Commuter Carpools Save Time, Money and Stress
The carpool is supposed to have picked you up by now, but it's nowhere in sight. What do you do?
In a case of art imitating life, this scene is actually from a computer game, the smash "life simulation" game, The Sims. Its inclusion is indicative of how carpooling has permeated American culture. According to recent federal government studies, 10-16 million commuters use carpooling as their principal means of transportation to work every year. That's two to three times the number of people who use public transportation.
The need for carpooling is growing along with the increased congestion on U.S. roads. According to the 2005 Urban Mobility Report, the average rush-hour commuter now spends 31 more hours in traffic than in 1982.
There are numerous benefits to carpooling. Carpoolers can use High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) or express lanes, substantially cutting commute time. Some employers offer guaranteed parking to those who rideshare. Fewer cars on the roads reduces smog, slows global warming, and lessens our dependence on foreign oil. Commuters who don't have to drive each and every morning arrive at work less stressed, and many enjoy the company on an otherwise dull ride.
The greatest incentive to carpool, though, is financial. Hovering around $3 per gallon, the cost of gas is forcing people to consider alternatives to driving alone. The AAA estimates that operating costs (gas, tires and maintenance) average 14.1 cents per mile for 2005, all of which are shared in a carpool. If ownership costs — such as insurance, depreciation, finance charges, and taxes — are also shared, the economic benefits skyrocket. Additionally, many employers offer financial incentives for employees who share their rides to work.
Finding a carpool has never been easier. Forget about posting a note on the company billboard. Free online ridesharing programs on the Web such as Rideshare Online will match people based on home and work locations.
Because carpooling involves at least two people, there is always a possibility for conflict. The secret to preventing discord down the road is to set ground rules. Below are some suggestions to help pave the way:
Tips for a Successful Commuter Carpool
- Print driver schedules, pick-up times and locations, and phone numbers (including cell) on one page and distribute it to all members.
- If you are splitting costs with fellow riders, determine what your total costs will be by using Edmunds.com's TCO calculator, then set a schedule for payment. Don't forget toll charges if applicable — they add up quickly.
- Establish policies on stereo use, AC/heat, cell phones, and smoking before you start carpooling.
- Set rules for latecomers and decide how long to wait (5 minutes is standard).
- Be sure to give advance notice of vacation, personal or overtime plans.
- Anyone calling in sick should notify that day's driver as soon as possible.
- Have a backup plan in case the carpool driver must leave work early or stay late.
Clearly, a successful carpool requires structure. But not everyone is willing or able to commit themselves to scheduled pickup and drop-off times. Folks like these in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco have developed a fascinating carpool system called "slugging." Also called "instant" or "casual" carpooling, slugging allows commuters ("body snatchers") to pick up total strangers ("slugs") at the last minute, in order to meet the express lanes' minimum passenger requirements. The pickup sites are well-known, so drivers and passengers can join up in convenient locations on their way to work. Slugging, which traces its roots back to the 1970s Arab oil embargo, isn't about saving money. It's about saving time. No commitment required.