Casual Carpooling

Learn about casual carpooling and how to organize this form of ridesharing in your neighborhood.

Casual ridesharing could be described as an organized form of hitchhiking, where riders gather at a specific location and wait to be picked up by drivers. The incentive for everyone is usually to gain access to a carpool lane during rush hour. Casual ridesharing is most common in large cities where many people work downtown or for a large employer, such as a factory or university. The pickup spots are usually "Park and Ride" lots or transit stations located at bottlenecks where drivers from many locations are about to merge onto a major freeway. Riders typically line up and catch rides as drivers pull up. Anyone unable to catch a ride is usually able to fall back on public transportation or their own car.

Get Casual Carpooling Started in Your Neighborhood

Casual ridesharing has to start somewhere, and it could start with you, even if it's just on a small scale in your neighborhood. One way to do it is to create a "Park and Ride" location where participants can park in the morning and be picked up by drivers. Start by finding a parking lot in your community with plenty of open spaces during the weekdays, such as a church parking lot. If it's located near a public transit stop, that's even better—that way, anyone who can't catch a ride in a car could fall back on public transit. Get permission from the parking lot owner to use the lot as a park and ride.

Next, put the word out in and around your workplace and in your neighborhood. Get a handful of people to agree to meet in the lot starting on a particular day. You can get the system going by specifying a narrow meet-up time window, such as between 7:45 and 8:00 a.m. As the number of carpoolers grows, so could the time window. If you want to give drivers an extra incentive to pick up riders, create a standard cost sharing system, such as having each rider give the driver a dollar to help cover the cost of driving. If five riders gather in a park and ride lot, and no driver is in sight, a rider whose car is parked there could volunteer to drive.

For more information and ideas on getting casual carpooling started in your community, visit

Casual Carpooling Etiquette

If you are going to hop in the car with a stranger, you'll need to know the ground rules. Typically, ridesharers adhere to the following etiquette:

  • The driver decides whether there will be conversation and passengers don't make conversation unless the driver initiates it.
  • The driver controls the radio and temperature in the car.
  • Do not take or give a ride if you are sick and contagious.
  • Don't eat or drink unless the driver says you may.
  • Don't wear heavy perfumes or colognes.
  • Most casual ridesharing does not involve money changing hands (the incentive, for many, is to use the carpool lane). However, if you participate in ridesharing where costs are shared, pay the driver before you get on the road.
  • If you are the driver, don't make extra stops unless the riders agree to them.

Safety Concerns of Casual Carpooling

Fortunately, crime associated with ridesharing has been very rare. Still, safety is always a concern when you get in a car with a stranger. Some riders take precautions, such as only riding if there's another passenger. One way to implement safety precautions is to register drivers and riders, conduct background checks, verify insurance, and provide specialized identification cards. However, because many casual ridesharing arrangements have been just that—casual—this has rarely been implemented on a large scale.

A Hybrid of the Casual and Static Carpools

Terry Lim, an employee of the University of California, Berkeley, commutes daily from Sonoma, a 40-mile ride. Terry saves a great deal of money by using a carpool group that combines casual and static carpooling.

Terry drives his first ten miles alone, then picks up a carpooler named Coda, so they can use the carpool lane through a high-traffic corridor. Ten miles later, Terry and Coda park in a lot that gives free parking to carpoolers, where they meet the Berkeley carpoolers.

This group has been around for at least 20 years, and has evolved over time. Participation has varied between ten and 25 carpoolers, and consists mostly, but not entirely, of university employees. It used to be that a coordinator stood in the parking lot with a cell phone and clipboard, matching drivers and riders. Since then, it has adapted into an almost completely self-organized system.

One thing that has simplified the process is that carpoolers show up at 7:15 in the morning and all leave at the same time. No one has to call if he or she isn't coming that day; missing the 7:15 deadline simply means you drive yourself that day. Once everyone has arrived, the carpoolers consolidate into a few cars for the remaining 20 miles of the drive. On campus, the carpoolers use designated carpool parking spots and get a discount on the monthly parking permits. At the end of the day, they gather at a specified time and place for the trip home.

Rather than paying each other for driving expenses or keeping track of how much each member has driven, one carpooler came up with a token system. He bought some cheap washers at the hardware store and had them stamped with a metal stamper. Each time carpoolers catch a ride, they give the driver a token. In this way, the group rotates drivers and the token currency keeps things even.

Taking part in the carpool saves each person a $4 bridge toll (waived for carpoolers), $3 to $6 on gas, and about $7 for parking. In other words, each person saves about $15 per day, which adds up to about $3,500 per year!

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