Slugging, D.C.’s original ride-sharing system, has its own app

 – April 27, 2016

Organized carpooling is a simple and longstanding congestion solution, and it can save money for commuters and space on the highways. However, for some it can seem too difficult to organize, making it unlikely to attract many people away from driving on their own.

One option that offers commuters the flexibility of driving and the benefits of carpooling is “casual carpooling,” or “slugging.”

“It is a combination of hitchhiking and carpooling,” according to Kalai Kandasamy, long-time slugger and creator of the Sluglines app, which crowdsources real-time data to assist participants, removing doubt from the process for both “slugs” and drivers.

In the U.S., beginning with the oil embargo in the 1970s and the introduction of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, commuters began to grab rides with drivers going in the same direction. Since then, Kandasamy estimates some 10,000 to 15,000 “slugs” – the name for such commuters – have been using this as a transportation option every day in the region. Slugging also has strong followings in San Francisco, Houston, Pittsburgh, and a few other metropolitan areas.

Slugs line up at established pick-up points, and drivers going in the same direction stop by to pick up one or two riders, allowing them to take advantage of HOV lanes on highways during rush hour into and out of the region.

In addition to the app, Kandasamy hopes to build upon the already active slugging community, which exists across a smattering of forums and social media pages, within a Wikipedia-esque website. Here, Kandasamy concentrates information into one place, clarifying the slugging process and fostering the community. The site, which has existed for several years, also includes forums where members can share experiences and address any questions that arise.

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Screenshot of the slugging planning tool on Sluglines.com.

Though it’s worked informally for decades, it can be hard to tell where slugs or drivers are waiting, sometimes resulting in each congregating at different locations and wait times as long as 20 minutes for some people. The six-months-old Sluglines app, which crowdsources data from users actively seeking a ride or rider, helps bring users to the same waiting spot, cutting down on uncertainty. Through a check-in system, Sluglines users can see slugging demand and respond in a way that helps make the process much more efficient.

Kandasamy explains that what really sets slugging apart from newer ride-sharing modes, and Sluglines from other apps, is the fact that no money changes hands. All similar apps on the market involve payment, but this is entirely a community-based transit option meant to efficiently get people where they need to go.

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The Sluglines app, displaying pick-up and drop-off points.

“That’s the beauty of slugging,” says Kandasamy, in that slugs work together, making sure everybody has a ride in bad weather. It is a prime opportunity to build a community, and does so without any monetary transaction. “If it involves money, it’s not slugging,” Kandasamy emphasizes.

As commuters look for better options in getting to work, slugging presents a viable solution for many who live outside the Washington, D.C., Beltway. Kandasamy, who has slugged for the past 15 years, says that slugging is by far the most efficient mode to get into and out of D.C. from the outer suburbs. He hopes his app will make this interaction even more dependable and build the community into a major consideration as a transportation option.

Photos, from top: A line of drivers wait to pick up carpoolers in Rosslyn (photo by Adam Russell). A screenshot of Sluglines.com, above, and the Sluglines app, at right.

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