• Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 20 other followers

  • Archives

  • Categories

  • Comments

    Zen Martha on Commuting Around (and around,…
    Gypsy Tart on Commuting Around (and around,…
    Raychatter on On the FasTrak
    Miranda V. on Exposed in L.A.
    Victoria P. on Exposed in L.A.
    None on Mercury Retrograde
    Victoria Poulsen on Mercury Retrograde
    Paul Minett on The Lesson of the 405
    Victoria Poulsen on A Toll-Tale of the Blue Truck…
    Commuter Gal on Welcome to the Casual Car…
    Paul on Welcome to the Casual Car…
    Commuter Gal on Welcome to the Casual Car…
    Victoria Poulsen on Welcome to the Casual Car…
    Commuter Gal on February Sunny Groundhog …
    All-time Driver on February Sunny Groundhog …
  • Waiting for a ride

Would You Like to Come, too?


TUESDAY, MAY 17
A very gray, chilly day, reminiscent of November. I join a line of about 20 riders and we slowly shuffle up to the head of the line. As I get close I see about 8 cars suddenly pulling up. What starts to happen is that riders approaching the line, stop approaching and just start getting into cars (hey!). The way the Vallejo line is set up is that the road where drivers approach is right next to the sidewalk where riders walk up to the line – makes it easy to kinda cheat and just jump into a car without walking up to the end of the line. When my turn comes I walk past a couple of cars that already have their quota and suddenly a lady’s head leans out of a car window and says, “Would you like to come, too?” As though she were inviting me to come along on some fun outing or great adventure. She had a cheery British accent and that made the invitation sound even more appealing.

So I and all my baggage pile into the other half of the back seat, already occupied by an Asian-American guy, who had been one of the afore-mentioned cheaters. “Kind of a free-for-all out there today”, I comment. “Yes, we’d noticed”, the British lady turned around and said, rolling her eyes in the direction of the fellow next to me.

As we started off, she introduced herself, “Caroline” and her non-British friend, the driver, also introduced herself, “Susan”, so of course I did too. We all smiled and drove off. The front seat passenger, the British lady, had very long hair in dreadlocks, many piercings, no makeup and was curled up in the seat eating some sort of fruit and cereal meal from a glass bowl. She was wearing well-worn and strategically torn jeans. The driver had Harry Potter red-rimmed glasses and was wearing an odd-looking crocheted black hat interspersed with small white fabric flowers and a pair of bright red gloves.

They both apologized for a broken rear window, the small part of the rear window, right next to where I was sitting. An attempt had been made to repair the missing glass with a piece of plastic and lots of bright yellow tape. Which hissed and flapped as we picked up speed. I asked how it had happened, and they were a little vague, but Susan said, “it actually came in handy this morning. I’d left the car keys locked in the car all night, so I was able to get in and retrieve them!” What good luck. You never know when a broken window will come in handy.

The front car seats were both covered with a black furry seat cover and on the top of each seat was a tie-dyed jersey jester hat. Lots of little clutter and objects were spilling out of the drink holder between the 2 seats.

In spite of the Mary Poppins ambience and general feeling of recycled chaos, or maybe because of it, the ride was very comfy and secure. The flower-headed driver drove us safely along in her well-used Toyota sedan as she and her friend chatted away, non stop. Unfortunately I could not hear them because the patched rear window was becoming undone and the effect was like being in a wind tunnel.

My Asian companion never said a word and in fact, barely moved. He kept his hands folded over a leather briefcase he held on his lap, occasionally tapping out an accompaniment to some inner rhythm.

When we pulled up to the stop in San Francisco, I realized I could not open my door. The rear handle had broken off. Susan quickly got out of the car and opened the door from the outside. “The car has a lot of interesting features,” she said. Both ladies chuckled. And so did I. I thanked them for a very pleasant ride and went on my way. Cheerio!

Carpooling Surveys – From Berkeley to Vallejo to Marin County


It seems as though everyone’s interested in taking a survey about casual carpooling this spring. The University of California was passing out survey forms last month at the Vallejo carpool line – they’re compiling information on the effects of the first year of bridge tolls on carpools. The information will be available around July 1, the anniversary date of the toll taking. (stay tuned)

Last week two ladies from 511 Rideshare had a little table set up at the Vallejo carpool line, passing out questionnaires to riders. “We’re following up on last year’s survey”, the smiling Rideshare lady said. The 21 questions on the self addressed, postage paid mailer survey ask everything from ‘How Often Do You Commute by Casual Carpool’, to ‘Annual Income’. Remember that 511 Rideshare is run by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Toll Authority, the same folks who brought us the tolls for casual carpool.

