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It’s an informal transportation network carrying thousands of local commuters from home to work and back again every day. “Slugging” involves two or more strangers, riding together to take advantage of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes and shave valuable time off their commute. We examine the history and future of a unique commuting solution created by the people, and for the people.
- Chris Hamilton Bureau Chief, Arlington County Commuter Services
- Steven Titunik Director of Communications, Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT’s) Mega Projects.
- David LeBlanc author, "Slugging:The Commuting Alternative For Washington DC" (Forel Publishing).
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It all started in the parking lot of a Bob's Big Boy in Springfield, Va., where, back in the '70s, drivers who wanted in to the newly introduced HOV lanes started picking up warm bodies, people willing to hop in the car with a stranger in exchange for a quicker, cheaper commute.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISo what drives people to set aside fears of stranger danger and the possibility of being picked up by a car whose A/C is on the fritz? For slugs, it all comes down to time and money. Joining us to discuss slugging is David LeBlanc. He runs the website slug-lines.com and is the author of "Slugging: The Commuting Alternative For Washington D.C." David LeBlanc, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID LEBLANCThank you.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Chris Hamilton. He is the Arlington County Commuter Services bureau chief. Chris, thank you for joining us.
MR. CHRIS HAMILTONThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd Steven Titunik is director of communications for the Virginia Department of Transportation's Mega Projects. That's an ongoing series of large-scale transportation projects. Steven Titunik, thank you for joining us.
MR. STEVEN TITUNIKYou're welcome. Thank you.
NNAMDIThis is a conversation you can join by calling 800-433-8850. Do you slug? How has it worked out for you? If you've considered slugging but haven't given it a try, let us know why not, 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. You can send email to email@example.com. David, bitter bus drivers dubbed them slugs, but not because they thought they were slimy.
NNAMDITell us what a slug is in the context of a conversation about commuting and how the name came about.
LEBLANCOkay. Well, it is a form of instant carpooling. And, really, what happened over the years, when the HOVs were first created -- the Shirley Highway -- carpoolers that were missing the extra person needed to add -- let's say someone was sick or on vacation -- they needed to add that extra person to be on the HOV lanes and, you know, get that fast commute into work.
LEBLANCWell, when that happened, they would pull up to a bus line at Bob's Big Boy in Springfield and ask if anybody was going to the Pentagon. And so people would -- given the option of riding the bus and paying the $4 or $5, whatever the fee was at that time, they would hop in the car. And off they would go, and the first, you know, slug line was formed and the first slugs.
NNAMDIWhy did bus drivers give them the name or nickname slugs?
LEBLANCWell, what happened as, you know, people, you know, started doing that more and more often, the bus driver would pull up and -- let's say there were 15 people in line for the bus or appear to be. He'd pull up and let's say none of the people would get on the bus.
LEBLANCAnd so the bus driver started calling them, you know, counterfeit, you know, bus riders or fakes or slugs, the counterfeit coin.
NNAMDIYeah, because that was the term that was used for people who used fake coins to pay fare.
NNAMDISo these were counterfeit bus riders.
LEBLANCExactly. They were fakes.
NNAMDIAnd became slugs.
NNAMDIThose who have never heard of slugging may be more familiar with the idea of carpooling. How is slugging different from carpooling, or even hitchhiking?
LEBLANCWell, it is very much different in that, you know, a carpool is with the same occupants, the same people that drive each and every day, and you have a kind of set timeline that you follow. Slugging is like an impromptu or instant kind of carpool where a driver pulls up and you get your carpool on the spot.
LEBLANCAnd the reason why it works for me is that in a traditional carpool I've always felt guilty, so to speak, if I had to work late, which meant the other people had to, you know, had to wait for me. Or if I were ever given the opportunity to leave work early, I couldn't because I was tied to the carpool. Slugging solved all that for me because I can kind of come and go in as I wish.
LEBLANCThe slugging hours are broad enough that it kind of accommodates my schedule in it. And if I do need to work late, there's always, like, a bus backup to get back home.
NNAMDIMy own bias against carpools started and ends with (word?), but that's a whole...
NNAMDI...other story. Steve, you were an early slugger. How has the overall commuting scene in Northern Virginia changed since the '70s?
TITUNIKWell, I spent the first 24 working years of my life in the Army. And I came to the D.C. area in the late, late '60s and did my thing and traveled by whatever means was available at the time. And, certainly, the area was much more quiet at that time. But getting around was a little bit different than what I was used to at a standard military installation somewhere else in the United States.
TITUNIKWhen I left and came back in to the late '70s, around '77, we lived off of Keene Mill Road in Springfield, which was only probably about a mile or so from the early slug line at Bob's Big Boy. So I was there in those early years, and I would wait for a bus. And I had an option. The bus would come. Many times, I'd get on the bus. However, drivers would stop. Are you going here, you going there? And I'd get in, and life was great.
