Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Slugging – A Washington, DC Phenomenon

For those of us who commute from suburbia and exurbia into our nation’s capital, there is a unique phenomenon to enable drivers to use the HOV or high occupancy vehicle lanes while affording mass transit riders an opportunity to ride in the comfort of a car for free. It is called slugging. And the person who hitches the ride is a slug. Essentially, it is organized hitch hiking. 

I have a 90-mile commute each way. If I am driving and pick up a slug, I can generally make it to the office in no more than 2 hours. Without a slug, the drive can take up to 3 hours in the morning with the abominable traffic in the area. On occasion I’ve taken a commuter bus or a combination of driving, taking a bus to the Metro, followed by a metro ride and a 4-block walk. If the Metro worked as seamlessly as those in Europe or Asia, that would be a feasible option – despite the additional time for no lower cost than driving. But, Americans have not embraced mass transit and the metro system in the District of Columbia is still operating on the technology that was not quite state of the art in 1972. I kid you not. But, I digress.

On my route, I pull up to the park and ride at the Herndon-Monroe bus station along the Dulles toll road. I started as a slug when I was waiting for a bus one morning and the line was so long I’d already missed two busses. I saw the line of people getting into car and decided “why not?”.  Even my coworkers questioned the wisdom of getting into a vehicle with a virtual stranger. But, slugging has been around the DC area since 1975 – and nobody has ever heard of a car jacking or assault arising from slugging. Really – what idiot would consider carjacking somebody in rush hour traffic on the HOV lanes where cops are lurking to ticket scofflaws trying to use the HOV lanes with fake babies or blow up dolls?

So I graduated from slug to picking up slugs. The driver pulls up to the slug line and calls out the window which metro station is closest to their destination and pick up the next person in line who wants to go that way. I take anywhere from 1-3 slugs per trip. After a while, you have your regulars.

There are slugging rules of etiquette. One does not jump the queue. Slugs do not initiate conversation. (Although this rule is too often broken). No talking on cell phones. It is okay to pass on a ride or a rider if one feels uncomfortable. The radio is generally tuned to NPR although classical music is also acceptable.

People who would never think of hitching a ride in any other circumstance will slug to and from work. It is far more flexible than an organized car pool. There is a mutual benefit to the slugger and the driver. If only Congress would adopt such a convenient, smart, efficient method of achieving anything, perhaps the rest of the country would not feel such disdain for the people perpetrating the gridlock.  If strangers can work together to achieve an efficient system of commuting in the city with the 2nd worst traffic in the USA, why can’t members of Congress that are actually paid to reach resolutions accomplish anything?  Viva La Slug!

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