Slugging It In

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In D.C.'s Virginia suburbs, some 10,000 people have figured out a way to reduce their commuting time by as much as 75 percent while spending no money. It's called "slugging," and it's a nearly pure example of spontaneous order.

Slugging started by spontaneous eruption and runs by perpetual motion…. No government agency sanctions slugging, runs it, regulates it, promotes it or thought it up. The Census Bureau, which tracks most forms of commuting, knows nothing about slugging. In slugging, there is no supervisor, dispatcher or schedule, no ticket or fare.

No rules, either, except those that have developed among those who do it. No wonder it works.

NEXT: Mike Hawash Update

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  1. Yes, people respond to incentives. Still, this wouldn’t happen without the government creating HOV lanes.

  2. James, I understand. I hate them registrations, too. But the source is the source. And when they require (for their own shit-haired demographic profiling reasons) that we provide our profile, well, tit for teat.

    The NYT requirement is harmless, duty-free, and only takes a few seconds. Once yer “registered” you should be able to bypass that dreaded page.

    It’s not sinister; they just wanna ask you a few questions to get a feel for who their readers are. It’s free access to their printed material, so maybe we should stop complaining about having to answer a few inane questions before we can read the fruits of their well-compensated atable of contributors.

    Don’t mean to sound harsh, Jim, but really, it ain’t much to ask in the grand scheme of things. They ain’t asking for yer SSN or first born, ferpetessake…

  3. “Besides thanking government for HOV lanes . . . ”

    Erm . . . the HOV lanes are the REASON that there is even a need for slugging in the first place.

    Let me explain this to you real simple, like. If you live in western Fairfax County, and need to get to work in Arlington County, Alexandria or DC, and aren’t riding Metro, there is really only one way to go: I-66. It’s the only interstate that goes west-to-east.

    Only one problem: You aren’t allowed to drive on it, at all, for the entire 14-mile distance between Falls Church and DC unless you have 2+ people in your car. If you’re a single driver, you get shifted onto (for the most part) VA50 or Lee Hwy. (VA29), neither of which are equipped to handle that volume. (In the evenings, the situation is reversed: Outbound lanes are HOV only.)

    The HOV lanes — which, in the case of I-66, means the ENTIRE FREEWAY — aren’t something that make slugging easier; they’re the problem that slugging was created to solve.

    Me, I ride the Metro. But when I do drive, I stay on 66 even though I’m the only one in the car. Shaves 30 minutes from my drive, easily. I’ve yet to be pulled over.

  4. Standing around in a parking lot, looking for a free ride from a stranger “ain’t hitchhiking”? Why? Because the people doing it are wearing suits and Ann Taylor sweater sets? Because they live in 4-bedroom colonials in Rockville? Because it’s on such a large scale that it’s organized itself? I ask not because I think these are the answers you have in your head, but because your reaction seems so certain that I wonder if you’ve even thoiught about why it isn’t hitchhiking.

    Which raises a question: would this same practice be condoned if most of the people doing it were part of the undergound economy of off-the-books housekeepers, construction workers, landscapers and farm workers? Given the skirmishes that take place when suburban bus stops are placed near gated communities and upscale shopping areas to accomodate the people who work in the restaurant kicthens, clean the bathrooms and take care of the kids, I have trouble imagining these sluggers–and the local police–being open to the idea of a few hundred Spanish-speaking people in jeans and t-shirts lining up to get a ride at a bus stop or commuter lot every morning.

  5. The police seem to have no problem with hundreds of spanish-speaking people in blue jeans waiting in an unofficial group where contractors will come by and hire them for day labor. It happens all the time in Northern VA. So they’re basically doing it already.

    Plus, I would be all for $160,000 2-bedroom townhouses. I haven’t found one near a metro station for under $325,000.

  6. “Besides thanking government for HOV lanes and commuter parking lots (which a free market would instead put to the “higher and better” use of a strip mall or a row of $160,000 2-bedroom townhouses), be sure to thank the developer, automotive and oil lobbies. They ensure that state and federal transportation funds go to highway and sprawl road construction to facilitate their short-term goals (more sprawl) at the expense of any meaningful expansion of mass transit to cover the crisscrossing suburb-to-suburb commutes created by unfettered sprawl without mass-transit concessions.”