TITUNIKI think one of the reasons why it worked so well is I was in the service, as I said, and I was wearing a uniform. And I looked in a car, and they're wearing uniforms. I made a good assumption that...
TITUNIK...we're all going to the same place, and they weren't heading south. But I was going north with them, and it worked out real well. And the next day, I did the same thing. And it turned out to be a wonderful opportunity for me. And the same in the evening, if I went to the Pentagon bus stop and the bus was there, I would take it. Or else cars would show up with others in there, asking for riders going to Keene Mill Road or wherever you're going.
TITUNIKAnd, fortunately, I would catch a ride. Now, since those years, it's become a very big system and a very critical and important system into the mix of how people get to and fro in the greater D.C. area.
NNAMDIChris, formal carpooling arrangements are actually on the decline, it is my understanding, down by half since 1980. Why has slugging thrived as ridesharing, overall, has gone down?
HAMILTONI think people's commutes and their work experiences are different now than they were a long time ago. People are much more flexible with their working options. And so it's hard to get into a formal carpool where you have to be at the carpool at 8 o'clock, and you have to be leaving your work environment at 5 p.m. So while the number of carpoolers has remained steady -- but you're right -- the percentage of carpoolers overall in the region has gone down.
HAMILTONAnd so something like slugging or some other form of instant carpooling would probably be the way to go for the future.
NNAMDIDave, tell us a little bit about the typical commute for a slug. How fast do commuter lots line -- how fast do the lines fill up? How long do you wait for a ride? How do drivers or slugs (word?) match? How much faster is the commute? And the -- just stuff like that.
LEBLANCOkay. It's kind of a self-regulating system, so to speak. The -- I'll use Horner Road is an example. It's one of the largest commuter lots in Northern Virginia. I think it has over 2,400-and-something parking spaces, and it's right next to the HOV. So it's very easy access to the HOV. That commuter lot is full by 7 o'clock. All spaces are full. Now, that commuter lot has five different slug lines that service, you know, the D.C. area.
LEBLANCTypically, for me, I go to a smaller commuter lot, called Tackett's Mill, off of Minnieville, down in Woodbridge, Va. I'll get to the commuter lot park. And I'm generally in a car and on my way into work within five minutes. Now -- and there's usually cars -- certainly, many cases, there's cars waiting. So I can get right into a car, and off I go.
LEBLANCSlugging and going on the HOV probably saves me 30 to 45 minutes a day, each way, so an hour-and-a-half, let's say, if I drove my POV into work.
NNAMDIWell, the idea of getting into a car with a couple of strangers could be intimidating for a lot of our listeners. What motivates people to give slugging a try for the first time?
LEBLANCWell, I mean, each person, individual -- I know what motivated me, is standing in the rain in February, waiting for the bus, not knowing if I'd missed the bus or if I was, you know, early. And people were walking right past me, and they're in a car. And off they go. And so I'd heard about slugging, knew it was kind of an established system, and so I ventured across the street one day and tried it.
LEBLANCAnd once you get over that kind of mental issue of getting in a car with a stranger, you realize it's just other professional people just trying to get to work.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation on slugs, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you travel to and from work as part of a set car- or vanpool? How is that working out for you? What questions do you have about how slugging works? 800-433-8850. Speaking of how slugging works, Dave, it relies on a pretty -- it's my understanding -- concrete set of rules to ensure a smooth ride.
NNAMDIFor decades, they were learned through word of mouth and trial and error, but you outlined them in your book and on the website. What are the rules that sluggers live by?
LEBLANCWell, there's a number of -- I'd call them informal rules that really are nothing more than just making the commute easier for everyone. But it's rules like it's first come, first serve. So you stand in line, and the first person in it obviously gets the first ride. Once you get in the car, there's no talking. It's generally expected that you confirm the destination just to make sure you know where you're going. But other than that, it's -- the ride's in silence.
NNAMDINo money, gifts or tokens or appreciation offered or requested?
LEBLANCNone of that. And that's been brought up many times over the last few years as gas prices have increased. Some have asked, well, should the drivers be reimbursed for the cost? And it's kind of a resounding no from the community.
NNAMDIThe line does not leave a woman standing alone.
LEBLANCRight. It's kind of a chivalry thing, that you don't want to leave somebody, especially at night during the winter months when it gets dark.
NNAMDIMy favorite, slug does not ask to change the radio station or adjust the heat or air-conditioning.
LEBLANCThat's right. And many times, I've been anxious to ask to turn up that A/C, especially...
NNAMDII was about to say, Steve, you could be burning up in the car in the cold. The window might be open. You could be freezing. You can't ask to put up the window?
TITUNIKWell, you certainly could. However, you know, it takes a little bit of understanding of the ambiance of the group that you're with. But, as Dave points out, when you first get into the scene, you get used to what's going on. And you behave accordingly. In the early years, it was like the Wild West. There were no rules.
