Will carpooling catch on this time?
Americans have been strangely resistant to carpooling as a way to save money when the price of gas shoots up.
With the national average gas price heading toward the $4 mark, wouldn't it make sense if we took up carpooling in a serious way? Social networking makes it so easy nowadays.
People across the pond -- where gas prices that would scare us silly have been the norm for years -- have figured this out. German company Carpooling.com says it has 3.6 million registered users in Europe. The for-profit enterprise is looking at the U.S. market, although CEO Markus Barnikel "admits that carpooling in the U.S. has never really taken off," Public Radio International says.
A bit of proof: A new $280,000 parking lot for commuters to Orlando, Fla. -- built specifically for carpoolers -- is just about empty every day, while nearby lots for people who park and take public transportation are full, Central Florida News 13 reported recently.
Before adding three new lots this year, FDOT studied user numbers at the 11 lots it already operated and found a trend. For example, Lots on SR 50 and lots on US 192 only offered carpooling and were almost always nearly empty. An Orange City lot with bus service was almost always full.
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But there are some encouraging signs. Ride-share programs are working hard to connect commuters. For example:
- The MiRideshare program in Southeast Michigan reportedly has 6,000 commuters in its database. It claims that commuters, who can register for the program online, can save $3,000 a year by using the free service. (The program also offers a page of helpful carpooling pointers and etiquette. No. 1: Don't be late.)
- Community Services of North Florida also makes it easy to carpool. You type in your particulars, and the system matches you up with other commuters who are going your way.
- A company called Zimride partners with colleges and universities to enable carpooling connections for students and employees via social-networking sites.
One twist on carpooling is "slugging," where would-be passengers line up at predetermined locations to catch a ride with someone who needs passengers to qualify for the carpooling lane. The official slugging website of the Washington, D.C., area describes it like this:
A car needing additional passengers to meet the required three-person high occupancy vehicle (HOV) minimum pulls up to one of the known slug lines. The driver usually positions the car so that the slugs are on the passenger side. The driver either displays a sign with the destination or simply lowers the passenger window to call out the destination, such as "Pentagon," "L'Enfant Plaza" or "14th & New York." The slugs first in line for that particular destination then hop into the car, normally confirming the destination, and off they go.
Why don't Americans like to carpool?
In some places it's tough. Wrote Los Angeles area resident Deborah Sweeney on Forbes.com:
Depending on how many people you have in the car and where everyone lives, you might find yourself driving all over the place to the point where you'll begin to wonder if your vehicle has suddenly morphed into an airport shuttle share van.
Some people worry about being stranded. However, we noticed that many of the Web-based carpooling efforts we found provide a free pickup service in case that happens.
We think an article by Frances Coleman for the Press-Register of Mobile, Ala., headlined "At what gas price will you carpool?," nailed the reasons in March 2008, and they still apply today. It's more than being resistant to doing the math concerning how much all that driving is costing you.
- "We are spoiled." We want to take whatever route we want, and we want to be able to drive to lunch or run an errand on the way home. You need your own wheels for that.
- "We are set in our ways." No way are we going to let some fool riding with us dictate what plays on the radio, or how hot it is inside the car or complain when we apply makeup or text behind the wheel, Coleman said.
Coleman also wrote:
We think we're the best and brightest drivers on the road, which makes us hesitant to entrust our safety to others.I would rather die at my own hand than be killed in your car because you failed to stop at a traffic light (or were putting on makeup or sending a text message while driving).
How high would gas have to be before you signed up at a carpooling website?
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