternative to the bus. I’m sure
it took some time for the word to spread, but soon enough
people knew which bus stops catered to the offers of free
It is believed that slugging began with people waiting at
bus stops on their way to the Pentagon (which was—and
still—is a major transportation hub).
According to a study by the Urban Institute in 1989,
slugging existed in only one location in Springfield, VA.
That doesn’t mean slugging began in 1989, only that when
the study was conducted, formal slug lines already existed.
Since I have interviewed people who have slugged from the
Springfield area since 1982, we know that slugging predates
the Urban Institute study with evidence that slugging began
in the early 1970’s.
Nevertheless, the Urban Institute did recognize that a
"formal" slug line was in operation at a place
known as "Bob’s," which referred to a line
adjacent to Bob’s Big Boy restaurant at the intersection
of Bland Street and Old Keene Mill Road in Springfield. As
it turned out, Bob’s had all the ingredients normally
needed for a slug line: parking, a bus stop (or other mass
transit), and easy access to the HOV. Because the Pentagon
was—and still is—a major commuter hub, Bob’s line had
the Pentagon as its only destination.
Today, some 20 years later, Bob’s has undergone a
number of changes. The Big Boy restaurant has been replaced
by Shoney’s, and the slug line no longer services the
Pentagon but has been replaced with two lines: one for L’Enfant
Plaza and the other for the Memorial Bridge area.
Furthermore, the lines themselves have moved across the
street next to Long John Silver’s.
So, if Bob’s is next to Long John Silver’s, why is it
still called "Bob’s"? Either out of respect for
tradition, or simply because the name just stuck, the name
"Bob’s" has endured the test of time.
- Where Did the Word
"Slug" Come From?
The term "slug" itself did not derive
from the word that means mollusk, as some people
think. Instead, the term appears to have originated from bus
drivers as a derogatory term.
The story goes like this. Bus drivers had always been
warned to be aware of counterfeit coins (also known as slugs)
from people trying to pass off this fake money in the coin
When slugging was in its infancy, commuters stood at the
bus stops, waiting for a driver to pick them up. Bus
drivers, thinking these people were waiting for the bus
would stop to pick up the passengers only to be waved off,
frustrating many of the drivers. As this event became more
and more frequent, bus drivers began recognizing the real
bus riders from the fakes. Because the people weren’t
really waiting for the bus, drivers began to simply call
them "slugs." This definition seems to make sense
because these people weren’t real bus riders or
even real car poolers in the usual sense of the
word. They were, just as the name implies, counterfeit
riders or slugs. Hence, the term was born.
Over time, the less-attractive term "slug" has
had many contenders, such as "instant carpooler,"
"hitchhike commuter," and "casual carpooler,"
but tradition has continued to outlive the newer, more
politically correct terms.