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Carpooling – The Comeback Kid of Commutes

February 28, 2019

The First Carpool

Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble were quite possibly the first carpoolers. With their zero-emission, self-propelled vehicle, they were the original green commuters. They probably had no choice but to share the ride because it took two people to move that cumbersome “car” anywhere. No matter, necessity is the mother of invention. Moving out of the Stone Age and into the 20th century, Henry Ford saw the need for affordable reliable transportation so he invented the Model T. By 1913, he had also invented the assembly line and lead to more than 2 million “Tin Lizzies” on the road by 1915.

Ford Assembly Line, circa 1929.

Carpooling Origins in the Real World

Carpooling among humans, as opposed to cartoon characters, followed closely behind the invention of the car. While sharing the ride has had its ups and downs in terms of popularity in the U.S. over time, it has always found a way to make a comeback:

  • Shortly after the car rose to popularity in 1914 the U.S. was in a recession and people began inviting others to ride with them. They charged around the same price as a streetcar ride and turned their cars into jitneys, an early version of Lyft and Uber.
  • During World War II as part of the need to conserve fuel for the war effort, the U.S. Government produced an ad campaign to encourage carpooling. Even Dr. Seuss got in on the action and helped design a poster with the slogan “Help win the war, squeeze in one more.”
  • Carpooling rose to popularity again in the 70s as part of the fuel crisis and by 1980 almost 25% of Americans were riding in carpools.

Currently, carpooling has seen its popularity wane. The most recent data from the U.S. Census shows that only about 9% of the population is willing to share the ride. But to those of us who are paying attention, it looks like the carpool might be poised for a comeback.

The Carpool Comeback

There are still places where carpooling has found its niche. In San Francisco for example, you can hang out in a designated area in East Bay and hitch a ride in a Casual Carpool with a commuter crossing the bridge into San Francisco. In the Washington DC area, it’s called “slugging.” A driver who needs passengers to be able to use the HOV lane goes to a “slug line” to pick up those who are waiting there. Drivers let the passengers know where they are headed and they hop in to share the ride.

Some commuters in Washington DC get to work by “slugging”. These carpools form when drivers and passengers pair up in park-n-ride lots located in and around the metro area.

Carpooling Reduces Traffic Congestion & Improves Air Quality

Carpooling represents the height of simplicity in terms of alternative commuting. Just find someone whose commute matches yours and share the ride to work. Most cars have at least four seats, so why drive around with three of them empty? Even if you only carpool some of the time, statistically you will have an impact on air quality and traffic congestion.

We Can Help

TransAction Associates developed eCommuter, an online commuter tool, that lets users create a profile in a real-time database to see who else matches their commute. They can also calculate the cost of their trip to work, or even explore bike and transit options. Many employers are now offering ridematch databases like eCommuter so their employees can realize the many benefits associated with carpooling. Given the increase in traffic and the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, it seems like carpooling is about to be cool again.

Now if we could figure out how to get a workout in during the commute like Fred and Barney did, then everyone would be able to carpool and stay fit at the same time.