Casual Car Pool


Every weekday morning, mostly in the East Bay, you see them lined up like lemmings — sedans, SUVs, pickup trucks and the odd sports car, creeping along the curb. Coming up the sidewalk toward them, dressed for the day’s battle with the city, are the hardy commuters.
San Francisco Chronicle

I recently started commuting into San Francisco every day for a full time job, and was lucky enough to learn about Casual Car Pool, a 30 year old informal organization (started as a social experiment) that pairs commuters up with drivers that want to cross the Bay Bridge, avoid the toll, and be able to ride in the carpool lane. Casual Car Pool started in Berkeley and Oakland and has spread to other areas in the Bay Area.

It works like this: in order to cross the Bay Bridge, cars need to pay a $4 toll entering the city. BUT, if cars have at least 3 people in them, they can ride in the super fast (6 times faster) carpool lane AND bypass the toll completely. Thus, its beneficial for drivers to load up their cars to save the time and money (and the environment). Riders (like me) benefit because we don’t have to pay the $3.20 BART fare to go into the city everday and enjoy a more peaceful commute (no fighting for a seat on BART). Basically everyone wins.

In order to participate, there are designated areas in the East Bay and San Francisco where riders line up and drivers come by to pick up. Most pick-up areas are located near some form of public transportation. Casual Car Pool’s web site is strictly informational, listing pick up sites and additional information.

With a resource like this, its more feasible for commuters to avoid driving their own cars and save time, energy, and money by riding in a casual carpool. In addition to Casual Car Pool, 511.org has a RideShareMatch Service to promote carpooling by matching people up for ongoing carpooling. The quote below speaks to the genius of the car pool idea:

The greatest wasted “mass transit” resource in our region remains the empty seats in most commuters’ automobiles. If more workers throughout the region followed the model of casual carpooling pioneered in the Bay Bridge corridor, we would have a powerful new tool to reduce traffic congestion at no taxpayer cost.

For really interesting reports on the evolution, etiquette and quirkiness of casual carpooling, this and this article are great reads.