Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The New York City Transit Strike

Due to the transit worker strike, only vehicles with at least four occupants are allowed to enter Manhattan between 5 and 11 a.m. (More on the city's strike contigency plan can be found at its official Alternative Transportation Information Center.) I've heard some people express doubts about jumping into a car with complete strangers for the rush-hour commute into Manhattan. An Auto Club of New York spokesperson who was interviewed on the news this morning even discussed liabilities and insurance and how you can't trust a stranger to drive safely.

Obviously, these people are not aware of the fact that in the Metropolitan D.C. area, commuters are "casually carpooling" every workday. It's a phenomenon called slugging.

Here's a description of this unique form of transit from Slug-Lines.com:

A car needing additional passengers to meet the required 3-person high occupancy vehicle (HOV) minimum pulls up to one of the known slug lines. The driver usually positions the car so that the slugs are on the passenger side. The driver either displays a sign with the destination or simply lowers the passenger window, to call out the destination, such as "Pentagon," "L’Enfant Plaza," or "14th & New York." The slugs first in line for that particular destination then hop into the car, normally confirming the destination, and off they go.

No money is exchanged because of the mutual benefit: the car driver needs riders just as much as the slugs need a ride. Each party needs the other in order to survive. Normally, there is no conversation unless initiated by the driver; usually the only words exchanged are "Thank you" as the driver drops off the slugs at the destination.

There's a bevy of information on the Web site, including advice on how to start a slug line and a lost-and-found bulletin board. Oh, and the term "slug" apparently comes from the use of the word to describe counterfeit coins, which people try to pass off on buses. According to Slug-Lines.com, bus drivers began referring to carpool passengers as "slugs" because they would stand at bus stops when actually they were waiting for a ride from a car (i.e., they were "counterfeit" bus riders).

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