The Secret Carpool of Washington, DC

Every city has it’s secrets, but it comes as no surprise that Washington, DC, may have more than most. It turns out that the city has a covert society, an organization of carpoolers who use codes and word of mouth to work around DC’s notorious traffic jams and exorbitant tolls. The origins of “slugging” are murky, buried somewhere in the 1970s, when the Shirley Highway (I-395) from Virginia to DC became the first U.S. freeway to implement a carpool lane. Initially they were strict, requiring 4 occupants — today only 3 are required to qualify for the carpool lane. To get into the carpool lane in the early days, commuting drivers would fill up their seats by swinging by bus stops and sniping riders. Eventually, the bus lines had more carpoolers than mass-transit riders, and the bus drivers began referring to the faux passengers as false coins — known as “slugs.” Undeterred by the slander, the slugs claimed the nickname and the practice grew in popularity. Multi-person vehicles were exempt from the expensive toll-road fees to encourage carpooling, thus keeping the fast lanes flowing free. Slugging is reciprocal — no money changes hands, but all parties benefit. A slug line forms at the bus stop, suddenly a car pulls up, the riders pile into the car, and 30 minutes later they’re being dropped off, having side-stepped the crowded bus full of strap-hangers squashed together like sardines in a can, and they’ve done it all free of charge and in complete silence. What more could you ask?
Slug line at a bus stop