The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Group aims to spread pseudo-slugging to BRAC sites
BY SCOTT SHENK
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
The federal government’s BRAC movements in recent years have uprooted thousands from where they work, including many local commuters who head to and from Northern Virginia each weekday.
Something else was also thrown into flux with the most recent Base Realignment and Closure program: commuter patterns.
Many carpoolers, vanpoolers and slugs lost those commuting options when their offices moved.
The slugging community in particular seems to have taken a hit.
A case in point is David LeBlanc—the man who runs Northern Virginia’s de facto slugging website, slug-lines.com. The site needs the hyphen to work.
He is no longer a slug himself, not since the BRAC moves jettisoned him from Crystal City to Fort Belvoir. The Woodbridge resident now drives to work and spends more time on the road alone, because there is no slugging system set up for Fort Belvoir workers.
“I really sense a loss of free time,” he said.
The Northern Virginia Regional Commission is trying to fix that problem with a pilot program that utilizes pseudo-slugging methods.
Slugging is a unique commuter concept along the Virginia and Washington, D.C., corridor, where riders and drivers link up at commuter lots and other designated areas and share the trips. That also allows the driver to use the HOV lanes. Because the slugs are helping the driver save time, they are not expected to chip in for gas.
The grant-funded pilot project will use similar methods to create a “real-time ride-sharing” community, something that is supposed to help ease congestion and other problems created by the BRAC movements, which relocated thousands of military workers around the region.
The Defense Health Headquarters, for instance, moved to a facility on State Route 50 in Falls Church where there are now 3,000 employees and only 2,000 parking spaces, said Peggy Tadej, NVRC’s regional BRAC coordinator.
DHHQ is the first real-time ride-share beta site, which started last week.
Now officials are recruiting Fort Belvoir workers, many of whom live in the Fredericksburg area.
“There is no slugging at these sites,” she said. “There is no transit at these sites.”
There are differences between the pilot program and slugging, though.
Slugs have designated areas where they form lines for rides, and these areas include backup rides like buses and vans.
The NVRC program will allow riders and drivers—only military personnel with iPhones—to use an app to link them up where it’s most convenient.
But unlike slugging, the real-time ride-sharing program isn’t free.
The yearlong pilot project will use some $600,000 in federal, state and local money to foot the bill initially, giving riders and drivers credits in their “digital wallets.”
Eventually, though, riders will pay a per-mile rate for trips to and from work, with the credits going into the driver’s account.
LeBlanc, who has taken part in focus groups for the pilot project and will try it, said the pay model is one major hurdle, for him and other former slugs.
“I’m resistant to paying for something that’s currently free,” he said. “Most people aren’t going to be willing to pay for what’s free.”
He also “has some concerns” about the private, for-profit company, Avego, operating the pilot program’s software.
Avego was founded in 2007 and manages worldwide, real-time computer programs and apps that commuters use to find “wasted seats in cars, vans and buses,” the company says on its website.
The company has offices in the U.S., Ireland and China and does work for the Transport of London and the European Space Agency.
LeBlanc is developing his own app, which is aimed at giving commuters a real-time source so they can link up, much like the pilot program. Only his will be free. He hopes to launch it in a few months.
Tadej said they are using the project to see if it’s something commuters will gravitate to.
“What we’re trying to do is offer another mode,” to commuters at the BRAC sites, she said.
The plan is to have the pilot up and running for Fort Belvoir as the second beta site by early August and by the end of September have launched the system in a total of seven locations.
Overall, Tadej said, they hope to have at least 1,000 riders and half as many drivers in the program.
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436