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FEATURE ARTICLE - SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2008
Carpool for the Climate and Community
Share rides to work, school, worship, and more to cut pollution and build community.
When Anne Benson took a colleague’s suggestion and joined a long-standing daily carpool from Shirlington, VA, to downtown Washington, DC, she wasn’t looking for romance. She was just hoping to share gas costs with three other colleagues, to take advantage of Virginia’s faster “HOV” highway lanes for cars with more than one passenger, and to benefit from her employer’s reserved parking spaces for carpoolers.
Three years later, after Anne and her three carpool-mates, including Andrew Miller, had shared many conversations on the afternoon drives home, carpooling turned out to have another perk: Anne and Andrew fell in love.
“We met and got to be friends through the carpool,” recalls Anne. “It was funny when we told [the other two carpoolers] that we were dating! And we have a picture of the ‘carpool table’ at our wedding.”
Now living in Annandale, VA, Anne and Andrew still ride to work together, now with two little passengers—their four- and five-year-olds, in carseats—as well as one colleague from the original carpool started 16 years ago.
Setting up a carpool isn’t guaranteed to lead to true love. But even without any prospect of romance, ride-sharing offers a win-win-win proposition for people, planet, and your pocketbook. Many cars have seats for at least four or five passengers, and yet fully 44 percent of the almost a billion personal car trips each day in the US are driven with only one of those seats occupied, according to the US Department of Transportation.
Every empty seat in the hundreds of millions of cars on the road represents a missed opportunity to save money, reduce traffic and pollution, and build community through a shared ride. While the idea of carpooling isn’t new, several new Internet sites and applications make it easier than ever to publicize open spots in your car and to safely seek out promising carpool partners.
The Perks of Carpooling
Ridesharing Web sites have reported that rising gas costs have inspired a recent spike in interest in carpools. Forming a shared ride is a great strategy for splitting your current gas costs in half or even three or four ways.
Sharing rides also means that participants drive less, which has a major environmental benefit. Cars produce carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping gasses that cause global warming. Closer to the ground, cars produce smog that contributes to asthma and other public health problems. For trips where walking, biking, or public transportation aren’t an option, ride-sharing is a powerful way to cut down on car miles driven.
And as Anne and Andrew discovered rather dramatically, sharing rides is a way of connecting with people. Scholar of “social capital” Robert Putnam, the author of Bowling Alone (Simon & Schuster, 2001), has documented that across the population, every ten minutes of additional commuting time is correlated with a ten percent lower level of social connectedness. Ridesharing introduces good company into what otherwise might be solitary car trips. In carpools, neighbors can meet, sharing stories and conversation.
Share Rides to Work, School, and Worship
If you don’t have a friend or co-worker ready and willing to carpool with you, new online tools can make finding carpool partners easy and safe.
AlterNetways company is one of several companies that works directly with “destinations”—large institutions to which many people drive regularly, such as universities and workplaces. Many workers, for example, are feeling pinched by the high cost of their solo car commute, and are demanding that their workplaces help alleviate those costs through assistance in forming carpools.
For a $500 initial setup fee and an annual $500 for the first location, AlterNetWays will create a customized application window that opens directly from an institution’s Web site. (Additional locations are $100 each. For nonprofits and schools, setup is only $250.) People can post when and from where they drive, either for one-time or regular trips, whether or not they listen to the radio or smoke, whether or not they’d like to share driving, and whether or not they’d like to charge a set reimbursement cost for a portion of the gas.
Interested riders can click on the ride offers to see the routes illustrated on an online map, and can e-mail each other through the system anonymously to begin coordinating a carpool. Happy carpoolers can even give a “thumbs up” approval rating to their ride companions online to let other ride seekers know that a particular driver is safe behind the wheel, or a particular rider is punctual or makes for pleasant company. (Use caution in making initial contact with strangers, as you would in responding to any Internet or print classified advertisement.)
AlterNetWays has also developed a version of its product with stronger privacy controls so parents and teachers in elementary schools can coordinate ridesharing. A number of other companies also offer similar ridesharing Internet services that employers can make available to their employees, including NuRide.com, RideShare.com, ZimRide.com, and carpool groups at Carpoolworld.com.