    Federal and state transportation funds SHOULD be used for highway contruction and maintainence because that money was collected from car drivers in the first place via gas taxes. Gas taxes are supposed to be a user fee. It’s not supposed to be a mechanism for making car drivers subsidize the latest mass-transit fad (boondogle).

    The inequity of HOV lanes is that the single car drivers are paying (and have paid) just as much for contructing that lane of the road as anyone else when they fill up their gas tank. They therefore have just as much right to drive on it as anyone else.

  7. Paying a gas tax != Right to drive in the HOV lanes. Might makes right. Look it up.

  8. Oh yeah and fuck unionized police pigs. I pack my own heat thank you very much.

  9. Do you have a point other than the one on top of your head?

  10. I have to agree with Charles (nichtFreund): without the old gubmint meddling with the lanes, there would be no slugging.

    Slugging is just a way of getting around government regulation that happens to give specific benefit to all participants. It is nothing like great transportation system for the masses, sprung up from the earth without regulation.

    The “rules” for slugging make it sound like Fight Club.

  11. Actually, if pressed, I prefer to think of suburban roadbuilding as a subsidy to developers. County, state and federal roads are what give a parcel of undeveloped land most of its value. It’s developers that are getting the subsidy, with the ongoing costs being paid after the bulldozers leave by area residents in the form of congestion, pollution, roadside blight, and the drain on the preexisting local economy as its stores and restaurants are displaced by regional and national chains.

    I also don’t understand what makes mass transit a “boondoggle” (unless we’re talking about the monorails to nowhere in Miami and Detroit) and highways a “worthy expenditure” when both provide massive net benefits to area economies and both operate at a net loss. It might have something to do with large cities being underrepresented in state and federal legislatures by accident of design.

  12. Slugging will tick along fine until one day, some sinister creep will be lying (excuse me, parked) in wait, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting young lady — pretending to go via HOV — and kidnapping the poor gal. Whoa, will the excrement hit the fan then!

  13. Sporky (hey, you called me “Jim,” fair’s fair!): If the idea of this blog is to shill for and get people to jump over to other publications, then you have a point. But if the point of this blog is to offer commentary that is unique and worthwhile in its own right, I must say that “Slugging It In” fails the test. As written, it practically requires the reader to already be up on the practice of “slugging” or to go elsewhere for explanation (preferrably to the cited NYT site, one would assume). Many thanks to CP Freund for the explanatory info here!

    See, I don’t come to Reason to be drafted into the readership of the NYT or any other publication. It is certainly cool for the NYT to want to have some profile of “their readers.” But I am not one of them! The only thing that would send me to the NYT site is the incompleteness of an article in another publication, which cites the NYT as core source material.

    I have become very picky about the sites with which I register, because I have found, through hard experience, that I have to work too hard to keep my name off of spam lists, whenever I accede to these “simple, reasonable requests for registration information.” In the post-PATRIOT era, when my own city library is shredding their records every evening, and warning me about the government’s newfound power to check into my information-retrieval habits, can you blame me for being just a bit uncomfortable about releasing demographic info along with my email address? If I were a regular user of the NYT site, by choice, I would have no problem with their registration requirement. But I resent being asked for personal information, just to follow a cite, without which a derivative work of commentary in another publication cannot be appreciated at all, much less fully.

    Not to be too harsh, but you missed my point entirely. I’m not angry with the NYT for doing what they feel they have to do with respect to their own resources and product. Reason (and any other online publication) disappoints me when it puts me in the position of having to put up with the NYT’s practices, simply to make sense of Reason’s own material! Reason should be complete and self-contained to a reasonable degree in all of its articles, including the original blog postings of its staff. Going to the cited links should be an option that readers pursue in order to dig more deeply into the subject matter and gain additional perspective, not a requirement that must be satisfied in order to comprehend what the subject is in the first place.