TITUNIKCommuters, or people like myself, looking for rides, cars would show up, and people would be going, running all over the place. And there was no order to it. And through the years, there was a certain demeanor, a certain behavior style, a certain pattern of how you pull cars -- how cars get off the road, how people line up.
TITUNIKAnd it's become a wonderful system, in that regard, that is run without any outside interference, if you will, but just people trying to make a better way into town.
HAMILTONI think another reason why it's -- people are doing it is because of the HOV-3, and it's having three people in the carpool, I think...
HAMILTON…that's the key. If it was HOV-2, you'd be getting in all alone with a stranger. But the fact that two other people are getting in, it makes it safer, and so people can do it.
NNAMDIAnd it's my understanding that, Dave, that most drivers rarely take more than two people because they want to accommodate other drivers who may coming behind them.
LEBLANCThat's exactly right. Yeah, it's kind of a system for everyone to use, and they don't want to take more than their fair share.
NNAMDIChris, this is a phenomenon driven by demand that took off without government intervention, and sluggers are proud of that fact. To what extent has local government now become involved?
HAMILTONArlington County and the District of Columbia, of course, are destinations in the urban core, and so we try to make the waiting areas in the afternoon comfortable. We've gotten involved by putting up signs, telling people where to stand. We've leafleted and helped move the slug lines in the past. When they were causing traffic problems, move them a block. We try, as a local government, to leave it to the sluggers as best we can.
HAMILTONAnd, really, we don't have to do a lot. So -- but we do get involved when we have to by helping with signage, and we certainly promote it.
NNAMDIWhy would a government like Arlington's want to get involved? And what lessons have you learned from slugging that you've applied to other commuter programs?
HAMILTONWell, in Commuter Services, our job is to get people to take transit, carpool, vanpool, slug, bike, walk, do anything but drive alone. And so slugging is a no-brainer. And, in fact, with 10,000 people a day slugging, it's its own transit system. And it's virtually running without any government support. So how could we not promote this?
NNAMDIOn to Michael in Stafford, Va. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELYes. I wanted to share a story about why I started slugging. We originally lived between D.C. and Stafford. We moved down to Stafford. Everybody told me about the slug lines and how I should do it. And I thought, you know, that's crazy. I'm going to get in a car with some crazy guy, or, you know, it's not safe, not going to do it. So I drove for about four months. You know, it took me about two hours each way.
MICHAELAnd then, one day, one of my children had a medical appointment at a hospital on the north side of D.C., and I work on the very south side of D.C. So I stayed behind to help my wife. We left at the same time. Her and the children got in the HOV. I did not. She got -- she was in the waiting room on the north side of the city an hour before I got to the parking lot on the south side of the city. And that was my last day not slugging.
NNAMDIYeah, kind of felt a little silly, didn't you?
MICHAELI did. Yes.
NNAMDIMichael, yeah, that'll cause you to change. You should know, Michael, that it's my understanding -- and our guests can validate this -- that in three-plus decades of slugging, there has been no report of violence or crime. Is that correct, David?
LEBLANCThat's correct. It's amazing that it's been on for that many years. And I think it's actually -- no one has done a real survey of how many slugs there really are. It's an estimate. It'd be nice at some point we could actually...
NNAMDII've heard the figure, 10,000.
LEBLANCYeah, 10,000 is kind of a rough estimate. It'd be nice to see what their true number is. But exactly right. As many people that use this system, no violence of any sort.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Michael. We're going to take a short break, and then we'll return to our conversation about slugging. But you can still call us at 800-433-8850. We stand ready to receive your calls. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org. If you have a question or comment about slugging, you can make it right there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about slugging. We're talking with Steven Titunik. He is director of communications for the Virginia Department of Transportation's Megaprojects, which is an ongoing series of large-scale transportation projects. Chris Hamilton is the Arlington County Commuter Service bureau chief.
NNAMDIAnd David LeBlanc runs the website slug-lines.com. He's also the author of "Slugging: The Commuting Alternative for Washington, D.C." We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation right there. We got a comment from Stewart on our website. "I hope you will explore whether the proposed HOT lanes will undermine the slugging system.
NNAMDI"If single-occupant vehicles are able to use the HOV lanes, will more people switch to driving alone? Will enough do so that there won't be enough drivers or sluggers to fill carpools? Or will the cost be such that commuters will still have an incentive to carpool?" Steve, the slug community was not very happy when VDOT announced that high occupancy toll or HOT lanes are coming to the area.
NNAMDIHow will these lanes work? And what's the status of the projects?
TITUNIKWell, we have a project, ongoing right now, on the Capital Beltway I-495, Capital Beltway HOT lanes, HOV effort that will be opened at the end of 2012, next year. Now, that project will, for the first time, provide HOV and access to motorists who want to pay a toll, for the first time, express lanes.
