Making life in the carpooling lane work

Published Tuesday, December 11, 2012 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

For most of us, vehicle ownership and operation is one of the biggest expenses we have.  It also represents a huge component of our personal carbon footprint. 

Carpooling is one of the easiest and most convenient ways to save on vehicle expenses – and it’s one of the very best things we can do for the planet.  If you’ve ever thought you’d like to start a carpool at your workplace or in your community, here are some tips to help.

First, the Why
By carpooling, the average commuter can save literally hundreds of dollars a year in fuel and vehicle maintenance.  Further hundreds can be saved through reduced capital costs; imagine having to replace your vehicle half as often. 

And there would be huge environmental benefits too.  Private transportation accounts for about 12% of Canadian greenhouse gas emissions; a solid commitment to carpooling could cut that at least in half.

There are less obvious advantages too: less traffic congestion; less time spent commuting (especially if you live in an area with carpool lanes); lower parking costs; a more sociable commute; and, sometimes, preferred parking spaces at work.

Step one: spread the word
Carpools tend not to be very successful if no one knows about them.  So the first and perhaps most important step to starting one is getting the word out.  Depending on how grand your carpooling aspirations are, there are plenty of easy ways to do that.

If you’re just looking for a private carpool:

  • Tell friends and family you are looking for co-commuters.  In the Facebook era, ‘friends’ can mean a lot of people get the message.
  • Post notices on bulletin boards where you browse, shop or pick up your mail; they’re the same places your potential co-commuters would frequent as well.  Include key information like approximately where you are, when and where you want to go and whether you seek a driver or a passenger.  Sample flyers can be found at www.carpool.ca
  • Use web-based resources like Kijiji, Craigslist or Saint John’s own www.shareyourride.ca ridesharing website to find co-commuters.

If you’d like to start something bigger at your workplace, bravo!  Workplace-based carpools have the logistical advantage of a common destination and the peace-of-mind advantage of traveling with someone you know.  Circulate an email and post notices, but also approach your employer to get official support for your initiative.  There’s nothing like a message from the top to get people’s attention, and many progressive employers would embrace the opportunity to go green.  Large companies like Bombardier, Bell and BDC use their intranets to link up their employees who commute from similar directions; why not larger employers in NB too, like hospitals or industrial complexes?

Don’t be discouraged if initial uptake is sluggish; advertisers know that people need to hear messages repeatedly before they act, so persistence may be needed.

Types of carpools
There are several ways a carpool can be run:

  • The same person drives every day, picking up everyone else along the way.  This works well when someone lives further away from the destination than everyone else.
  • Drivers alternate on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, perhaps departing from a common meeting point.  Advantage: no money needs to change hands as everything balances out.
  • Drivers use a company vehicle which would otherwise sit idle overnight in a company lot.  Requires corporate support, but can lead to particularly huge savings for carpool participants.

Carpool rules and etiquette
Even Dagwood Bumstead has learned that a harmonious carpool requires a few ground rules.  Once you’ve found your co-commuters, some points you might want to discuss include:

  • How and when will costs be shared?
  • How long do you wait if someone is running late?  What will you do if lateness becomes a habit?
  • What happens when the driver is sick or has a midday family emergency?
  • What are the rules for food, beverages, smoking, fragrances and music? 
  • Who gets the front seat? 
  • Will any stops or side trips be allowed?
  • Are there insurance issues?

No small fruit
On the tree of environmental solutions, there is perhaps no larger, lower-hanging fruit than carpooling.  It has the potential to generate huge savings for participants and huge benefits for the environment, and it applies as much to grocery runs as it does to daily commutes.  So why not make it your resolution for 2013?