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Monday, March 19, 2007

Carpooling - who carpools and how do we get more people to share rides with strangers?

How do we get more people to share rides to and from work? Some people do it, and a lot of companies offer incentives and monthly drawings to reward those employees who share rides. Two of my former employers offered monthly drawings, one being Merck & Co. who happened to offer incentives to carpoolers and even offered zero percent financing for hybrid automobile purchases (neat!).

Is that enough? I don't think so. People do not carpool for a number of reasons. People become attached to their vehicles. Some like the "thrill" of the commute, or maybe its the 1 hour of talk radio, while most of those people probably just desire the flexibility driving the car to work gives them - whether that is the ability to work late, go to the gym after work, or pick up the kids or meet friends following the daily grind. Those same employees at Merck's suburban Philadelphia offices who lived in Center City, the same who had carpool incentives AND access to a train to and from work, chose to drive themselves to work, which is nuts if you've ever commuted around Philly, especially on the Schuylkill expressway deathtrap. Whatever the reason, we can't rely on good faith and "doing the right thing" to get people to share rides more than they do today and that does not help places like Pittsburgh where the air quality is pretty poor.

I'm not an economist but these types of decisions and incentive studies are what keeps our econobloggers busy day in and day out. I'll have to forward this on to one of them to see if I can get an answer on potential solutions to the lack of carpooling in the US. Me personally, I shared a ride with a co-worker for about 18 months. Each way was close to 20 miles and while my co-worker did most of the driving I did pay my share in gas. Besides saving on gas and the mileage on my leased vehicle (my incentive at the time!), we were able to have a lot of good conversations and became good friends, but I doubt most others would be lucky enough to share the same love of music and entrepreneurship that my friend and I shared.

So what can we do? Most regions have an organization in place that offers some sort of system for car pool scheduleing, such as Pitsburgh's fine commuteinfo.org. The problem with solutions such as commuteinfo.org is A. The lack of clarity - where the heck do I go on this page and how do I use it? and B. Lack of incentives.

NuRide.com is a solution I read about two years ago and is a potential solution I asked some of our local organizations to look into. That was back in the Summer of 2005 and I came across several emails to both individuals at NuRide and also here at the groups in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is not on NuRide's list of operating regions so I am assuming my efforts back in 2005 were wasted. Well, I'm not giving up. I'm seeing more and more vehicles backed up on the highways leading into Pittsburgh to the North, East, and West, with the Northern parkway (route 279) being much worse than it was back when I shared a ride in 2001-2002.

The NuRide program relies on funding from regions that receive money from the federal government's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program. Through the use of these funds, which , according to my contact at NuRide only come about when "the local governments are willing to spend some of the money on ride sharing programs," NuRide is able to serve a region and recruit its partners, which are the bread and butter of this incentive program.

If your region is using CMAQ funds to operate a ride sharing program, is that ride sharing program effective? If not, and I believe a lot of those dollars are funding bureaucracies that do little to ease the congestion and pollution problems or our cities, start reaching out to the leaders of your community action groups, start bringing up programs like NuRide to your local leaders, and let's all try a little harder to extend the offer of ride sharing with a fellow co-worker even if it does not get you a free latte at Starbucks.

1 comment:

Schultz said...

Check out http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/006321.html
for more info on NuRide's introduction to the Minneapolis region.