TITUNIKSo there's whole new opportunities of people who live, say, in the 95 Corridor who work at Tysons, for the first time, to have an incentive to carpool, vanpool, take a bus or to slug because there will be new bus lines and new opportunities. So we believe very strongly that, along I-495 Corridor, there'll be a growth of plenty of new opportunities. The 95 project is a proposal right now.
TITUNIKAnd, matter of fact, certainly all your listeners are -- you know, I point out that at the end of September, that last week of September, there are three public hearings -- one in Fairfax County, Prince William County and down in Stafford -- where we invite people to come in and learn about the project and ask these kinds of questions. That's very important.
TITUNIKBut, again, we feel that, in the future, the opportunity for slugging will increase because no longer, after a certain hour in the morning, are the lanes open for single people for free. So if they're going free, they're going to have to pay a toll. So it behooves them to stop and pick up a couple of people and then ride for free. And that's why we believe that the opportunities will grow for slugging in the 95 Corridor.
NNAMDIDave, concerns seem to center around an influx of cars into the current HOV lanes and worries that the number of drivers would drop. What's your opinion? What do you think will happen?
LEBLANCWell, it is a concern, and, you know, of course, time will tell. We just don't know how it's going to impact slugging. And it's such great system, anything that might influence that, people get concerned about as well. But just as Steve said, I mean, we're hopeful that it really won't impact it negatively, that there'll still be an incentive to slug.
LEBLANCAnd as long as the HOV -- HOT lanes continue to move, you know, as quickly as the HOV lanes do now, then it'll probably -- as Steve said, it may impact increased slugging.
NNAMDIWhat is your thinking, Chris?
HAMILTONThe I-95, I-395, HOV facility is probably the longest running HOV facility and most successful facility in the country. And it's a success because of the HOV-3 and that time savings that people can get. I mean, when you can you save 30-plus minutes on your commute, you want to get into a carpool, and you want to slug. Study after study shows when you add capacity, that you'll induce travel.
HAMILTONAnd when you get more people into the lanes, it's going to slow the lanes down. And so, you know, in Arlington County, Prince William County, Alexandria, I think our concern is the performance of the road. Our economic livelihood of our business centers and the core depend upon people being able to access downtown in Arlington, Rosslyn, Crystal City, Pentagon.
HAMILTONAnd if too many people pay their way onto the HOV facility, it could slow things down. Slugs could divert to paying their way on. The whole slugging system could, you know, collapse. And carpool and vanpools could be affected, too.
LEBLANCYou know, I agree, Chris, 'cause my biggest concern is, if it does, you know, change the commuting time -- and that's a real driving factor for most slugs, is the, you know, not only the flexibility, but if you can cut your commute down for free, that's the real incentive. If we lose that, you know, that reduction in time, yeah, then what is the incentive to slug?
NNAMDIHere is -- oh, go ahead, Chris.
HAMILTONWell, I should say one more thing. You know, I think VDOT has done a lot of good things over the years. With the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Project and the Springfield Interchange Project, they were managed wonderfully. They were able to build the construction and able to keep traffic going and the public happy.
HAMILTONAnd so, you know, I think that Arlington is looking to VDOT and the private provider to work with the locals and work with the carpooling community to make sure this is a success. And that's why we're hopeful that the study that VDOT is doing will include I-395 and work with the community to make sure we have a good outcome 'cause we all need to work on this together.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones, to Brian in Annapolis, Md. Brian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRIANYeah, hi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm just curious. I live in Annapolis. I don't slug myself, but I work in D.C. And I know we tend to think we're the center of the universe in Washington, but we're not the only city with bad traffic. I want to know if slugging has, you know, evolved in any other big cities in America, as it seems like any alternative for traffic congestion in the right places. I'll take it off the air. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you for your call. Dave LeBlanc?
LEBLANCYeah, in fact, there is slugging, or equivalent to slugging, in the San Francisco area. They've had slugging out there for a number of years. Houston, Texas also has a form of slugging. I don't think any of those two are nearly to the, you know, the size and structure that we have here. But there are forms of it, and they've actually tried to get a form slugging started in Seattle and in other areas.
NNAMDIHere now is, Nick, in Winchester, Va. Nick, your turn.
NICKHi, Kojo. I've been retired for more than 10 years, so my experience with slugging came back in the late '80s and '90s. I just want to say that I lived off of Keene Mill Road, too, in Springfield. And one of my problems was that you can get to the corner of Hancock and Keene Mill Road and watch that five- or six-minute light because of the heavy traffic go on. And I couldn't get to the other side of the bus -- to the bus stop.
NICKAnd a lot of buses would simply go right through there, right through the light without stopping since there was nobody on the other side. I just want to say that once I started slugging, I had a couple of very amusing incidents, one was when a lady gave me a ride and I looked in the backseat, and she had a baby there. And, since we've talked about the safety issue, that rather floored me.
