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Carpooling


“Why do people raised in a culture to never get into a stranger’s car do it so readily in San Francisco and Washington, DC?”


Rules of the Road


In what most slugs seem to want, government generally keeps an arm’s length from managing casual carpooling. For example, all that the Virginia Department of Transportation – the state with probably the most flex-poolers – does is offer these guidelines for slugging etiquette.


Sluggers do not: Eat or drink Fiddle with the radio Roll down the window Adjust heat or air conditioning Speak unless spoken to Talk on a cell phone Discuss politics or religion


where else in time to regularly get to work seems iffy, to me at least. Slugs, after all, aren’t run by any organization. No gov- ernment, no business, no-one ensures anything. Most casual carpool pickups, furthermore, disappear sometime after 9am and often the inbound pick-up point is not the out-bound drop-off point in the afternoon. “Most people think that it sounds crazy and even danger-


ous, but I’ve never had a bad experience in a casual carpool,” Owen tells me. “It’s cheaper and more convenient than any other way of getting to work, and I like the interesting people that I meet. Plus I’ve listened to some incredibly awesome and some incredibly terrible music.”


IN GOOD COMPANY Owen’s experiences seem to be the norm. Even when the Bay Area erased the free carpool lane on the Bay Bridge a cou- ple years ago, 75 per cent of Californian casual drivers said they’d continue picking up people from 25 spots in Oakland. Back east, a 2008 survey by Marc Oliphant, a DC-based Navy transportation coordinator, didn’t record a single crime and found virtually no negative comments. “It still gives me goose bumps when I see slugging,” says


North America Vol 8 No 3


Oliphant. “It’s amazing that it works so well for those who try it.” With over 30 pick-up points, mostly in Northern Virginia’s


“Park-n-Ride” lots, more than 15,000 drivers aren’t in the DC region on a daily basis. They’re instead parking and slugging faster to work than driving alone or taking transit. Capital Region slugging even has its own web page, www.slug-lines. com, lovingly maintained by retired military man David LeBlanc. Why, it is easy to ask, do people in a culture raised “never


to get in a car with a stranger” do so much of it so easily in DC and the Bay Area, and more and more now, in cities like Pittsburgh, Houston and Seattle? “There’s just a tremendous amount of flexibility,” LeBlanc explains. “I don’t worry about leaving on time for the other members of the carpool and I’m not running for the bus, yet I get to work faster than driving myself.”


SELF-GOVERNANCE Oliphant, LeBlanc and Gabriel Ortiz, an Alexandria, Vir- ginia planner, clearly believe conditions must be right and government must provide only – with emphasis on only – some minor incentives, like signage or removal of parking meters at slug lines’ existing locations. Most crucial, they say, police must enforce the HOV and HOT lanes. When there’s a potential US$1,500 fine for single-occupancy driving easily collected by the police at the exits of controlled-access lanes, people who need their cars at work and don’t want to face stop-n-go “freeways” pull up quickly to a slug line. More government than that, even these government


employees say, could create “a bureaucratic disaster” – in Oliphant’s words – yet governments, hoping to reap the immense benefits of less pollution and congestion without additional, massive outlays for public transit or highways would love to harness slugging’s “cloud sourced” creativity. “The beauty of this is that in my two and a half years of


slugging, I never missed a ride,” Ortiz says. “If you stick to the ‘window’ (about three hours in the morning and two in the evening), you’ll never miss a ride back to your car.”


A GREATER INCENTIVE Ortiz, with LeBlanc’s help, tried to establish a government- sponsored slug-line into and out of downtown Alexandria and by his own admission, failed.


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