WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT DC’S HIGH OCCUPANCY VEHICLE (HOV) AND SLUG SYSTEM
Learning the commute system, and traffic flows in the Metro DC area is essential to minimizing your time and stress in our somewhat infamous traffic! Our MetroRail and Virginian Rail Express (VRE) are great alternatives to driving in many circumstances and information on those systems is also in your package.
There are two main HOV systems that flow traffic into the Pentagon / business district. The first is a restricted access (center lane) that flows Northbound in the morning from 0600 to 0930 and Southbound from 1500 to 1900. The HOV begins as far south as Woodbridge, VA, on Interstate 95 and continues on 395 into the Pentagon area. This HOV requires three occupants and the speed / time advantage over the non-HOV lanes is dramatic! You can obviously establish your own car pool or draw riders from the Slug lines which are discussed below. As mentioned earlier, the HOV (center) lanes have restricted access and those accesses almost always have law enforcement sitting at all on / off ramps. The fines are very painful! During non HOV hours, the lanes are open to all traffic. You do have to be very mindful of the times you are in these lanes.
The second main HOV is on Interstate 66 flowing West to East. HOV lanes begin west of the city in Gainesville all the way to the Pentagon / central business district. There is no center restricted access lane as on 95, but the times are the same. The left lane is the HOV lane and it requires two occupants. Here’s another significant difference of the 66 HOV system. Once east of the 495 beltway, ALL LANES ARE HOV on 66! If you have only one occupant, you MUST exit 66 and find an alternative route during HOV hours! It is very easy to blow by 495, but for some reason the police are not very understanding of that excuse, and the fines are just as painful!
The Slug System
For first timers in the DC area, you aren’t going to believe this one! In essence the Slug system is an extremely sophisticated hitchhiking system that develop all on its own over 20 years ago when the HOV systems came into existence. Imagine that…a great system that happened without the governments help!!! Essentially, people looking for riders will drive by bus stops and /or established Slug lines and “scrape a slug (rider)” or two if required to make the HOV restrictions. It is more prominent on the 95/395 corridor, very efficient, and with well established protocol for “Slugging.” Sound dangerous? Actually, I have never heard of an incident. Men and women, business suits, uniforms including Flag Rank officers, and thousands of others use this system every day to get to and from work…FREE! Here is a true story that happened to a good friend of mine. Slugging to work he was picked up by an older, rather distinguished gentleman. In the course of conversation, he learned that the man was the Senator from Montana who was presiding over the Clinton impeachment hearing that day. It may sound crazy, but it works and best of all, is free. I have personally known people who have completed three year tours and never paid for a bus, metro, or drove!