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Slug-Lines.com - Slugging and Slug Lines Information For Washington DC
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Slug-Lines.com - Slugging and Slug Lines Information For Washington DC
  Newspaper and Radio Stories
Dec. 2, 2002, 3:54PM

Impatient commuters form impromptu car pools

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle


First, some definitions:

A "slug" is a commuter who accepts a ride with a stranger instead of driving alone or taking a bus.
A "body snatcher" is a driver who picks up enough passengers to qualify for the HOV lane. The Web site www.slug-lines.com offers the following etiquette tips:
Slugs should never cut in line unless recognized and summoned by a driver.
Drivers should wait in the queue rather than cruise the lot hoping to pick up slugs faster.
Slugs have the right to pass up a ride if they don't like the particular car. Never get in a car with someone if you feel it is not safe.
Wait for the driver to initiate conversation. Otherwise, assume the driver wants a quiet trip.
If a conversation is started, do not bring up subjects involving religion, politics or sex.
No money or gifts are ever offered or exchanged. A driver doesn't want gas money; he wants your body.
There is no smoking or eating by the driver or slug. And everyone is expected to buckle up.
A slug does not ask to change the radio station, adjust the heat or A/C, or open or close the window.
Don't expect curbside service. Drivers will usually let you off at the bus stop nearest your destination.


Traffic congestion has a growing number of commuters here ignoring a basic rule from childhood: Never get in a car with strangers.

Hundreds of passengers and drivers team up each day to create impromptu car pools that let them whiz to work in the HOV lane. As the region grows and traffic worsens, the trend appears to be gaining popularity as commuters search for alternatives to Houston's every-man-for-himself freeway culture.

Many commuters who do it say they were skeptical of impromptu car pooling at first. But once they gave it a try, they found an efficient system that saves time, money and stress. Drivers in these pools get to use the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on four area freeways, shaving time and frustration off their commutes. Riders save bus fare or the expense of driving themselves and usually arrive at their destination more quickly and more comfortably.

"At first I didn't do this because it's kind of weird riding with strangers," Sandy Jones said while waiting in the informal car-pool line at 6:40 one recent morning at the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Addicks Park & Ride lot, near Interstate 10 and Texas 6. "But then other people were telling me when they drive in, they pick people up. So I thought, `Well, I'll try it.' And it's worked out real nice."

Jones, who works at Enron, has been commuting downtown from the west side for two years. She'll wait for a car pool if the line is short. Otherwise, she takes the No. 228 express bus.

The Addicks lot appears to be the capital of instant car pooling around Houston, with demand driven by traffic volume on I-10. That stretch of freeway west of Loop 610 has the worst congestion in the region, according to data from several transportation sources, carrying 212,000 vehicles per day.

The average speed through the corridor during the peak morning rush (7:30 to 7:45) is 21.5 mph. The I-10 HOV lane is the busiest, carrying about 12,000 people each rush hour in buses and car pools that can usually fly along at more than 60 mph.

"It used to take 1 1/2 hours to drive in by myself," said Patrick Amesur, a stockbroker at A.G. Edwards & Sons. "My commute now, literally I get here in less than 20 minutes once I pick the people up."

Amesur said his job often requires him to travel for appointments outside his Chase Tower office, so riding a bus daily is not a feasible option. The car-pool system gives him and many others flexibility in their commutes.

Amesur learned about instant car pooling about six months ago. While waiting for an outbound bus, a woman pulled up and offered him a ride. In the evening, vehicles approach bus stops along Louisiana and shout out where they're headed.

E. Joseph Deering / Chronicle
Phil Fisher looks for passengers at Metro's Addicks Park & Ride lot. The instant car pools allow a fast trip in the HOV lane.
Another benefit of driving strangers to and from work: You meet new friends and prospective clients.

"It's good for business," Amesur said.

Metro acknowledges there is nothing illegal about instant car pooling and that it has not received any complaints. Nevertheless, the transit authority does not support the practice and suggests people instead call its car-pool/van-pool hot line, which can match people in the same area for more traditional ride sharing.

"The bottom line is, one should always look out for personal safety," said Metro Police Chief Tom Lambert. "We wouldn't encourage people to get into strangers' vehicles. Be mindful of the possibilities and the consequences of that action.

"We think the No. 1 safety tip would be: Don't do it."


The nation's first HOV lane was built in 1973 in northern Virginia. It was on those same congested arteries around the nation's capital that instant car pooling took off in the 1980s. Today, it's a mini-industry. There are two Web sites, newsletters, an etiquette list and even a book on the topic. It also has its own weird-sounding name: "slugging."