    Are my expectations — which, in this case, amount to the desire for a few sentences that define the term that is at the center of the article — unreasonable?

  14. Cool! Slugging sounds like a free flowing version
    of “jittny transit”. It Augments the arguments against government’s wasteful role in transportation.

  15. James, as far as giving personal information goes, there is a simple way around this — make shit up.

  16. why isn’t it hitchhiking? hitchhiking is when you stand around somewhere hoping somebody who is going more or less in your direction will take you some unknown distance toward where you want to go. getting a ride that way is a matter of luck. you might need more than one ride; you might not get any. slugs and drivers are looking for each other, know where to find each other, and know where they’re going. getting a ride is an issue of organization involving 10,000 strangers.

  17. Janette: Quite possibly true, at which point the police will probably dredge up and start enforcing some anti-hitchhiking regulation. The Times article said that “The state does not openly promote slugging…in part because the state could become liable for accidents or crime”. What a bizarre idea – I guess the state can’t promote anything now, including public transit, since it will become liable for crimes committed there? “Vote: it’s your civic duty! Oops, wait, we mean, unless you get in a fight or get pickpocketed at the polling place or something…on second thought, forget we said anything.”

  18. it’s true: no HOV lanes, no slugging. no public roads, no public HOV lanes. no taxation, no public roads. etc. worst of all, most of these slugs seem to be federal employees! but is this the point? i say the point is that, left to their own devices, and given any set of circumstances, people will develop better and more efficient ways of doing things than will planners acting on their behalf. (btw, northern virginia is experimenting with private roads, too.)

    the other controversy: how come i didnt include the details of slugging in the original post? because i thought it would have made the post too long for what it was. true, i sent readers to a registration-required site, but as Jim N points out, readers confronted with a demand for data they don’t care to share have the option of making the shit up. maybe the way to do this is to blog a short post, then toss the messy details into the comments box.

  19. Sluggers are safe as long as they bring a gun.

  20. I was a little disappointed in the article saying that “slugging” experiments have begun in Houston, SF, etc. In San Francisco the practice has been going on for more than ten years. Seems like journalistic laziness.

  21. I was a little disappointed in the article saying that “slugging” experiments have begun in Houston, SF, etc. In San Francisco the practice has been going on for more than ten years. Seems like journalistic laziness.

  22. Eh… why should we expect a blog post to be like a magazine article? Of course it’s not always going to be freestanding commentary; that’s not what the form is good for.

  23. I thought this was very informative and thanks for explaining it.

  24. James Merritt — my god man, take it easy. Just get a free email address on yahoo or wherever and use that for crap like the NYT. Live a little, learn how to lie.

    The traffic in the DC area sucks the lifeblood out of people who live there, slugs or not. I used to spend 1 hour and 20 minutes to make the 10 mile trip to work every day when I lived in Montgomery County, outside DC. I figure a reasonable commute for any person is about 1/2 hour one way, which means every week I spent about 8 hours in annoying, soul-numbing extra commuting time. Awful.

    Of course all that stress probably does keep those meddling bureacrats from becoming more efficient, so what the hell, maybe this is a good thing in the end.

  25. Wow! Commuters resorting to hitchhiking from major bus stops and parking lots! How crazy and innovative! Just like people have been doing for decades in places like China and Eastern Europe! Next week, look for Mr. Freund’s piece on people spontaneously sharing sausage, cheese and mineral water on Boston-to-DC Amtrak runs as a strategy to cope with the failures of centrally-mandated Amrtrak food.

    Besides thanking government for HOV lanes and commuter parking lots (which a free market would instead put to the “higher and better” use of a strip mall or a row of $160,000 2-bedroom townhouses), be sure to thank the developer, automotive and oil lobbies. They ensure that state and federal transportation funds go to highway and sprawl road construction to facilitate their short-term goals (more sprawl) at the expense of any meaningful expansion of mass transit to cover the crisscrossing suburb-to-suburb commutes created by unfettered sprawl without mass-transit concessions.

