February 17 – Definitions


Vallejo Carpool 7:15 am

Once again the journey begins through very heavy fog.  I’m in the back seat of a Jeep SUV; half of the seat has been folded down to extend the rear loading area of the Jeep.  But I’ve plenty of room.  The driver looks like a young family man, suited up and ready for work.  A child-crafted paper ornament hangs from the rear view mirror.  The passenger in the front seat is another young guy – tall, lanky with longish hair.  I urge him to scoot his seat back and stretch out his long legs.

It may be overdue to put in a definition here:  what is a ‘casual carpool’?  This is an informal arrangement between drivers and riders who share a common destination.  Both parties meet at pre-arranged pick up sites and all riders are dropped off at the same destination site.  There are 3 urban areas that have this system:  the Bay Area, Washington DC and Houston.  In DC and Houston, they call it ‘slugging’ rather than casual carpooling.

A friend in Kansas City who I told about this blog wrote me an anxious e-mail after reading a few entries.  “This is way too frightening and dangerous”, he said and suggested I and my husband buy a second car so that I would not ‘have to’ subject  myself to casual carpooling.  Thereby missing the entire point.

The advantages seem obvious to me:  it saves the driver the toll, it’s a free ride for the passengers, it puts us in a less crowded and faster moving lane of traffic, enabling us to get to our destination more quickly, and it’s one small way to participate in caring about the planet we live on.  When I get into a car, that’s one less auto on the road.

I checked out carpooling in Kansas City, and while they don’t appear to have a ‘casual’ or ‘slugging’ system in place, they do have a ride share program.   So the concept is there.

Casually carpooling has an added advantage of spontaneously being able to create a carpool, and enjoying the carpooling perks, without having to pre-register, pre-pay, or be in the same place at the same time every day.  It’s why I started doing it and stopped rushing to be at the ferry at 6:30 every morning.

Is it dangerous?  Being on the freeway is dangerous indeed.  Riding with strangers carries a traditional concept of danger, but we soon find out in this situation that there are no strangers.   We’re all in this together and the understood sharing of our ride, our 45 minutes in a car together before or after a day’s work offers a brief glimpse and a touch of each other’s lives (the child’s paper ornament, the radio station, and often a great conversation).

I look out the window again – we’re past the fog and it’s brilliantly sunny – and I look at car after car with only the driver.  No passengers.  This is what’s scary and  dangerous.

One Response

  1. That is a really helpful post. I think too many people misunderstand the concept of what you are doing. You nail it perfectly. Thanks.

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