Carpooling: Bay Area Commuters Try It, They Like It

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Rideshare Rewards commuters kick back and enjoy the ride after gift-card program ends. Former drive-alone commuters who started carpooling this year to earn Safeway and gas gift cards are still riding together months later -- even after they've received their awards. A survey of about 19% of participants in Rideshare Rewards, an incentive program sponsored by the 511 Rideshare Program, found that nearly all of them (87%) are still sharing rides to work. A majority (68%) are carpooling four or five days a week. Includes profile of a carpooler.

Former drive-alone commuters who started carpooling this year to earn Safeway and gas gift cards are still riding together months later -- even after they've received their awards. A survey of about 19% of participants in Rideshare Rewards, an incentive program sponsored by the 511 Regional Rideshare Program, found that nearly all of them (87%) are still sharing rides to work. A majority (68%) are carpooling four or five days a week.

When asked what they liked most about carpooling, nearly 60% of the Rideshare Rewards participants mentioned financial savings. Of that group, about 41% liked saving money on gas, tolls, or parking; another 18% chose saving wear and tear on their vehicle. The next two top choices were saving time in carpool lanes and reducing commute stress.

In most cases, carpoolers shared driving (77%), and most (81%) found it easy to divvy up gas and commute costs. Only 18% said it was difficult to coordinate schedules. The small number that stopped carpooling (10%) blamed a schedule, route, or job change.

"A tough challenge is getting people out of their cars and into a carpool," said 511 Rideshare Operations Manager Debbie Maus. "By rewarding carpoolers with gift cards, we were able to persuade commuters to change their solo driving habits. Once they made the switch, a large number of carpoolers discovered they liked it."

Just ask Tonya Thomas. The 38-year old contract billing specialist and mother of three started carpooling with colleagues after hearing about Rideshare Rewards. She says she was nervous to "ride with strangers" at first, but that the high price of gas convinced her to give it a try. She and her carpool partners began the 80-mile round-trip commute from Tracy to Walnut Creek together. The rewards were more than she expected.

Thomas calculates a savings of about $100 a month on gas, and she's earned $100 in Rideshare Rewards. She figures her combined savings at about $400 for three months. She also enjoyed the company; the "strangers" are now fast friends. The ride is about 20 minutes faster than driving alone -- due to carpool lanes -- and every so often she gets to just "kick back and take a nap."

Rideshare Rewards, which launched on May 1, 2006, awards new carpoolers $10 in gas or Safeway gift cards (Safeway is the corporate sponsor for Rideshare Rewards) for every five days they carpool, up to a maximum $100. The program, which originally had a target of 500 new carpoolers from May 1 through September 29, enticed 650 commuters to give ridesharing a try. Participants submit travel logs each month, within a 90-day period. The last day to carpool for rewards is December 31. In January 2007, 511 Rideshare will award $1,000 to one lucky participant who carpooled at least 40 days during the rewards period.

Meanwhile, Maus said that the numbers of commuters willing to carpool continues its upward curve. Registration for ridesharing during the last three months (September -- November) was up 26 percent compared to the same period last year. From January -- November of this year, registration was up about 36 percent over the same period in 2005.

Commuters who want to carpool can go to http://rideshare.511.org, the Rideshare page on http://www.511.org and click the RideMatch button to sign up for a free list of commuters who want to share rides. Or call 511 and say "Rideshare" to speak with a commuter consultant.

About 511 Rideshare: a free service funded by the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and county congestion management agencies. It helps commuters find other drivers to carpool or vanpool to work. Qualifying carpools can cross Bay Area toll bridges for free during commute hours and may qualify for additional financial incentives or subsidies. For more information, visit http://rideshare.511.org, the 511 Rideshare page on http://www.511.org.

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