Members of the social networking Web site Facebook.com can coordinate rides with “friends” and those in their school or workplace-based network by downloading its free Carpool application, powered by Zimride.
Mark Evanoff, founder of AlterNetWays, believes that organizing ridesharing among people who share a common destination maximizes the likelihood of successful ride matches. He is so excited to spread the word about ride matching that his company makes a customized ridesharing application available free to any house of worship that wishes to coordinate weekly shared rides for their congregants.
Share Rides to Events
Next time you’re planning a car trip to a large gathering such as a conference, concert, sports game, festival, or celebration, look for an opportunity to share rides there and back.
SpaceShare.com develops customized ridesharing applications for large festivals, conferences, and community events.
AlterNetWays Company will provide a customized ridesharing application for the Web site of an event of any size, including a private wedding or commitment ceremony, for $50. AlterNetWays’ existing institutional customers, such as universities, can purchase a package of ten events for $100.
“Think about football games,” muses AlterNetWays’ Evanoff, noting that universities could help organize ridesharing to both home and away games. “Somewhere on the university’s Web site about upcoming football games, there will be the date, who they’re playing, and a link to click to buy tickets. Universities could add just one more link that says ‘click here to carpool to this game.’”
For private events like weddings or family reunions, there are a variety of free technologies that can help participants find a ride. For example, hosts can set up a spreadsheet online through Google.com’s “Documents” application with columns for name, contact information, rides offered, rides needed, origin and destination, and “match made,” and create a public URL for the document that you can share with guests by e-mail (http://docs.google.com, select “Anyone can edit this document without logging in at [URL].”) For events to which guests are invited using the electronic invitation service Evite.com, guests can indicate when they RSVP if they would be interested in offering or accepting a ride.
Share Rides in Town
Many local ridesharing resources serve particular metropolitan areas. Many lively local Web sites, sometimes established by the municipal transportation authority, help citizens share rides.
For example, in Central Texas (www.rivercitiesrideshare.com, www.commutesolutions.com, www.capmetro.com), Oregon and Southwest Washington State (www.carpoolmatchnw.org), and Ontario, Canada (www.carpoolzone.smartcommute.ca), neighbors collaborate locally to set up carpools for one-time and recurring car trips.
AlterNetWays Company also works directly with local transportation authorities to provide a customized application that allows residents to coordinate ridesharing through the city or county’s transportation Web site. Check your municipality’s transportation department Web site to see if there’s a carpooling Web site in your area.
Share Rides Out of Town
Heading out of town for the weekend? A number of national ridesharing Web sites help carpoolers find each other for trips between cities. For example, from your local Craigslist.org Web site, choose “rideshare” under community to see a chronological list of rides sought and offered. Other national rideshare resources for inter-city trips include eRideShare.com, Carpoolworld.com, and the main homepage of AlterNetRides.com (click on “One-Time Rides”).
While not everyone who carpools will be as lucky as Anne Miller, who found not only a lift but love as well, AlterNetWays’ Mark Evanoff does envision a day soon when cooperatively sharing car rides will become a routine part of planning how we get to everything we drive to.
“We want this woven into the fabric of everyday life,” he says. “There will come a day when a person comes to church on Sunday, and they announce from the pulpit that they have a new rideshare program for the church. Then at work the next day, they hear about a rideshare program for commuting to their job, and that afternoon, their child brings home information about a rideshare site for the school. And then, when they’re signing up to attend a football game, or a conference, there’s a rideshare option right there.”
Many people have found that as they drive less, through ridesharing and by biking, walking, and taking public transit, that not only can they afford to share rides, but perhaps they can also share cars. In cities across the country, car-sharing cooperatives and companies help people shift from a personal car to shared access to a car, only when they need one. Carsharing allows many people to share the costs of insuring and maintaining a car, and also allows flexibility for getting a vehicle of the appropriate size for particular trips.
• Fee-based carshare companies — ZipCar (866/4-ZIPCAR) parks its cars throughout more than 40 US cities. Members pay by the hour to use the cars when they need them.
• Several cities also have nonprofit car sharing
organizations, including Austin CarShare (512/448-4477);
I-GO Car Sharing
(773/278-4446); and Boulder CarShare (303/271-3510), expanding soon to Denver, CO. Find one of the 18 programs in the US near you at