“Slugging” saves DC/VA Drivers and Riders Time and Money

David LeBlanc started slugging in 1997 and has been doing it ever since. He’s such a strong slugging supporter that he wrote a short guide and system map for users and now runs the Slug Lines website which is dedicated to the idea.

“Slugging” is an innovative, grassroots form of commuting in Washington DC and Northern Virginia that helps commuters get in and out of the city easily and efficiently. High occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, which require two or more passengers to use, provided the inspiration: drivers who would like to use the more efficient lanes pick up passengers – nicknamed “slugs” – and passengers, for their part, get a free and easy ride into the city. People almost always ride with strangers, but there’s a thriving community of devoted “sluggers.”

No one regulates or manages slugging; it’s a grassroots community of commuters who create carpools on the fly. A few other cities around the country have tried it to varying degrees, but it’s uniquely successful in the DC metro area. No one has ever conducted a formal survey or tally, but in 2007 the Virginia DOT pegged the number of daily sluggers at approximately 10,000 commuters.

LeBlanc visited Smart Growth America’s headquarters this week to discuss some of the frequently asked questions about slugging.

Where do people slug?
Slugging occurs only when and where there are HOV 3-restricted lanes: between 6:00-9:00 AM and 3:30-6:00 PM along I-95 and I-395. Dozens of “slug lines” have formed over the years at informal but designated pick up points in Northern Virginia and drop off points in DC, Rosslyn, the Pentagon and Crystal City.

Why do people slug?
People slug because of two great motivators: time and money. It saves the driver one to two hours each day because they get to take advantage of efficient HOV lanes. And its saves riders time too, because they don’t have to wait for a carpool or bus. Plus it’s a free ride for slugs – no money is ever exchanged – and since the trip is faster, drivers save on the cost of gas.

This sounds a lot like carpooling. Why don’t people do that?
Slugging offers more flexibility than a carpool. With slugging, you don’t have to worry about the carpool’s schedule and you can choose when to arrive or leave. Plus riders always have the option of slugging to work and taking the bus or Metro home.

So where did the term “slugging” come from? Are there rules or etiquette to slugging? What if I don’t like the song that the driver’s radio, can I ask the driver to change the station? Is there a map of locations where slug lines form?
The rest of these fascinating questions, and more, are answered at slug-lines.com

People often have hesitancy to try slugging for the first time, but once they make the leap and try it once, many become devoted to the method. Shaving an hour or two off a daily commute can mean the difference between getting home in time for dinner with the family or not, and for many people that’s worth trying something a little unusual.  For riders, slugging also means significant savings on bus or Metro fares, and for drivers it means a faster trip and less money spent on gas.  And it reduces the number of cars on the road for everyone.

These are among the reasons why people are willing take any transportation alternative to driving in a vehicle occupied by a single person. Whether it’s walking, biking, carpooling, taking public transit or – in the case of many DC commuters – slugging, saving time and money are getting more commuters out of their cars and into more efficient ways of getting around.