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Frugal Fast Track: Join a Carpool to Save Money and Time

Lisa.Kramer

Carpooling is not just for kids, hippies and clowns. With gas prices teetering towards four dollars a gallon, car ownership expenses soaring, and  gridlock traffic clogging up the highways and main roads in most metropolitan areas, more and more people are organizing carpools for their regular commutes to work and school. Last year, nearly 10 percent of all workers carpooled to work. Some of the many benefits of carpooling include the following:

  • Save Money: Carpooling saves you money because the cost of gas, tolls, and parking gets split among the carpool members. In addition, by avoiding the daily drive to work, your vehicle gets less wear and tear (hello, lower repair bills). Check out this Commuter Calculator that performs a cost analysis of your driving routes based on how many miles you drive, the price of fuel, and the fuel efficiency of your car. The Commuter Calculator will then calculate your potential savings for each member you add to your carpool.
  • Save the Environment: The U.S. could save 33 million gallons of gas per day if each commuting vehicle carried just one extra person. Additionally, carpooling reduces the amount of carbon emissions released into the environment.
  • Companionship: According to the U.S. Census, the average work commute is 24.3 minutes each way. If you work five days a week, fifty weeks a year, that amounts to nearly 200 hours spent commuting a year. Not only does having someone to talk to make the ride go by in a flash, but also it can be a great opportunity to process the workday with another person.
  • Stress Relief: Driving to and from work everyday with its hectic backdrop of bad drivers, honking horns, and relentless traffic is extremely stressful and can run your mind and body ragged. One carpooling benefit is that you don’t have to drive everyday. If it’s not your day to drive, you can catch up on work, sleep, the latest celebrity gossip magazines, or even your coupon clipping while riding as a passenger in the car.
  • Reduce Commute Time/Avoid Traffic: In some areas, carpools can use special carpool/High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes that are typically faster and less congested than normal lanes, especially during rush hour.
  • Other Incentives: Many state and local governments, universities, and workplaces offer special incentives for carpoolers such as financial incentives or specially designated “carpool only” parking spots or lots. For example, in Colorado, carpools do not have to pay tolls so long as the carpool is travelling in the HOV lane.

Online Resources for Carpoolers

  • Craigslist: Check out the community section of your city’s Craigslist site to find the rideshare classifieds. Users can post free ads to recruit carpool members in their area. As with all online dealings, beware of scams and be cautious when meeting strangers for the first time.
  • eRideShare: On this popular free site, commuters can register to become part of a large database of carpoolers searchable by location. Members can find and contact potential carpoolers through the site.
  • nuRide: nuRide is a rewards program sponsored by companies and government agencies that issues members rewards when they choose greener transportation alternatives such as carpooling. Users track their trips on the site to earn points redeemable for restaurant coupons, retailer discounts, and tickets to shows and attractions in their area. According to nuRide, active members redeem about $300 in rewards a year.
  • PickupPal: This carpooling site incorporates social networking features to makes it easy for users to find rides and carpool members among people who are already in their social network.
  • Ridestir: On this free site, members can both offer rides and find rides by zip code.
  • Location-Specific Resources: Some cities and states have their own carpooling sites. To see if there’s a location-specific carpooling site in your area, check your local government’s website as well as your state’s Department of Transportation website. Here are some resources from across the country: Kansas City, MO (RideShare Connection); North Carolina (Share the Ride NC); Central Virginia (RideShare), San Diego, CA (iCommute), Atlanta, GA (RideSmart); Denver, CO (RideArrangers); St. Louis, MO (RideFinders); and SE Michigan (MiRideshare).
  • University/Employer Resources: Check with your university or employer to see if they have any designated carpooling resources such as a community rideshare board or website.

Tips for Forming a Successful Carpool

  • Get to Know Each Other First: Since you’ll be spending a significant amount of time with your carpool, it is best to get acquainted with each other before the carpool begins. While you don’t need to be best friends with everyone in your carpool, you do need to make sure you’ll be okay spending time with them everyday.
  • Set Carpool Policies: Before the carpool begins, your carpool members should mutually establish policies and ground rules. Determine whether eating and drinking is allowed in the car. And what about other factors like smoking, music choice/volume, and cell phones?
  • Determine a Procedure for Splitting Expenses: Determine ahead of time how carpool members will split expenses such as gas, tolls and parking.
  • Set a Schedule and Chain of Communication: Create a driving schedule with pick-up times and locations and distribute it to all carpool members. Also, craft a contact list with the names and contact information for each member and then distribute it. It is also critical to set up a backup plan. Determine what happens when a driver is sick or goes on vacation.

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