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Posted - 09/18/2006 :  11:54:41  Show Profile
The following article was printed in The Boston Globe on 29 July 06.

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Washington commute is a 'slugfest' with casual carpooling
By Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters | July 29, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Rush hour in Washington brings the slugs out into the light.

Each workday, members of a unique breed of commuters known as ``slugs" line up, sometimes at regular bus stops, sometimes at special areas. Chatting quietly, they wait for strangers to pick them up and drive them to the office, or home at the end of the day.

The slugs constitute a decades-old system of casual carpooling that moves thousands of workers from the suburbs to the city, with no money changing hands and no official government involvement.

``No one's really in charge," said David LeBlanc, a longtime slug who has written a book on the phenomenon. ``The slugs themselves will decide . . . What always prevails is common sense."

Slugging started in the early 1970s in the Washington area, soon after a main commuter route instituted rush-hour express lanes for vehicles carrying two or more people. Solo drivers would troll local bus stops before getting on the highway, hoping to pick up a rider and get in the express lane.

The riders became known as slugs, in a nod to the fake coins that fare-beating riders would use on public buses.

The US Transportation Department has no official position on slugging, but generally encourages carpooling. In Washington, where car commutes can take hours and parking can be costly, 40.5 percent of workers drive alone to their jobs. This is the lowest percentage of solo car commuters in the United States. Alabama has the highest percentage, with 85.4 percent.

Other US cities encourage casual carpooling, including San Geronimo, Calif., where riders must register and wait at designated spots. But Washington's slug lines have grown on their own, apparently crime-free and effective.

A slug culture has evolved, with its own etiquette, security, ratings, and even poetry. At a well-used website, , slugs pour out their hearts about scary drivers, dirty cars, snoring fellow slugs, and other annoyances.

Among the rules: Slugs are not supposed to talk during the ride, but if they do, topics like religion, politics, and sex are taboo. No money or gifts exchange hands. Cellphone conversations are kept to a minimum. No smoking or eating by the driver or the slug. Slugs don't fiddle with the radio, heat, air conditioning, or windows. And a slug-line never leaves a woman standing alone.

Why do they do it? Because it's fast, cheap, and flexible.

Unlike regular car pools, slugging lets workers travel any time the rush-hour carpool lanes are open. They assemble at a dozen or more spots in suburban Virginia in the morning and 10 places in the city and close-in areas in the afternoon.

LeBlanc said in a telephone interview that he saves 30 to 40 minutes each way on his daily commute from far suburban Virginia to Crystal City, across the Potomac River from Washington.

However, Latoya, who declined to give her last name as she waited in line two blocks from the White House, said the weather can make her commute great or grim.

``When it's pouring down rain, that's a severe minus," she said, adding that slugging does not necessarily save her time. ``The littlest thing on the highway will throw off everything."

But she said she saves money, and gets an added dividend: ``Each day you get to pick and choose what kind of car you want to ride in. So if you're out looking for a new car, that's a way to test drive a car."

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company


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Posted - 07/17/2013 :  05:32:58  Show Profile
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