Ian Jacobs is a D.C.-area commuter.
It’s no secret: Commuting in the District is a nightmare under the best of conditions.
A combination of too many cars and too few public transportation options has left commuters with among the longest average commute times in the nation — worse than even car-obsessed southern California.
And with the current closure of lanes on Memorial Bridge and shuttering of parts of the Blue and Yellow lines in Virginia next summer, it’s going to get worse.
So why are the D.C. Council and the District Department of Transportation hellbent on increasing the misery of thousands of commuters across the region?
Every morning, thousands “slug” into the city. Slugging is informal, free carpooling. People queue up at various spots across the region, where drivers come to pick them up. With three people in a car, drivers are able to take advantage of the (usually) congestion-free high-occupancy vehicle lanes on the freeway, cutting commutes in half or more. In the evening, slugs line up at various points in the District to get picked up and dropped off back at their park-and-ride lots.
It’s an ingenious, environmentally friendly solution to commuting. There is a massive time and sanity incentive for drivers to pick up two or three slugs, and slugs get a free commute.
Except recently, the District has begun to harass drivers in evening commute times, threatening them with tickets or towing if they stop to pick up riders.
In response, the slugging community requested that the District Department of Transportation and council help identify appropriate pickup points to minimize street and foot traffic.
Thus far, both District bodies have abdicated their responsibility to commuters. Worse, they continue their campaign of hassling drivers. It’s an inexplicable response by those who have overseen one of the worst commuting disasters in the country.
On the other hand, perhaps it’s a completely predictable response by those who oversee one of the worst commuting disasters in the country.
Now, I understand the concerns the District has. During peak commuting time, slug pickups can increase the traffic on congested roads as drivers stop — or, worse, stop and wait — to pick up riders.
But what do you think causes more congestion: a car that stops momentarily to pick up two or three people or thousands of additional cars on the road?
It’s environmentally friendly, too: Fewer cars on the road means faster commuting times for everyone, and that means less pollution overall.
I implore the D.C. Council and District Department of Transportation to work with the slugging community to set up common-sense pickup locations that will minimize local congestion and maximize benefits for all commuters.
D.C. commuters need a break, and punishing people who are trying to do the right thing at a time when we already face the worst commutes in the nation is simply cruel and unusual.