Stretched by soaring gas prices and still feeling the sting of recent toll hikes, many commuters are taking a second look at carpooling, an idea that became popular during the 1970s energy crisis and still can provide perks today — chief among them gas and toll savings. But before loading up your minivan with co-workers, you may want to consider the tradeoffs that keep some drivers from making the switch.
If you're fanatical about controlling the radio and dialing in the perfect temperature, or can't help backseat driving, carpooling could offer some challenges. Plus, you lose the "luxury of coming and going as you please," said carpooler Daniel Terracciano of Waldwick, N.J.
Then there's the issue of personal comfort. Can you ride to work, day after day, with people you may not know very well?
"You have to be compatible," said Terracciano, who carpools with three other people.
"Some people are not morning people. Don't talk to them or they'll bite your head off. … Don't say, 'I'll be right there. Wait for me,' and come at a quarter to seven."
Opening the door
Here are some tips from Tampa Bay Ride Share on starting a carpool.
Don't be shy. Pick up the phone and call some of the people on your match list. Arrange a get-together to get acquainted.
Set up a time to meet and discuss the possibility of ridesharing. Consider pickup and drop-off times, driver and rider responsibilities, division of expenses, personal preferences such as playing the radio, smoking, eating and so on. If you sense you won't get along with a potential carpooler, trust your instincts. There is no need to push yourself into an uncomfortable situation. If a prospect looks good, however, work out the details and agree to participate for a trial period. Evaluate the situation as you go along. Later, if you aren't happy or comfortable with it, you can always bow out.
Let democracy rule. Devise and agree on the pool's rules right from the start: when payments, if any, are due; who collects them; whom to call in case of an absence or delay; and so on. If something about the carpool bothers you, speak up. When a conflict arises, take a vote and abide by the results. A successful carpool is the product of fairness multiplied by courtesy and common sense.
Take the responsibility of driving seriously. Make sure your auto insurance covers everyone in the car. Be vigilant when you are at the wheel. No drinking alcohol before the drive home, no speeding, and no aggressive driving or other forms of recklessness.
A clean car makes for a happy pool. Passenger comfort is also in the driver's hands, and courtesy dictates that your car be clean when you drive. Trash on the floor and food on the seats are discouraging sights.
Punctuality is paramount. A rider who anticipates being late should let the driver or other designated person know as far ahead of time as possible and offer to make his or her own arrangements for that trip. Likewise, a driver who will be late should arrange for someone else in the pool to drive. Also, if ridesharing every day won't work for you, try carpooling at least two days a week.
Sit back and relax. For the protection of all, the driver needs to keep his or her eyes on the road. So if you're a rider, don't feel obligated to talk all the time. Instead, take a nap, catch up on your reading, or just sit back and enjoy the scenery.
Avoid side trips. Make sure there's enough gas in the car for a round trip. Resist stopping or asking that stops be made to take care of personal business. These should be handled on your own time.
Register your carpool or vanpool. Once you are ridesharing at least two days per week, you are eligible to register for the Emergency Ride Home Program. The program provides up to four free taxi rides home per year (certain restrictions apply) in case of a family emergency, illness, unscheduled overtime or if your carpool driver is unable to take you home. Call TBARTA toll-free at 1-800-998-7433 for more information.
Find a driving buddy
While many carpoolers find their commuting companions on the job, many turn to websites to find a match. Here are some sites for the Tampa Bay area.