Starting a Carpool

Learn the basics of how to start a casual or regular carpool.

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. 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. Alternatively, people sometimes set up a regular carpool. The incentive for both casual and regular carpools is usually to gain access to a carpool lane during rush hour.

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.

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.

Finding Regular 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.

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. Or, you could use the standard mileage rate set by the IRS (54.5 cents in 2018) 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.

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.

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