At the three dozen listed pick-up and drop-off points around Washington, D.C., riders are called "slugs" and drivers "body snatchers." The terms are said to have originated as derogatory descriptions assigned by bus drivers, who likened the riders to counterfeit coins, or slugs, used to gain a free trip. As for the drivers' moniker, well, that's obvious: They're looking for warm bodies to meet the HOV requirement.

The San Francisco area also is known for slugging, but the practice apparently is rare elsewhere.

Houston saw its first HOV lane in 1978 on Interstate 45. Metro opened its first barrier-separated lane in 1984 on I-10. Such lanes now also exist on I-45, U.S. 59 and U.S. 290 and carry 119,000 people per day, according to Metro. Two-thirds of Houston HOV users are in private vehicles, the rest in buses.

Phil Fisher, a professor of speech communication at San Jacinto College South, said he believes slugging first came to Houston around 1990 and has slowly grown more popular.

Fisher drives from his Garden Manor Drive home across the city to campus. In the morning, he swings by Addicks to pick up slugs, drops them off downtown, and continues to the college. In the evening, it's the reverse.

"If I am not the father, then I certainly am one of the founding fathers of impromptu car pooling," said Fisher, who moved to northwest Harris County in 1990.

No one appeared to be forming impromptu car pools at that time, he said, so he gave it a shot to shorten his drive time.

"I just used a magic marker, made a sign, drove by the lot and got some funny looks," Fisher said.

But soon he found commuters willing to ride along.

"In the beginning, folks offered me money or would ask, `How much do you charge?' I would say, `Heck, I could never make the 44.5 miles to work without your help. I should be paying you guys!' "

Fisher has become well known to west-side commuters. He has a yellow-and-red sign he holds out the window of his 1997 Cadillac DeVille that screams, "RIDERS PLEASE." He estimates he's had 3,700 people commute with him in the past dozen years.

Like most longtime body snatchers, he has some stories. Two men, both of whom were raised in Egypt, discovered that they were cousins while riding in his car. When a despondent woman talked about a pending layoff, the other passenger in Fisher's car offered her a job interview for a position he had open. And when one lonely slug bemoaned his regret over never having asked out a beautiful high school classmate, he soon found out she was the other passenger's wife.

Fisher has developed numerous "HOV friendships" with folks he drives on a regular basis. He said he wishes everyone would behave as kindly.

"This has been a community of tremendous peace and respect," he said, "even great education and entertainment."

Some hope to keep it a small, secretive community, worried whether the system will keep working as more people find out -- and competition for rides gets tougher.

"A lot of people ask, `What is going on over there?' " said Danette McCleary, who works downtown at Cinergy and often catches rides in from the west side. "Maybe I don't want to tell you because then you'll be in the line next time.

"I know more people are catching on."


Here's how it works at Addicks: Passengers wait in a line at a sign that reads, "Downtown Carpool Pickup," near where buses load. Drivers wait in a queue and accept one or two riders, depending on the hour. The I-10 HOV lane requires three people from 6:45 to 8 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m., and two people at other times.

A reporter observed the area for four hours on a recent morning. The system was amazingly smooth. Drivers and riders were usually matched within a minute or two; no one ever waited more than seven minutes. If the slug line grew too long, people would take the bus. If drivers were available, some of those walking toward the bus would hop in.

The first express bus left with 52 passengers at 5:25 a.m., but the car-pool line did not begin until 6:12. It ran almost nonstop until the last rider was whisked away at 9:27. The slug line never grew beyond 10; no more than four cars were ever waiting.

Hitching a ride saves the $3 express bus fare. And while standing in the slug line is a daily routine for some, the motivation isn't always financial.

"You are saving some money, but it's mainly because of the reliability of getting to work or home on time," said Eley Grimes, who works at ChevronTexaco and has been slugging for a year.


Karla and Ted Brisendine have regularly taken rides with strangers the past eight months to their jobs at Continental Airlines.

"Look at I-10," he said, pointing to the crawling cars at 7:30 a.m. "I-10 is a nightmare no matter what time you get on it, so anytime you can catch the HOV lane, that's what we do."

His wife said she's conscious of what could go wrong getting into the vehicle of someone she doesn't know.

"I wouldn't do it by myself," she said. "But I feel comfortable with my husband."

Jack Murchison, a slug of five years, echoed many in brushing aside safety concerns. He said the greatest risk is "getting in a car with somebody who could be a crappy driver."

While some love the camaraderie, others long to be on their own again. Anil Pande, who drives to the Addicks lot from Katy to get a ride to his job at 4 Houston Center, said he can't wait until the freeway is widened.

"If the road were better, then I'd much rather drive," he said. "But I-10 being what it is, everyone is forced into this. There's not a lot of choice. You find people who have been stuck in the freeway hours a day for months who then decide, `I might as well switch to this.' "


For information about HOV lanes and Metro's car-pool/van-pool options:



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