Unclog your commute

There’s nothing like entering a jam-packed freeway to add stress to your early morning. Catching a train is great — if you have one in your area. Although, even in places considered to have good public transportation (New York City, Paris, DC, San Francisco), the roads are still clogged with cars.

What can we do to take cars off the road and help unclog everyone’s commute? Private and public efforts are being made across the country to make our roads less cluttered spaces.

Last Thursday, I got the chance to talk to RideSpring founder, Paul McGrath. RideSpring is an online service that helps employees find ride share opportunities with other employees at the same company. We discussed McGrath’s journey from employee to entrepreneur, in his current pursuit to offer web-based alternative commute solutions.

He got the idea in the mid-1990s when he worked as an electrical engineer for a 200 person company in Scotts Valley, CA. He enjoyed an 8-mile bike ride up a narrow, snaky two-lane highway to and from work most days. On driving days, though, he wanted to ride share. “For the days I wasn’t biking,” says McGrath, “I thought it would be good to find a carpool partner.” Why not socialize with a co-worker during the ride and tread more lightly on the road and save a few dollars on fuel?

But, as many commuters know, finding a carpool buddy isn’t always easy. McGrath sought public carpoolings systems first. While he wouldn’t mind sharing his commute information within his company, he didn’t want to post it on public sites. “I looked for a product within companies but it didn’t exist.” This led him to search for (and eventually create) a solution.

He dove into market research and found that regional services attracted very few users, which dramatically limited good ride-matching opportunities. For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area, frought with highly congested highways, an organization called 511 exists for the public, but fewer than 1% of commuters have signed up for the system.

His research squashed a number of myths about commuters. “It’s a myth that people aren’t willing to leave their cars at home,” say McGrath.

What he discovered is “There’s a shortage of drivers willing to accept passengers, rather than the other way around.”

Another myth he his company is helping to debunk is the notion that carpooling doesn’t work. However, the US Census reports that carpooling for Americans remains the second most popular way to get to work. This is second only to driving alone to work.

After his data collecting, McGrath could see the need to develop an easy-to-use method for commuters.

Rides

McGrath wanted to get cars off the road and make commuting more enjoyable. With his technical background, he launched a web-based system through RideSpring targeted at companies of 500 people or more. When companies subscribe, co-workers can drive to the same company together. The RideSpring system searches possible ride matches through it’s web process that scans zip codes for people riding in their areas across the US.

The statistics are promising. Some of the companies that subscribe to RideSpring show a nearly 60% sign-up rate for the service. People are actually using it.

Rewards

There are intrinsic rewards that come from finding an alternative commute. You get to do your part for the environment, have a good conversation with a coworker, or even get some important work done. With the US Census reporting that 77% of American commuters drive alone, many companies offer financial and other rewards to encourage people to free up road capacity and reduce CO2 omissions. This allows employers to contribute to the environment, reduce the need for new parking lots, and make their employees happier.

McGrath summarizes RideSpring’s services by saying: “What we deliver is effectiveness. We show companies our proven approach to get people signed up. We make it fun and easy to use and employees will actually use it.”

What do you do to unclog your commute? Does your company offer incentives to commuters who carpool or use public transportation? If your company had (has) more than 500 employees, would you consider using a program like RideSpring? Why or why not? Do any of our readers already use this or a similar service?

Sue Brenner is a regular contributor to Unclutterer. She offers her own eZine at www.actionsymphony.com and if you want to hear her voice, she gives free, monthly goal-success tele-seminars.

16 Comments for “Unclog your commute”

  1. posted by Ryan K from Going Carless on

    Recently the transmission in my car went out. I didn’t want to put the repair on the credit card I worked so hard to fix. So I made the decision to go carless until I can pay for the fix in cash and still have $1000 in savings.

    You can read about my carless adventure at http://www.goingCarless.com

  2. posted by Plaid Ninja on

    I’m one of the 77% driving to work alone, and I have no plans to car pool. Car pooling relies on the idea that everyone begins and ends their day at the same time. I don’t want to have to depend on others and I don’t want to have them depend on me. If someone needs to go in to the office early and/or stay late that affects everyone. If I want to make a stop before or after work I can’t do that because everyone else has their own destination to get to. Not to mention having to maintain an environment in which everyone is comfortable. No a/c on high, music loud, etc.

    My commute is also “me time” – I spend all day with colleagues & co-workers. I prefer to not share my commute time. Traveling with strangers on the subway is one thing. Its still essentially travelling alone.

    If there were adequate public transportation routes to my job that didn’t involve an hour’s travel in two snail’s pace buses that are extremely packed I would consider it. But that just isn’t a realistic option, at least not for my own psychological well being.

  3. posted by Andy on

    People aren’t going to carpool more unless you change their incentives. One good way is congestion pricing.

  4. posted by Another Deb on

    I carpool with my husband who STILL cannot get out of bed in time to get going with me! At least once a week he is just not ready to go when I need to leave in order to be on time. Arghh! The carpool idea was one of the main incentives for me to quit a job I loved that was very far away.

  5. posted by Beth on

    I used to carpool with a co-worker and we loved it! It was enjoyable for both of us to have the time to chat/gossip and saved us both on gas. If we needed to run an errand we would coordinate trips and go together. We did it at first because one of us had a broken down car, but kept it up because we enjoyed it.

