Get with a Carpool: Save Money, Get the Good Lane

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In many cities, not only do carpoolers save money on gas, but they can also get to work faster and bypass traffic congestion via dedicated express lanes for those who share rides.

Even with a sharp drop in gas prices at the end of the year, 2008 gave us the highest gas prices we’ve ever had to pay, topping out at more than $4 a gallon. What can you do about high gas prices? Plenty! We Americans average about 25 minutes on each leg of our work commutes, yet amazingly, just 10 percent of us manage to share that ride. Gold stars for all you carpoolers! (And walkers, bikers, bus riders — and work-at-homers, too!)

What about the rest of us? You may not realize that there are free and easy-to-use services that can connect you with others making the same daily to-and-fro. And even if there’s no one heading directly to your place of work, there may be a solo driver at the business right down the street who would love to carpool with you. The good news is that there are lots of ways to find people to carpool with, especially because they’re out there looking for you, too.

Connect with a Carpool

The easiest way to start is to post a notice on the office bulletin board. Something like: “Adorable, Extremely Safe Driver with Super-reliable Car Seeks Carpool Buddies who love Elvis, The Rolling Stones or The Beatles.” (There really are only those three kinds of people anyway, right?)

If you don’t find anyone in your office to team up with, check out one of these handy carpool-connection services to see who’s going your way. Some of these sites can also help you plan shared trips for running errands or even traveling cross-country.

How Much Can You Save?

Not sure you want to commit to a carpool? Well, start doing the math. Carpooling with one other person saves half the gas you use to get to work. And the more the merrier: With five in a carpool you’ll only use 20 percent of the gas you use now. Plus, think of all the emissions that aren’t spewing from the cars we would be driving.

Carpooling can be fun, too. Here’s what some of us at Ogden Publications think about it:

“The best kind of carpool is the one where your car (truck) is too small to fit everybody, so you just pay a friend for gas once a week, and she scoops you up and drives when it’s your turn. Trust me — I know. It’s not quite mooching if you pay for gas, right? (Everyone loves getting free gas!) Plus, you might get to take a 40-minute power nap on the way to work every morning, and never have to drive in the rain!”

— Tabitha Alterman, Mother Earth News senior associate editor and carpool mooch extraordinaire

“If you have to commute like I do, carpooling is hands-down the best way to go. Save money. Reduce pollution. Time to read, sleep or get extra work done. Best of all, surprise your coworkers with your away-from-work personality.”

— John Rockhold, Mother Earth News managing editor and green transportation guru

“Carpooling is great because you really get to know the people you work with. You also get to know their taste in music, which can be both good and bad. I never thought I would get to like bluegrass, especially listening to it at 7:30 in the morning, but you know, it kind of grows on you.”

— Megan Phelps, Mother Earth News senior associate editor come banjo-pickin’-aficionado

“We had a rule that we could complain about anything for five minutes if we really needed to. Just let ‘er rip, dump it all out, blaeaghhhhh, all over the car. Then, that was it on that. Oddly enough, it usually only took a good three minutes of whining and kvetching to get to laughter. Also, if the stress level had reached impossible proportions, would have a silent scream, in which we scrunched up our bodies and did all the motions of a full-bodied scream, minus the actual vocalization. Other cars might have thought they were passing a bunch of lunatics, but … it always helped. I’m a huge proponent of the silent scream.”

— K.C. Compton, editor in chief of Grit and Herb Companion magazines; convulsing quietly since 2006

Share the Road, and the Ride

If you’re lucky, you live in a super-cool, super-progressive community that boasts a car-sharing program. For a relatively low hourly, monthly or annual fee, you can have the convenience of a car exactly when you need it without the mess of ownership. These innovative services reduce pollution and congestion in already overburdened urban areas, and are usually well-stocked with energy-efficient vehicles.

After you become a member, just reserve a car when you need it — for a few hours or a few days — and pick it up at a nearby lot. The most popular car-sharing outfit is Zipcar, but there are other options around the country, and new enterprises join the fleet every year. See if your hometown is down: Car sharing may not be the perfect fit for daily commuters in need, but if you can cobble together a carpool of, say, five folks, then it may be feasible to use a Zipcar once a week when it’s your turn to drive.

Do you carpool? Share your stories by posting a comment below.