We talked about the surveys in my ride that day (a spic-and-span Honda sedan), the driver an American Airlines employee wearing little wings on her jacket lapel. The other passenger, a lady in the front seat, refused to take the questionnaire. “Last time I filled out one of those they started charging toll! Uh,uh, not again.” “Anything they can do to get money from us, they do!” she added. I mentioned the express lanes (existing carpool lanes that are gradually being converted to single-driver/toll lanes throughout the northern California carpool system). Neither of them had heard about that.

“I make so many trips back and forth to the airport”, the airlines lady said. “If it weren’t for the carpool lane, I just couldn’t afford to do it, time-wise or money-wise. But I don’t know if I want to be paying toll in an express lane.”

We all agreed that the carpool lane/system is being exploited to produce additional revenue. An unwise-move, I believe, that may eventually wipe out carpooling altogether.

There’s yet another survey/questionnaire in the works. This one I heard about through Gilda, a reader of this very blog. Gilda lives in Marin and is a regular commuter to San Francisco. There has been no casual carpool set up in Marin County and Gilda has diligently pursued a way to make it happen.

She e-mailed me a few weeks ago with great news. “I am delighted to report that TAM (Transportation Authority of Marin) is now in the planning stage of creating and possibly launching a carpool program in Marin!” Gilda has been invited to be a part of that planning process and that is where the questionnaire comes in. TAM will compile the results and hopefully get those rides and riders going!

If you live in Marin and would like to participate, go to http://www.MarinCarpool.com and take the survey. It’s very short and concise, and easy to do.

Gilda says, “I hope you’ll join me in this exciting possibility to finally bring carpooling on a grand scale to Marin resulting in a far better quality of life for us all.” Kudos to you Gilda! And to all of us who carpool.

A Toll-Tale of the Blue Truck and The Black Truck


Tuesday, May 10
A couple of months ago I was waiting in the rainy, shivering March line with the other casual carpool riders and when I got to the head of the line, a black pick up truck pulled up and I trotted over to get in. And then stopped. A large white sign was taped to the passenger side window. “THIS IS A SINGLE PASSENGER RIDE. THE TOLL IS $2.50”. Or something to that effect.

The effect being very in your face, and very ‘I’m only doing this so I don’t have to pay the toll’. I walked on past him to the next car, and noticed everyone else did the same thing. I saw the black truck there again a few days later and the lady behind me in line said “no one’s going to ride with him”. She was right, people just walked right by him.

A couple of days later my ride was a blue pick up truck, a Chevrolet, the kind with a small back seat. I and another rider got in with our $1.25 in our hands. “No way” the driver said. “I never charge. You got a free ride today.” And he laughed. He’s got his own construction business and feels like he’s getting enough of a break by being in the carpool lane and enjoying the reduced toll. A jolly guy, in spite of the fact that he makes the godawful drive from Sacramento several times a week.

This morning, once again, I saw the black truck sitting, with riders walking past it. Same truck, but this time the driver was a woman, who was not making eye contact with any of us. I studied the sign on the truck window more closely. “Casual Carpool Riders Pay $2.50. Cash Only. Must Have Exact Change”. I wish I had the time to stand and watch to see if anyone actually gets in that truck. Maybe, someone desperate for a ride, if no other cars pull up.

$2.50 is still a cheap commute to San Francisco from Vallejo, but that’s not what’s bothering me (and apparently other riders) about this. Just think if riders had the same attitude: “No toll from me unless you turn the heat up, remove the child seat that’s digging into my ribs, clean the trash off the floor, and uh, can you get something else on the radio?” “And oh, can you drop me off closer to my work?”

None of us likes the toll that was imposed on the Casual Carpool last July 1, but we seem to be stuck with it. For the most part, drivers and riders alike have accepted the fact and are civil to each other about paying and collecting. The drivers in the black truck appear to be taking advantage of that and the reality that Casual Carpool is part of a larger community of people who are after all, just getting to and from work so we can pay our bills. Because we good-naturedly accept the shortcomings of the commute system and the inconsistencies of the rides and riders does not mean we will easily put up with the kind of attitude the black truck people are sending out with the mean-spirited sign in their truck window.

It sure makes the daily commute much more bearable when a driver like the guy in the blue truck not only gives us a little break on the toll, but gives us something to chuckle about on that long ride, and it reminds us that we’re all in this together.