Slugging your way to work in Washington D.C.

I just found out about a way of life in Washington D.C. that I think could work in other cities: Slugging. The name sounds unflattering, but it's not meant to be. It's the name of the informal carpooling program that has been working in the D.C. area since the early 70's.

The concept is simple: Drivers and riders need each other, so this free system works for everyone. Riders need rides to work, and they wait in designated parking lots for a car going to their destination. Drivers need the riders because if they have a car with three or more people in it, they qualify to use HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, and they can get to work much faster.

At the end of the workday, the system works in reverse. Riders get dropped off at their designated lots by whomever stops to pick them up at the designated locations in the city.There is a bit of etiquette in place for users of the slug system. There are acceptable drop-off locations in the city, and everyone knows exactly where they're supposed to be. No one in the car talks unless the driver initiates the conversation. (Thank heavens they don't have to do what I call "painful small talk.") No money ever changes hands in this system.

It seems like this system could work in a lot of big cities. There are tons of people commuting in each day, and it only makes sense to pile into cars together. But a formal carpool arrangement can be restrictive, which turns off many. An informal system like this allows the drivers and riders to choose when they carpool and when they don't.

Obviously there are some negatives. Safety can be a concern, and I'm not sure what happens if you're left standing in a parking lot and no more cars come through to pick up riders. But there are enough benefits to make it worthwhile. People get to work for free, fewer cars means less congestion, less driving means less expense, and multiple people in vehicles means riding in the faster carpool lanes. It sounds like a win for everyone, and I wonder what it would take to start organizing slug lines in other cities?

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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