You leave your driveway in the best of moods, happily ready to face a new day. But something you hear causes you to shudder and cringe -- the ominous traffic report. In a few moments, you're transformed into a white-knuckled, foul-mouthed driver, stressing about making your big meeting on time.
People in big cities expect traffic jams and must plan their schedules around these annoying delays. A 30-mile (48-kilometer) commute can regularly take more than an hour in bad traffic.
As the traffic congestion in a city worsens, people begin to look at different options to decrease their commute time. The option we'll discuss in this article is carpooling.
Carpooling, which falls under the ridesharing umbrella and is closely related to vanpooling, is simply when a group of people decide to ride together. They usually share the cost of the trip and take turns driving. Often, carpools are formed by commuters who want to avoid driving during rush hour. In a small way, these commuters help to alleviate that traffic. Carpools are also formed by parents who want to divide the task of driving children to and from school and extracurricular activities.
Now that we know why people form carpools, let's find out how they should go about creating them.
Find a Carpool
The Internet has forever changed how a commuter can find a carpool. By accessing various carpooling and ridesharing Web sites, commuters can easily find their perfect carpools. The more traditional ways to find a carpool -- through clubs, PTAs and other social networks -- still exist for those who prefer a more personalized search method.
Some of the Web sites that are particularly useful for finding fellow commuters are eRideShare.com, CarpoolConnect.com and SwiftCommute.com. Some sites target specific areas, like metropolitan hubs, and others focus on one-time, long-distance ridesharing opportunities.
The process of starting a carpool through a Web-based service may include:
- Registration: You register and provide information about where you live, where you work, your work schedule, and other important details.
- Follow-up Information: You may include additional information and ask questions to tailor your potential carpool. (Or, you can wait until you have some possible matches and discuss your preferences directly with them.) Additional questions may include: Will the carpool members take turns driving or will one person chauffeur and the rest pitch in for gas? If the carpool pitches in for gas, will it be on a weekly or monthly basis? Will smoking be allowed? Is there a gender preference? How flexible is the carpool's schedule? What happens if someone must work late? How long will the carpool wait for late people?
- Communication and Etiquette: After you get in touch with future carpool partners, take some time discussing what you think is proper car etiquette. Can passengers read, talk on the phone or listen to music, or does the driver expect some interaction? How about eating breakfast -- can passengers or the driver eat in the car? Must the driver have a clean driving record before getting behind the wheel? Does the driver choose what goes on the radio, or does the choice rotate? Can carpoolers use their cell phones during the ride?
Finalizing these issues is one of the most important aspects of forming a successful carpool. Making sure you have a solid match will ensure you don't have to start the whole process all over again within a few weeks. Don't give up if the first few weeks are a bit bumpy -- it takes a while to work out all the kinks.
Before starting a carpool, make a list of priorities. Figure out what's most important to you and in what ways you can adjust. Then, all that remains is to settle procedural basics, like creating a backup plan in case that day's car breaks down.
It's pretty easy to start a carpool, although there are some challenges in ensuring a good setup, as well as keeping the carpool functioning over the long term. Let's find out what motivates people to start a carpool and what the benefits are.
Commuters can take advantage of many carpool benefits. Perhaps one of the most important benefits to commuters is that carpooling saves money. Sticker shock at the gas pumps has many people trying to cut down on the amount of fuel they use -- joining a carpool is a great way to share the energy burden. Other vehicle-related savings shouldn't be overlooked either. If you have a long commute, the wear and tear on your car can really add up.
Sharing the cost of gas isn't the only way carpoolers save money. Many organizations, like the Clean Air Campaign, offer reward programs to local carpoolers. You can log your carpool commute with these organizations and get cash in your wallet. Some insurance companies offer discounts to people who rideshare, and sometimes carpoolers receive access to special parking spots.
Another big reason folks are starting to carpool more is traffic congestion. The more cars on the road, the worse congestion gets. If people can fill the empty seats in their cars with other riders, the smoother the drive becomes for everyone. Local economies also benefit from less traffic congestion. Good traffic flow is one of the deciding factors when companies look to relocate or expand in certain cities.
Leaving the car at home once in a while helps to decrease levels of air pollution. These levels can be especially high in urban, traffic-congested areas.
Concerns carpoolers should keep in mind are some of the new initiatives created to help calm traffic in some cities. Some of these initiatives seek to transform underused High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes in an attempt to tackle gridlock and move traffic.
Some cities are converting HOV lanes into HOT lanes, then charging tolls to use these lanes. Different places settle on different formulas, but generally, buses and vanpools can zip past electronic tolls without paying anything. Even three-person carpools might be able to get through. But two-person carpools and single drivers might be charged to use the lane.
The tricky part is, as the level of traffic increases, so does the toll fee. Cars are alerted to the current charge at the lane's entrance, regulating the amount (and therefore speed) of traffic in the HOT lane. A single driver in rush hour pays more to use the lane than a car with two people at rush hour and more than a driver who accesses the lane in the middle of the night. The goal is to keep that lane's traffic moving and allow people the option to use the lane if they're willing to pay. This helps to balance the level of traffic in all the lanes.
People who carpool with multiple members will be ahead of the game if HOT lanes start popping up in their city, but two-person carpools may want to add members. People who live in cities with these controversial HOT lanes seem to cough up the money, and in return, these commuters get a more reliable trip time.
If you want to add some company during your commute by starting a carpool, visit the links on the next page.
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More Great Links
- 511 Rideshare. "How to Start a Carpool Program." (5/8/2008) http://rideshare.511.org/downloads/carpool_program.pdf
- Beard, David. "We're a red state (in carbon emissions)." The Boston Globe. 4/28/2008. (5/8/2008) http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/green/greenblog/2008/04/were_a_red_ state_by_carbon_emissions.html
- DivideTheRide.com. "Frequently Asked Questions." (5/8/2008) http://www.dividetheride.com/Guide.aspx
- Hymon, Steve. "MTA votes for tolls on some carpool lanes by 2010." Los Angeles Times. 4/25/2008. (5/8/2008) http://www.latimes.com/news/local/ la-me-congestion25apr25,1,5883475.story
- O'Crowley, Peggy. "Divide the Ride: Carpooling for Parents." The Star-Ledger. 5/8/2008. (5/8/2008) http://blog.nj.com/parentalguidance/2008/05/0504_siteseeing.html
- Poole, Robert and Kenneth Orski. "HOT Lanes: A Better Way to Attack Urban Highway Congestion." Regulation. (5/8/2008) http://www.cato.org/pubs/regulation/regv23n1/poole.pdf
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. "Gridlock." The Free Dictionary. (5/8/2008) http://www.thefreedictionary.com/gridlock
- The TDM Encyclopedia. "Ridesharing: Carpooling and Vanpooling." Victoria Transport Policy Institute. 9/4/2007. (5/6/2008) http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm34.htm
- Woolsey, Matt. "Best and Worst Cities for Commuters." Forbes. 4/25/2008. (5/8/2008) http://www.forbes.com/2008/04/24/cities-commute-fuel-forbeslife-cx_mw_ 0424realestate.html
- Zeitz, Ron. "High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes Give Drivers Choices." Federal Highway Administration. 8/8/2006. (5/8/2008) http://knowledge.fhwa.dot.gov/cops/italladdsup.nsf/ 0/71de9c58bb9aef86852571c4007a1b7a?OpenDocument