On any workday, visit a commuter parking lot in the Washington D.C. region, and you’ll see people stopping to give complete strangers a ride into town.

Called slugging, the practice is a form of casual carpooling that’s surprisingly organized and efficient. The slugs – those looking for a free ride – form lines according to their desired destinations. Then drivers pull up, shout out where they’re going, and the first couple of slugs pile in the car. There’s no exchange of money, and aside from any clarification about drop-off spots, there is rarely much talking on the way into the city.

It’s a mutually beneficial system. The slugs get a free ride to work, and the drivers – with their cars full of people – can use the high occupancy lanes.

Lewis Johnson, who slugs his way into work at the Pentagon every day, says the system makes his commute significantly shorter.

Johnson: “In Washington D.C, you could spend an extra hour on the roads just in the regular lanes. So the HOV lane is usually much more free-flowing.”

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Casual carpooling has been going on in the D.C. region for about forty years, and is found in other major cities like San Francisco. So it’s not a new way for commuters to save time and money. But with climate change, it’s become even more significant since it keeps cars off the road and helps commuters reduce their own carbon emissions.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

Photo: A “slug line” of passengers waiting for rides (source: Wikipedia: Slugging).

More Resources
What You Can Do: On the Road
Life in the Fast Lane: In the D.C. area, carpooling ‘slugs’ ride fast and free

Bridgett Ennis

Bridgett Ennis is co-founder of ChavoBart Digital Media (CBDM), an audio and video production firm with a focus on scientific and environmental media. CBDM contributes original reporting, audio production,...