NNAMDIBut there were technically three of you in the car, huh?
NICKTechnically, well, yeah. You know, there was an urban legend about somebody having put a mannequin in the backseat.
NNAMDIThat's true. I remember that.
NICKAnd, anyway, I actually find it to be quite, quite dangerous crossing Hanover, especially against the light.
NNAMDISo for how long did you slug?
NICKWell, I was overseas between -- for a four-year period between the time that I started in '89 and when I retired in late 2000.
NNAMDIOkay. Nick, thank you very much for your call. Another advantage to slugging comes from this Facebook comment we got from Laura on her experience. Laura says, "While I have not slugged to work recently, I used to do so when I lived in Virginia and worked in D.C. At that time, slugging worked out just great, and I learned to get around via lots of back roads in Northern Virginia from the other drivers."
NNAMDIIs that one of the advantages, Dave? You learn routes?
LEBLANCWell, I'm not sure. For myself, I slug to Crystal City, and so it's a pretty direct route, you know, from the commuter log directly into Crystal City. So probably for some others that maybe have other destinations, yeah, that may be the case.
NNAMDIWe'd like to hear your experiences, too. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Have you tried different ways of getting to work? What works best for you? 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Chris, I'll start with you on this one. This is such a dynamic system. And because of its informal nature, it's hard to track. Is this something governments can plan for?
HAMILTONI don't think so. I mean, governments can put the infrastructure in place to make it happen. And the HOV facility itself is wonderful. You need to park and ride lots along the way. And you also need a backup system. And so we need those PRTC commuter buses that are coming up from Prince William County. If those things are in place and you've got HOV-3, then it probably can work.
NNAMDISame question to you, Steve. You bring, of course, your own anecdotal experience to this. But is this something that governments can reliably plan for?
TITUNIKWell, we certainly look to it as one of the methods in the basket of assets of getting people from point A to point B. It's an important piece of the fruit, if you will, in that fruit basket. Vanpooling, carpooling, buses, these are all methods of moving people. And in Northern Virginia, we are challenged with the ability to maintain transit systems, transportation systems.
TITUNIKAnd at the same time -- and not even mentioning the environmental aspect of less cars polluting or anything like that. The big effort is keeping the stress level down, making the quality of life as high as possible, keep attracting companies and businesses to come here. And to do that, you have to have good infrastructure.
TITUNIKAnd part of that infrastructure is not always building roads, but improving the parts where you can move people. And that's where carpooling and, certainly, slugging is an important aspect to it.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Rick in Herndon, Va. Rick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICKThank you, Kojo. I have one story and two quick comments on the -- from Manchester's call. There actually was a woman ticketed, her and her husband, because a state trooper said that a baby didn't count as a person. And it was done out-of-court. There was an article in the paper about that. And about the gentleman that was using mannequins in his car, another radio station that does the traffic reports via helicopter became aware of him.
RICKAnd he was using a convertible with two mannequins. And, periodically, you'd hear him going, and there he goes. And, eventually, the state troopers pounced on him.
NNAMDIWell, if he was using a convertible, I guess, after a while, people would see them. But go ahead.
RICKYes. My original comment was I was in a retail store, and a gentleman came up and said, oh, I was wondering, maybe you guys can help me with this. I heard an urban -- I'm a new professor of transportation at George Mason, and I heard an urban legend that people actually pick up complete strangers to get in their car to ride the HOV lanes. And I (word?) saying, oh, no, that is not a rumor. That actually happens.
RICKWe call them slugs. And, actually, congressmen have picked up people. And the expression on his face was a pure delight. And he stated, well, maybe I can get a paper out of this. And those are my comments.
NNAMDIWell, since he's an academic, he would think of a paper. Rick, thank you very much for your call. We'd like to hear your opinion, 800-433-8850. If you've commuted along the 95 Corridor in Northern Virginia since the advent of slugging in the '70s, we'd like to know how your commute has changed in the last three decades, even if you don't slug.
NNAMDICall us at 800-433-8850, or you can send us email to email@example.com. Back to the phones. Here is David in College Park, Md. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHi, Kojo. I had a quick a question because I've never slugged before, and I noticed you guys talked about the relationship between slugging and carpooling and what was different. But I have avidly hitchhiked many times before. And it was my impression that hitchhiking was illegal in the Maryland area.
DAVIDI was wondering what the exact relationship between hitchhiking and slugging is, and if the only difference is because someone's wearing business attire that they would be more unlikely to be not harassed by police.
NNAMDIDavid, talk about the relationship between law enforcement and slugging because, in addition to what David said, last summer, sluggers reported increased ticketing of drivers who were picking up riders along 14th Street in the District. So you can talk about that in the whole issue of legality.
