Welcome to the Casual Carpool


WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16
The long line of riders moves along as the cars pull up and I get into a bright orange VW sedan. A boy about 8 years old is in the back seat, on his way to school in the City. The driver is relatively new to the Casual Carpool – he moved to Vallejo from Treasure Island about 2 months ago. “Even with the $600 in gas and tolls each month, the house we found in Vallejo is a much better deal than we could have gotten closer to the City”.

He comments on the number of single drivers who ‘cheat’ and creep into the carpool lane. “I’ve never seen the highway patrol on this freeway.” I tell him about the proposed express lanes that will gradually become part of California’s carpool lane system (single drivers can use carpool lanes by paying a toll – see my June 24, 2010 blog “A Carpool Lane By Any Other Name is an Express Lane?”). We discuss whether it will reduce congestion (probably not), but that it will put more dollars into the transportation agencies’ budgets. “And reduce the effectiveness of the carpool lane”, I add.

We talk about living on Treasure Island. “Not good” he says. The housing is small, ugly, and robberies are a common occurrence. “They’re military barracks, and they all have sliding glass doors which are real easy to break into.” Plus there’s no amenities, like grocery stores, banks, libraries, etc. He’s happy they moved.

A most unusual and strange looking squat action sort of figure sits on his dashboard, pressed against the windshield. It is a fierce bright yellow. “What is that?” I ask. “Oh, it came with the car. I like it there looking out at the freeway. It keeps me company and watches out for me.” We laugh and agree it looks like an angry pac man.

“So how is the Casual Carpool working out for you?” “I like it. My time is important to me, and the carpool saves me time. I appreciate riders giving me money for the toll, although not everyone does. Some people just give me a quarter, some people give nothing, but most people are okay. It’s a good system.”

4 Responses

  1. Have you also noticed that more drivers are taking three riders now instead of 2? I think this is great and a natural correction to the supply and demand need of toll contributions. Instead of being snippy about collecting a 1.25 from two riders, drivers can reasonably expect one dollar from each rider, so that’s 3 bucks each way. That pays for the driver’s entire toll costs, plus a dollar towards gas, wear and tear. Not much for gas, wear and tear, but definitely takes the “tenseness” out of the toll contribution issue.

    • Hi Victoria – I have not seen this 3-rider trend in the Vallejo commute, but would like to. Sounds good. I see drivers picking up 3 passengers when the line of riders is horribly long and the weather is bad. But I like the idea of 3 riders each paying $1. And it’s much easier to deal with a single dollar bill than scrambling around every morning (like I usually do) making sure I have the quarter for the carpool and the quarters I need for my Muni trip. And perhaps the drivers who are feeling underpaid would feel better compensated. And yes, less ‘tense’. Thanks.

  2. Hi Commuter Gal!

    I just found your blog through the Ridenow CC site and have been enjoying it alot! I’ve been researching the subject because Im new to the bay area and am starting a job at SFMoMA next week. Looks like my commute options are transbay bus or casual carpool. Maybe this question has been beat to death, but in reading the ridenow discussion boards, It seems alot of riders are saying they don’t offer money toward the toll, and drivers don’t ask, but it seems that you and your fellow riders always pay $1.25, and that it is not only accepted but expected by the drivers. Has that become the norm nowadays, and should I give the driver the cash as soon as I get in, or when we get to the toll booth? If you are the first passenger in the car, do you choose whether to get in the front or back seat or does the driver tell you? The uncertainty of many aspects of the CC system is making me pretty nervous to try it!

    • Hi new carpooler! Well, yeah the question to pay or not to pay toll stays with us. I think it’s odd as can be that us Vallejo-based carpoolers automatically pull out $1.25 each time we get in a casual carpool ride. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to dig around for change, because I’m out of quarters. Why we don’t just offer a dollar I don’t know. Since it’s become so automatic, I doubt if it will change now, but I think it’s odd. The feeling here is that the riders should pay the toll, since the driver is providing the car and gas. If you look back through my earlier blogs on this, you will see I have some issues with this, but it’s too hard to fight the majority.

      The front seat/back seat issue is determined by the first rider to approach the car. They get first dibs. And most people seem to prefer the back seat – privacy? more room?

      If you’re feeling funny about how to do all this, watch the rider in front of you, and time it so that you are the 2nd passenger. That way, you can see what the first passenger does when he/she gets in the car.

      In spite of all the peculiarities of the casual carpool, it remains a terrific system and free-spirited commuter gal that I am, I love that it’s run by us, the riders and not some overpaid transportation agency officials. (although they keep trying to get in our way). So get in that line next week and enjoy a great ride with your fellow carpoolers! And congratulations on the new job at SF MoMA!

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