  6. posted by DJ on

    I telecommute entirely now, thank heaven. But back when I did drive a long way to work every day, I tried commuting with a co-worker who lived half a mile from me.

    What an ideal situation, eh? Except that she was chronically late, which made me late, which made my supervisor angry, which led me to driving solo again.

    It all depends on having reliable car-pool partners, I suppose.

  7. posted by angie on

    I would love to carpool, and there is even a woman who lives on my way to work. I have a fairly flexible schedule and could tweak my time in and out to meet hers. However, she is a smoker and I am asthmatic and very sensitive to the smell of cigarette smoke, it will occasionally even trigger a migraine. I don’t want to start every day with a headache and a cough. I have offered to pick her up and take her home multiple times, but I think she’s more comfortable driving. I just can’t make myself do it. Stupid little stuff like that gets in my way of doing something I desperately want to do. I wish more people in my company would be interested in doing something like this. There’s got to be someone else I can carpool with!

  8. posted by Lori on

    While I love the idea of carpooling and I think this is a great solution for large, centrally located companies, like Plaid Ninja said above it works only in situations where people start and stop work at set times. I don’t know a single person among my circle of friends who has a job like that. If you miss your ride home around here, you’re screwed. Meaningful public transportation shuts down at 6 p.m. (and is pretty sparse to begin with), and cabs are rare and expensive.

    I unclogged my former 33-mile, nearly 1-hour commute by going back to freelancing full time and working at home.

  9. posted by infmom on

    In Los Angeles, where public transportation is a joke and housing costs are insane, I think someone ought to at least look into not pouring money into more freeways and instead spending it on housing subsidies so people can live closer to where they work.

  10. posted by Brandon on

    Interesting. after you find a coworker to carpool with you, you can find the total monthly cost of your commute:

    http://www.commuteprice.com ( seems to be related )

  11. posted by AmandaV on

    My husband and I work at the same company (in different departments). Once a month they do a drawing for $100 for those who have carpooled at least once in the month. We have won 4 times between the two of us in the last 2 years. It works for us-but we’re married. I can see the problems mentioned aboved as being a no-go for a lot of commuters.

  12. posted by Clarksa on

    Due to the wife’s car basically falling apart, we’ve been forced to commute together and have saved $200 over the past three weeks.

  13. posted by J on

    I started carpooling a few months ago and it’s been great. There are three of us in the carpool, and possibly a fourth will be added soon. I had to adjust my schedule a bit to fit in, but I’ve found the following benefits:

    – I am around the house in the mornings to help out.
    – I now drive my car two times a week. Some weeks it’s only one time. I just cut my gas bill in half.
    – I only have to deal with overcrowded and overstressed roads 1/2-1/3 of the time.
    – I now know two co-workers better than before.

    As for the radio, air conditioner, etc — we are all polite human beings, and sort it out. It’s also entirely OK to skip carpooling in out group. Some weeks we’ve only been able to carpool one day, and it’s not a big deal. We all have lives, wives and kids, so we all understand that stuff comes up.

    Most of the other complaints have actually led us to save time in other ways:
    – Because I had to adjust my schedule later, we now religiously plan menus a week in advance and only go to the store once a week.
    – We are utilizing bulk purchases to freeze a lot of meals in advance, so we are saving time and money there.

  14. posted by HeyStephanie on

    Here in San Diego, several companies utilize RideShare vans. Employees meet at a set location then take the van to a drop off location next to their work area. At my old company, the HR department would reward employees that used public transportion or rode a bike to work with gift certificates to places like Jamba Juice and Starbucks. Unfortunately, I lived 20 miles away so riding a bike to work wasn’t an option. I think RideSpring is a great idea and hope that more San Diego companies sign up for it.

  15. posted by Horse N Buggy on

    I began carpooling about 6 months ago when it was obvious that gas prices were over $3/gallon and only going to increase. There’s only two of us in the group. My coworker sometimes has to take his kids to school before meeting me, so he always meets me at my house. We alternate driving for a week at a time. If one of us is on vacation during “our week” then we will adjust our schedule to make it fair on the other. We arrive and leave at the same time (I had a tendency to stay late for no real reason before I began carpooling). If one of us really needs a car at lunch, neither of us minds allowing the other to drive our cars.

    I can’t tell you how much I love being driven to work. Simply getting into the car and then getting out at the office (or home) is so less draining on me mentally. Of course, there’s the obvious benefit of cutting my fuel cost literally in half. I live in an area of the country that had a fuel shortage after the hurricane. The shortage lasted about two weeks, but based on my reduced driving load and having filled up right before the crisis, I never had to wait in line for gas.

    I have to put more thought into arranging for lunch when I don’t have a car. Even though I can use his car when it’s free, it’s not *always* free at lunch. By being more diligent about shopping and bringing my lunch, I’m also saving money on food. It’s pretty much win/win all around.

    As for stuff like the radio…yeah, we lost our inhibitions pretty quickly. We both like to sing out loud and we each do so as if the other is not in the car. So I’ve listened to some “hair band” ballads that I would normally have turned off, but it hasn’t killed me.

  16. posted by Robbin on

    My sister’s company offers a carpool van. She meets others at a designated spot and they switch off driving the van. I believe the company even pays for the gas! (each carpooler pays a small amount each month for the service).

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