LEBLANCOkay. Well, I'll start with the difference between hitchhiking and slugging. I would say, you know, with slugging, it's at designated commuter lots. It's not actually on the HOV lane. So it's not on the side of the roads, so to speak. It's actually in a safe area. In terms of the legalities -- I'm sorry. Kojo, what was the...
NNAMDIThe question of whether or not slugging is legal, if it's legal for people to simply stand on the street and wait for cars, legal for drivers to pick them up. And as I said, in D.C. they were ticketing drivers on 14th Street.
LEBLANCI'm sorry. Yeah, 14th Street. Yeah. Just like what happened, actually, in Rosslyn, slugging became so popular that we had to come up with an alterative because it was -- the line for slugs was so long with the drivers and the slugs themselves, it was interfering with the buses. So I worked with Arlington County. We effectively moved the slug line to a safer location. It was easier, more convenient to, you know, move all the people.
LEBLANCSo 14th Street is -- has kind of a similar situation. There's so much traffic on 14th Street. The District of Washington, D.C., got involved and tried to move one of the slug lines at 14th and New York to a side street. We have some issues with that. They've now moved it to a destination or a location that's very close to where it was originally.
LEBLANCBut, basically, the District, Arlington County, VDOT has all been supportive in just trying to figure out, you know, the best options for, you know, reducing the congestion.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, David. And then there is this from Nick in Springfield, Va. Nick, your turn.
NICKHey. I was wondering, if someone wants to start a new slug lane, how to do that?
NNAMDIHow do you start a new slug lane?
LEBLANCWell, it is kind of the will of the people, so to speak. I mean, it takes someone, you know, like Nick, who says, hey, I want to start a slug line from this commuter lot to wherever your destination...
NNAMDIWhere are you going, from where to where, Nick?
NICKI'm commuting from Gainesville to Fort Belvoir.
NNAMDILet me see that again, David. David just showed me a flyer.
LEBLANCWell, Chris brought in a flyer, but...
LEBLANC...in many ways, this is exactly how it starts. So...
NNAMDIOh, yes. Somebody put out a flyer saying, new slug -- let me see what it says again, so I can read it for our listeners. It says, for your benefit, Nick, "New Rosslyn to Springfield, Burke slug line. Location, North Kent Street." Tells riders how to get to North Kent from the Rosslyn Metro station, et cetera, so that should be your guide, Nick. And I suspect if you go to David's website, you can find some more information about that.
NNAMDIYou'll find a link at our website, kojoshow.org. But you can say what your website is, Dave.
LEBLANCExactly. It's slug-line, it's S-L-U-G, dash, L-I-N-E-S, slug-lines.com. And on the homepage, there is a location on there that says, you know, how to start a slug line. But it's really nothing more than that. It's generally people that want a new destination, will start just by word of mouth, try to get a gauge on who's interested, will develop a flyer. They'll pass it to me. I'll try to promote that on the website, put it out in a newsletter and set a start date.
LEBLANCAnd it's a real -- you know, you got to get the critical balance. You have to get the right number of drivers and the right number of slugs to make it work. But once you get it started, then it kind of has a life of its own, and it begins to grow and grow. And it's a great system.
NNAMDIGood luck to you, Nick, and thank you for your call. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on slugging. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Which is more appealing to you, the idea of picking up a stranger or paying a dynamic toll to ride on a faster moving lane? 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation on slugging with Chris Hamilton. He is the Arlington County Commuter Service bureau chief. Steven Titunik is director of communications for the Virginia Department of Transportation's Mega Projects, which is an ongoing series of large-scale transportation projects. And David LeBlanc runs the website slug-lines.com. He's the author of "Slugging: The Commuting Alternative for Washington, D.C."
NNAMDIAnd we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Chris, what happens if a slugger or anyone who uses some kind of rideshare program has to leave work early to tend to a sick child or stay late for an unexpected meeting? What options does a person like that have?
HAMILTONWell, Commuter Connections have a -- has a guaranteed ride home program. So if people go to commuterconnections.org, they can sign up. Once they're signed up, if any of those situations arrive, they can get a guaranteed ride home. It's as simple as that.
NNAMDIFour times a year, free?
LEBLANCAnd I -- as a slug myself, I have used that.
NNAMDIOkay. So there you go. On to Lisa in Washington, D.C. Hi, Lisa.
LISAHi. How are you all doing today?
NNAMDIWe're doing well.
LISAI was just calling to comment on the safety issue and then just some interesting experiences. I started as a slug driver when I was 16. My mom was a driver for 15 years. And when I started going to high school in upper north -- Northern Virginia, she recommended that I start picking up slugs. And I did some Old Keene Mill stops for two or three years, actually, and I never had a strange incident or anything untoward happened.
NNAMDIIt's amazing to hear a mother advising her 16-year-old daughter to pick up slugs. So you had a completely pleasant experience while you did it?
