Every morning Gladys Hama drives from her home in Woodbridge to her job in Arlington. But first, she stops at a parking lot near the highway and picks up a couple strangers.
Like hundred of residents in this Washington suburb, Hama is a fan of “slugging,” the practice of giving strangers a free ride in order to use the HOV lanes, which require three people in a car.
Slugging first began in the 1970s. When a carpool was missing an extra person they would drive to the bus stop and ask the people in line if they wanted a free ride to the Pentagon. Soon thereafter commuters would go to the bus stop and wait to be picked up.
Bus drivers would derogatorily refer to the commuters not riding the bus as “slugs.” The name stuck and is now apart of the commuting lexicon.
“I’ve slugged since 1991 and I am amazed at how well it works,” said Hama.
The slug lines are completely commuter operated without any management from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“VDOT wholeheartedly supports the concept of ridesharing,” said Jennifer McCord, VDOT’s spokeswoman. “We support slugging in the sense that we can design park-and-rides lots to accommodate riders.”
Hama picks up sluggers from either the Dale City commuter parking lot or the Tackett’s Mill lot.
“I used to do Potomac Mills but since they reduced the number of spaces I switched over to Dale City,” Hama continued.
Potomac Mills Mall used to have around 1,000 parking spaces specifically for sluggers. But in 2011 Simon Property Group, the mall’s owner, cut 750 spaces due to the addition of new restaurants. Now the mall has less than 300 spots left.
Many of the people who used to go to the mall have been forced to go to other lots.
To accommodate residents’ dissatisfaction with the loss of spaces at the mall, VDOT created an additional 500 spaces at the Horner Road lot, making it the biggest commuter lot in Woodbridge.
Still some people continue to slug at the mall.
Every morning on weekdays drivers will pull up and tell people where they are headed in downtown, D.C. “14th and New York?” they ask “18th and Penn?” From there sluggers can walk to their jobs.
“Slugging is the best commuting option in D.C.,” said David LeBlanc, who runs the website www.slug-lines.com. “It’s solved all the problems I had with carpools.”
Some of the benefits of slugging are that it’s free for those being picked up, drivers can bypass traffic, and commuters get to work faster.
Woodbridge resident Ashleigh Washington, when she worked in D.C., slugged to work instead of driving to the Franconia-Springfield Metro.
“When I got the job in D.C., my original plan was just to drive to Springfield to take the Metro,” Washington said. “But, my mom reminded me that slugging is much cheaper and I wouldn’t have to be in traffic like I would driving to Springfield, so I chose to slug.”
Riding with strangers may seem risky. But sluggers say otherwise.
“I feel just as safe slugging as I do taking any other type of transportation,” Washington said. “It’s even safer than cabs to me because I feel like there is a lot full of people to hold the driver accountable for your safety.”
Hama, who has slugged for more than two decades, said nothing dangerous has ever happened to her.
“Other than the occasional driver who wants to have a full conversation when all I want to do is read, I haven’t had any unpleasant experiences,” Washington said.