Published on January 8th, 2009 | by Stephanie Evans1
Why It’s Cool to Carpool
Almost everyone knows the feeling of being stuck in traffic next to the HOV lane and just itching to pull out and test their luck. Well, nowadays it’s easier than ever to be a legit member of that two-person-or-more haven as you lower your carbon commute-print and become a green commuter!
Carpools have been a viable option for many years, but never more so than now. Global warming, rising gas prices, and heavily congested roads have prompted the creation of programs that make it easy and economically smart to be part of a rideshare program. And carpooling is not limited to the daily commuter either: programs offer match-ups for those going to events, out with friends, college, places of worship, or on a one-time trip to another city.
Carbon dioxide emissions produced by transportation account for almost 1/3 of the emissions in the U.S., second only to electricity as the largest source of CO2 emissions. If you drive with even one more person who would otherwise occupy an SOV (single-occupancy vehicle), you are each cutting your personal impact in half.
Considering the national average of CO2 emitted by each motorist per year in the U.S. is 5.5 tons, this is a considerable reduction. Add two more people to the car for a year of shared rides and suddenly that’s 16.5 tons of carbon not being pumped into the atmosphere!
If you’re still not sure your choice can make a significant difference to your carbon footprint, here are some additional motivational facts.
Even if the impact on the environment wasn’t so vitally important to take into account, other factors make ridesharing an appealing alternative:
- Zipping ahead of the SOVs idling in traffic, cutting down commute time
- Time to visit with co-workers, make new friends, and (for the passengers) eat, read, sleep, or listen to music
- Less stress all around
- Many employers offer preferred parking to car/vanpools as a motivation
Significant monetary savings: a rough average savings is around $3,000 per year (averages taken from AAA), but this will vary based on your regularity and the program you’re in and how frequently you participate. You can calculate the impact and savings of your individual commute with calculators such as those provided by Rideshare Online and The Rideshare Company.
Many businesses and institutions are getting on board and organizing or joining carpool programs that help their employees match up with others. These often come with additional incentives to the given monetary savings you will accrue by sharing transportation.
Commuter tax benefits are the most common incentive, as they are of immediate benefit to employer and employee. Depending on the program employers choose to implement, there may be additional commuter benefits as well, such as preferred parking spaces.
- For employers wondering if they should start a rideshare program for their employees, sites like the Commuter Choice Primer are a good place to start.
If your employer does not currently participate in a rideshare program, you can always individually join a program (see links to some options below) or start your own carpool. Ask around at work, post flyers, and be sure to ask your employer about starting a program!
Here are some tips for establishing carpool etiquette practices:
- The driver: Will you all rotate driving or will only one or two of you drive? If you rotate drivers equally, no one needs to pay anyone else, but if some participants don’t drive, you should decide on regular payments for the driver. One good formula is:Carpool roundtrip mileage X Cost per mile ÷ Number of carpoolers = Daily Fare per Rider
- Establish basic rules: Is eating allowed? What about music and talking? Who gets to sit where and will you rotate seats?
- Pickup and wait times: Are you meeting at a centralized location or will the car pick up individuals at their houses? How long will you wait for someone before leaving? Make sure you have everyone’s phone numbers.
- Backup plan: What happens if the weather is bad or another emergency arises? It’s always good to have a #2 driver as a default, and public transportation is a good alternative as well.
- Insurance: The driver should have current insurance with the appropriate coverage for driving a carpool. Providing photocopies to all passengers is a good idea too.
Guaranteed Ride Home: Offered to regular commuters by many rideshare programs or through the employer or institution (ie. universities), the GRH program allows a set number per year of paid-for alternative rides home in case of emergency or unexpected overtime at work (i.e. an employer will cover a taxi ride home).
Want to catch a ride to a concert or your place of worship? There are online services that match you up with others going your way:
- Go Loco is an interesting take on the rideshare program in that it actually alerts you when friends or interest groups are going places you may want to go.
- If you’re looking for a last-minute ride up to the mountains or to the next town over for the weekend, you can often find something through a service, but a truly last-minute alternative is searching the rideshare section of craigslist. Be aware, however, that craigslist does not provide the same security measures as established rideshare programs.
- Sites like AlterNetRides provide sections for activities like “Ski and Casino Resorts”.
- Divide the Ride is a good site for families looking to combine rides for their kids’ activities.
Sometimes joining a regular rideshare program can be the best option no matter if you are a regular commuter or regular concert-goer. Sites worth a visit include:
- Rideshare Directory offers a comprehensive list of online rideshare programs, organized by state and including national programs.
- eRideShare.com, iCarpool, The Rideshare Company, MyCarpoolStation.com, and the previously mentioned PickupPal are all national programs to check out. Most encourage businesses to join their service.