LISAAbsolutely. I think I probably felt a little awkward and painfully aware of my age, but I had some very interesting conversations.
NNAMDINobody questioned your driving skills?
LISANo. You know, I think, I probably read more into that than not. I never had any comments or issues. No one ever refused to get in. I think they were a little surprised. But, you know, it was fine. She had had 15 years of positive experiences herself, so she felt safe having me do it.
NNAMDIWell, it's clear, Dave, that this is a system that's based on trust.
NNAMDIAnd people will trust a 16-year-old because they figure her mother wouldn't let her be here unless she was a safe and decent driver. Lisa, thank you very much for your call. Statistics on slugging are hard to come by because of the informal nature of the system. But, Chris, do you see a spike in interest in carpools, in general, once, say, gas prices go up?
HAMILTONWe see a spike in interest of all commuting options. So we see a spike in Metrorail and Metrobus. Our local -- our -- we're seeing lots of people embrace Capital Bikeshare, and that's one of the new options in the downtown core. I still think it's harder for people to get into a carpool, and we had talked about that before, that carpooling is sort of holding steady in absolute numbers and declining in terms of percentage.
HAMILTONAnd I think that's why technology might be really interesting as a way to jumpstart more interest in carpooling and vanpooling. I mean, think about it. In the next 20 years, we're going to add tens of thousands of workers into the urban core. We're really not going to add much capacity, even with the new lanes around the Beltway. So we're going to have to get people into options to driving alone, and there's all those empty seats in those cars.
HAMILTONI mean, it's a shame that you see all these single-occupant drivers going up in the slow lanes on 95, and, if we could get those seats filled with other people, that would help our future. And there's a number of companies that have come up with some interesting technology.
NNAMDIYeah, talk about Avego because Dave mentioned Seattle earlier, but Avego instant ride-matching. Tell us about that.
HAMILTONAvego actually got its idea from slugging, I mean, the idea that people would do this casually instead of every day at the same time. But in places like on 66 or other highways where we don't have that HOV-3 and that great time savings, what would incent people to actually carpool?
HAMILTONAnd so Avego's premise is that by sharing the cost by the person who is the rider paying the driver a little bit of money -- and this is all done online -- that they could incent people. And so the State of Washington actually paid Avego $400,000 to start a test pilot. And they've been doing that for about six months right now on one corridor in Seattle.
HAMILTONAnd so, I think, all of us in Northern Virginia are looking at that test pilot very carefully because, if we could use technology to let people form instant carpools, that would be a way to go.
NNAMDISee that as the wave of the future, Dave?
LEBLANCWell, I'm concerned about that particular system. You know, I would prefer to have something that's more slugging-centric and kind of expand upon the success of slugging in this area. My concern with the Avego system is that it could, in fact, negatively impact slugging in that -- right now, we have a system where you go to a commuter lot, you park, and it's first come, first serve.
LEBLANCWith the -- this technology, which I think could be adapted to support slugging, it is first come, first serve on the cell phone. So if you're at the commuter lot, not in the line, you could technically be picked up because it matches the driver to the rider.
NNAMDII see. And so people could be left standing in line while people are...
NNAMDI….sailing out of the commuter lot.
HAMILTONAnd I think Dave's right. I mean, that's why we'd want to try it in corridors where you didn't have HOV-3.
LEBLANCI've got some great ideas on how we could adapt that to make the current system work. And it could really benefit 'cause one of the problems we have with slugging is you have a commuter lot where you have, say, 20 slugs in line, but no cars. The next commuter lot over, a mile away, you have 20 cars in line, but no slugs. So if we could balance that, where you could real-time see where the people are, then that would really benefit the system.
NNAMDIAnd technology can help you to do that.
LEBLANCI believe so.
NNAMDIHere is Mary Ann in Reston, Va. Mary Ann, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARY ANNHi. My comment doesn't really relate to slugging directly. But I've lived in many different countries. And, in every case, the mass transportation -- Metro or whatever it's called in that particular country and buses and streetcars -- are all very reasonably priced. There's an elasticity of demand. And I think -- wondering if we're hitting upon that with one -- with rush-hour fares at $5.50.
NNAMDII'm not sure I understand your question, Mary Ann.
ANNMy question is, might it make sense if there was more -- rather than building more roads, more subsidy of the existing...
NNAMDIOf the existing transit lines.
ANN…buses and Metros so that it becomes more affordable and a more affordable option for the average person?
NNAMDIYou're raising a fundamental cultural question here in addition to an environmental question. But I suspect that our panelists would say you can walk and chew gum at the same time. You can do both.
HAMILTONYes. And Mary Ann's right, though. We can't build our way out of traffic congestion. We've got to invest in transit. We've got to invest in bicycle facilities and walkable communities. We've got to invest in land use planning that puts all these facilities close to people so that we don't have to get in our cars to drive all the time.
