How to Start a Carpool

Learn the basics of setting up a regular carpool to your job.

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At any given time, 85% of the cars on the road hold only one person, and 77% of us commute alone. But 10% of us commute to work in a carpool. Here's why:

  • Sharing a ride significantly cuts the cost of driving and parking.
  • You can sit back, relax, eat, sleep, read, chat, or work while riding (unless you are the driver, of course).
  • Many high-traffic areas have carpool lanes, also known as high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, allowing carpoolers to sail past the congestion.
  • Some areas designate special or discounted parking for ride­sharers, bridges waive tolls, and some employers offer employees valuable commuter vouchers to provide an incentive for not driving solo.
  • Carpooling to and from work gives you a good excuse to leave work on time, and an extra incentive to arrive on time.

Finding Carpoolers

The majority of people in this country say they would be interested in carpooling to work, but they fear it would be inconvenient or hard to find other carpoolers. This is becoming less of an obstacle, thanks to the Internet. Carpool matchmaking websites abound; most major cities have them. Chances are good that people who live or work near you want to carpool—you just have to find them.

If you need to look further afield, here are some rideshare matching websites that might help:

  • PickupPal
  • GoLoco
  • Zimride
  • Ridester
  • Rideshare 511 (San Francisco Bay Area)

Rules for Carpool Drivers and Passengers

If you set up a regular carpool, here are some details you'll want to sort out with your other carpoolers:

  • Will the same person drive every day or will you rotate drivers or cars? (If you rotate, you'll need a schedule.)
  • What are the pickup and dropoff points?
  • How long will the carpool wait for someone who is late?
  • Are cell phone conversations allowed for drivers? Passengers?
  • Is smoking allowed? What about strong perfumes or colognes?
  • Will carpoolers listen to music, books-on-tape, talk radio, and so on? Is conversation invited at all times?
  • Is there a backup plan if a driver is not available or the car has broken down? How will carpoolers notify each other? Will any of the carpoolers be available to drive on a moment's notice?

Sharing Expenses in a Carpool

There are different ways to share expenses in a carpool. If your carpool rotates drivers regularly, then you won't need to exchange money; it should all even out over time. If one or more people do most of the driving, you could come up with a reasonable fee for each trip, such as $2 a day. Or, you could use the standard mileage rate set by the IRS (currently 55.5 cents) or another mileage rate, and come up with a fee by multiplying round-trip miles by the mileage rate, then dividing by the number of people in the car. If you are the driver and charge a fee, make sure it's not so high that you're earning a profit; this could cause the IRS or your insurance company to see you as a taxi company.

Sometimes, riders don't pay a fee, but pay other expenses, such as road tolls or parking costs. And some carpool drivers don't ask riders to share expenses at all. The conversation, companionship, and carpool lane advantages are incentive enough.

Be sure to check if your employer has any financial incentives to encourage carpooling. Employers can provide tax-free transportation benefits to employees, such as cash or vouchers carpooling, or vanpooling. Find out more at CommuterChoice.com, and let your employer know. Some employers provide additional cash incentives for employees to carpool (because it frees up workplace parking spots). The value can quickly add up for the commuter.

Insurance and Carpooling

If you will be carting people around on a regular basis, you may want to increase your limit of liability. The more people in a car during an accident, the higher medical expenses and other damages could be. Carrying a high limit of liability protects you, your passengers, and anyone else injured in an accident. Although many drivers carry about $100,000 in liability coverage, you may want to consider carrying up to $1,000,000. This will increase your monthly insurance premium, but it's perfectly acceptable to ask your passengers to help pay for this.

Ridesharing Alternatives to Carpools

Unlike carpools, vanpools are often organized by an employer or a special service with the resources to provide a van. Vanpooling services rent vans to groups and help them find riders and select a route. Because vans are so much bigger than cars, they are a very efficient way to share a commute. The van riders save time and money; the driver enjoys these benefits and gets a van to use evenings and weekends; the earth and the air quality benefit greatly as well.

Here's how one van service, Vanpool Hawaii, works: Once you find enough people, Vanpool Hawaii will rent you an appropriately sized van for $55 a month, per passenger. Passengers share fuel costs. Everything else—maintenance, registration, insurance, and roadside assistance—is covered by the company.

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