  26. At least I now understand what John Hiatt’s “Slug Line” means.

  27. SM,

    Townhouses, yes. Strip mall, no. Why would we want to see a land use near a transit station that promotes driving over walking and transit usage, and devotes most of its land area to its own parking lot?

    The only reason a developer would waste commercial land near a train station like that, is if he’s forced to by anti-urban sprawl zoning.

    Have you read any Peter Calthorpe?

  28. 1)ain’t hitchhiking. 2)wasn’t mr. freund’s piece. 3)if people offering each other cheese on trains emerges from a self-oranganized activity involving thousands of strangers, then hell, i’ll blog it and explain the details here in comments.

  29. or private highways! where we could drive drunk 😀

  30. I know – why not run a real HOV…you could call it a bus and charge people for the ride..

  31. Is there any way you guys at Reason can either link to pages that don’t require registration or fees to read, or excerpt enough of the article that we can get the idea without having to go through registration and paying fees? Your piece “Slugging It In” does not really explain what “slugging” is, and any attempt to find out by following your link leads to the hated NYT registration screen. Let me tell you, if it were necessary to buy the NYT in order to get context for your articles in the printed Reason, I’d never buy Reason in the first place (and I was even a subscriber at one time, so I’m not just blowing smoke, here…).

  32. Slugging 101:

    “This form of commuting ? solo drivers picking up strangers so they can all cruise to work legally in high-occupancy-vehicle lanes ? is called “slugging.” Passengers are “slugs,” a label alluding not to their energy or wit but to counterfeit tokens and coins. A ride, too, is a slug. Drivers are drivers, or less commonly, “body snatchers,” “scrapers” and “land sharks.” With little notice outside Washington, these Northern Virginia commuters to the nation’s capital and big office sites of nearby Arlington, Rosslyn and Crystal City have blended hitchhiking and carpooling into a quick, efficient way to outmaneuver a traffic-choked freeway….

    “In the [commuter parking]lots, a driver at the head of the car line pulls up to the “head slug” in the front of the commuter line. He flashes an 8-by-10 card showing one of the line’s regular destinations, like the Pentagon, the State Department, or 14th and Constitution downtown, or calls it out. If that is the head slug’s destination, he gets in the car. If, instead, the head slug is going to Rosslyn, the driver must take the next in line going to the Pentagon. A driver who spots a friend down the line may offer him a ride, and a slug can take another car if he is suspicious of the driver of the first. In practice, it is first come first served.”

  33. “I also don’t understand what makes mass transit a “boondoggle” (unless we’re talking about the monorails to nowhere in Miami and Detroit) and highways a “worthy expenditure” when both provide massive net benefits to area economies and both operate at a net loss. It might have something to do with large cities being underrepresented in state and federal legislatures by accident of design.”

    Who says highways “operate at a loss”? Mass transit certainly does but highways don’t. Federal and state gax taxes are user fees that are supposed to be dedicated funds to be used for road construction and maintainence. Those funds ARE used for that purpose and it covers the cost of it.

    What is wrong is trying to divert gas tax user fees paid by car drivers to another purpose such as funding mass transit. If mass transit is such a “massive net benefit” then the entire cost of it should be able to be covered by the fares paid by the riders.

  34. Things like slugging, which is just informal carpooling (advantageous, as does not require a round of early morning phone calls if you stay home sick), is exactly the sort of thing the state intended when it instituted HOV lanes. I’m afraid this might be (gasp!) a case of a government policy working the way it was intended. I used to slug sometimes in SF a few years ago, and even picked one up once.

  35. “getting a ride that way is a matter of luck. you might need more than one ride; you might not get any.”

    So why do you think they call ’em slugs? Have you ever seen a REAL slug? It’s even a bit slower than a snail. Makes you wonder how they ever get anywhere.

    Me? I’d rather crank up the stereo and drive my own. At least I won’t have to put up with anyone else’s mouth or body odors.

  36. I saved a ton of money online when I bought my used auto. I recommend doing research online before making any decisions.

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