NNAMDIAnd given that the suburbs were created, in a way, because of our car culture, you do have, Steven, to deal with that realistically. And the approach that you're talking about here is trying to get out of one person, one car.
TITUNIKWithout question. It just makes sense all around, and that's why there's not one way to do anything that's going to be the best way. It's a mixture of assets. You don't want everybody riding a bus. Buses will be too crowded. You don't want everybody riding a car. There'd be too many cars. So this way, there's a balance. And the more we add to ability for people to travel, the more choices individuals have, which is the more important thing.
TITUNIKAlso, our new ride system is a new way for people to check on opportunities, where they give up riding a car to either go by slugging, a carpool, a vanpool, and they get rewarded with certain points that they can use for discounts. And if they'd like to know more about new ride, they can visit us at vamegaprojects.com. And it's an interesting concept that's coming around, and we find people have some interest in that.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Mary Anne. Here is Shep (sp?) in Gaithersburg, Md. Shep, your turn.
SHEPGood morning, Kojo. I'm calling kind of -- I heard this discussion, and, initially, I reacted and said, how is this safe? And then it hit me through the course of the discussion that HOV-3 in Virginia is key to what makes this a very safe environment 'cause there's always multiple people in the car.
SHEPAre there any theories about how you might make a system like this work in a place like Montgomery County, where it's HOV-2 coming in on the 270 corridor, and then also how some of the theories of cost-sharing might work to incentivize people to carpool on roads like the ICC, which will soon convey people between Gaithersburg and I-95, but it's a toll road as opposed to a HOV road?
NNAMDIDavid LeBlanc, you're now employed as Shep's consultant. What would you suggest?
LEBLANCWell, let me first address the HOV-3. I mean, it is absolutely critical for the success of slugging to have HOV-3. We have tried to get slugging started on I-66, 270, other locations that are HOV-2, but it's that element of safety. You have to have three people in a car for slugging to really thrive. And that's why you only see it on the I-95 corridor south of D.C. I think that we talked about what government can do to help slugging.
LEBLANCYou can set the conditions -- like Chris said, set the conditions for it to take place -- you know, large commuter lots, HOV-3. You know, you can establish a system where it could thrive. I think if we could, you know, maybe artificially impose HOV-3 on I-66 or 270 over in Maryland, yeah, I think we could get slugging started. And it would take -- just like it does on I-95, you got to enforce the HOV-3.
LEBLANCMaybe there's an opportunity where you could still leave it HOV-2 but somehow, you know, set up a system for slugging, where the rules are you have to have three people in the car. It would be great for slugging if it was HOV-3 all around the District, but I'm not sure that would -- we could make that happen.
NNAMDIShep, thank you very much for your call. We got a comment on our website from Stephanie, who says, "I believe this practice of picking up total strangers goes way back in D.C., before any real rules about vehicle occupancy. I recall visiting my relatives in D.C. in the 1960s, and they would frequently recount stories of picking up someone at a bus stop. The idea was that a person who regularly stood at a bus stop dressed for work did not wish anyone harm, and there was no harm in giving the person a lift.
NNAMDI"To us Philadelphians, it was a startling idea, but it was clearly a very entrenched and charming Washington custom." This comment we got from Pat. "True story. I picked up two Navy guys in their dress whites off Old Keene Mill. Moments later, on a busy road, I couldn't avoid driving over a board with nails. Freaking out, I pulled over and turned to the two men and said, I have no idea how to change a tire or even where the spare is.
NNAMDI"Without a word, the men got out, changed the tire in less than 10 minutes, and we were back on the road without them saying a word." So I guess they were also obeying the rules at the time. Gentlemen, what do you see is the future of slugging? Do you see any big changes to the system on the horizon, Steve?
TITUNIKI think it'll be -- continue to be an important part of the basket of transportation assets in Northern Virginia. I also think that as -- one day we're going to have continued growth south of the Prince William County, continuing to grow down towards Fredericksburg. I'm surprised, in the years that I kept coming back and forth through the Virginia Market, that, every time I came back, it started growing more.
TITUNIKAnd now we have folks living in the Fredericksburg area, south of there that are coming up to Northern Virginia. And as developments increase, there'll be more demand for different mechanisms to get to and from work. And, quite practically, that will improve slugging because people need to have a way to get to and from work.
NNAMDIGot about 30 seconds, Chris.
HAMILTONI think more people will slug as long as the HOT lanes don't induce more people to get into those lanes and slow it down. And the region needs to do more things like this. We need to have HOV-3 on more of our roads.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Chris Hamilton is the Arlington County Commuter Service bureau chief. Steve Titunik is director of communications for the Virginia Department of Transportation's Mega Projects. And David LeBlanc runs the website slug-lines.com. He's also the author of the book "Slugging: The Commuting Alternative for Washington, D.C." Gentlemen, thank you all for joining us.
TITUNIKThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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