Slugging It Out

Washington, D.C.'s Slug Lines Provide a Market Alternative to Traffic Congestion


C. Daniel Bradford is a major in the Army and works for the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Virginia.

Several years ago I was transferred by the military from Georgia to the Washington, D.C., area. Because real estate is so expensive in the area immediately adjacent to the capital, most people live in the outlying bedroom communities. As the head of a large household I was forced by economic necessity to move to one of these communities. My first day driving to work gave me a taste of how bad the traffic can be here. It took me 2 hours to drive the 25 miles from my house in Prince William County to my office in Arlington. My average one-way commute was between 75 and 90 minutes.

I knew there had to be a better way. As I looked for alternate ways to get to work I studied the different options, including Metro Bus and Northern Virginia Rail.

As a Metro Bus rider, I would have to drive my car to a “Park & Ride” lot purchased by tax money, and then get on a bus to Washington, D.C. The bus is inconvenient and the one-way cost is more than I pay for gas for a round trip in my car.

Years ago a rail line into Prince William County was proposed to alleviate the traffic congestion on I-95. After many delays, it is now in service, but the fare is more than the bus, and there is serious talk of charging riders to park their cars in the rail station lot. To top it off, the rail that carries passengers into D.C. is not the same line that runs through D.C., so I wouldn’t be able to directly transfer to another line.

From Intervention Comes Opportunity: The “Slug” Line

To relieve traffic congestion on I-95 the State of Virginia built a separate set of traffic lanes that flow north in the morning and south in the evening. Legal use of these lanes during peak hours requires at least three people in the car. These lanes are called HOV-3 lanes, or High Occupancy Vehicle-3 persons. These lanes travel at a much higher average speed and are much less congested and less prone to accidents.

Individuals who work in the metropolitan area drive to commuter lots in their communities and park their cars. They then stand in a queue and wait for drivers who are traveling to their general destination. As a driver comes to the queue he announces his destination and how many riders he needs. Riders join the driver and they enter the HOV-3 lanes.

This system works. The riders need to get to work. The driver wants to drive his car and needs extra riders to use the HOV-3 lanes. The driver drops off his riders and everyone goes on his way. No money is exchanged. Each has benefited from the voluntary exchange: the riders (slugs) get to work and don’t have to worry about driving or parking and the driver (slugger) gets the use of his car and the legitimate use of the HOV-3 lanes. In the evening the process is reversed. In the 30 years riders have been slugging it out, there has not been a single reported incident of violence. I find it saves me about a half hour when I pick up slugs. I have never had to stand in the “Slug Line” for more than ten minutes.

Several years ago I was in a store that has a parking lot that is used as a commuter lot. I thanked the owner for allowing us to use his parking lot as a “Slug Line.” He said that a few years before, agents of the government bus service asked him to refuse the use of his parking lot to the “Slug Line.” They found it was significantly cutting into their ridership. They wanted a more captive clientele. The store owner refused, and the “Slug Line” in that area continues.

The “Slug Line” may not be for everybody, but it provides a market solution a great many prefer over the government solutions to the traffic congestion in northern Virginia.


October 1997

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