They are called "slugs," named for the fake coins bus drivers used to get from sneaky passengers, but their gas savings are real enough.
"I save on average about $120, $150 a week on gas, because of the prices on gas," said "slugger" Shawn Wright. "So, it definitely helps a slug."
Slugs, or sluggers, are commuters who hitch rides into Washington, D.C., with complete strangers; sluggers get a free ride, and slug drivers get to use the fast High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. The practice originated during the gas crunch of the 1970s. Today, with gas prices in the district averaging more than $4 a gallon, more people than ever are lining up for a free ride.
"My fiance and I are trying to save some money to have a wedding in a year or so," said Leanna Ferguson, who started slugging in March. Her roundtrip slug from Woodbridge, Va., to the Pentagon is roughly 45 miles. She called gas prices "outrageous," and estimates that slugging to work saves her and her fiance about $200/month on gas and parking fees.
"It's a pretty big chunk of change we're going to put in the bank," said Ferguson.
Even long-time sluggers have noticed an increased interest.
"I see more and more people using this because it saves a lot of money, and with the hike in the oil price, it's really a god send," said slugger Sanaa Farid.
Analysts say high gas prices will be around for some time. If Americans want to save money on gas, Samantha Gross, an energy analyst at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, suggests they leave the car in the garage and find alternate ways to get to work.
"That's certainly the best way to help insulate your pocketbook from what's happening right now," said Gross.
David LeBlanc has been slugging since 1995. He wrote a research paper on slugging, and in 1999 launched a website that offers slugging information and discussion forums.
"There's more interest in slugging when gas prices are up, I get more questions via email, I see more postings on the board asking about slug lines," said LeBlanc.
In April, when gas prices in D.C. reached $5 a gallon, the number of visits to his website nearly doubled when compared with the same period a year earlier.
Sluggers Save Thousands by Avoiding Gas Pumps
Alenda Valenzuela's commute from Woodbridge, Va., to her office in southeast Washington tops 50 miles a day. Valenzuela says even though her standard Volkswagen Jetta is not a gas-guzzler, slugging still saves her nearly $90 a week. She drives a few miles each morning to the slug lines at Horner Road, a large commuter parking lot next to highway I-95.
"With the gas prices, I think soon people will start walking to the slug lines versus riding, driving their cars, cause it is so expensive," said Valenzuela.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Valenzuela hopped into Martha Pogue's car. Pogue is a regular slugger herself, and an occasional slug driver. Regardless of whether you're a slugger or a driver, said Pogue, either way, you save money.
"You're driving at speed so you're not in stop-and-go traffic where you'd be burning more gas," said Pogue.
Sluggers like LeBlanc are happy to stay away from the driver's seat as much as possible. LeBlanc said he used to be tied to his car, and the thought of not driving himself to work appalled him. Now, he said, he avoids driving at all costs, preferring to pocket the gas savings and take advantage of other slugger perks.
"[Slugging] saves me $560 a month minimum. That's $6, $7000 a year," said LeBlanc, "plus I can take a nap on the way home."
There are a few informal slugging rules: No cell phones are allowed in the cars, sluggers should greet drivers hello and goodbye, and a thank you is always welcome. Given current gas prices, it's a small price to pay to protect the wallet from those pricey pumps.