This past weekend I moved into a new apartment in Oakland. As a New Yorker I had spent years walking to work and commuting by subway. But when I moved to the Bay Area to work for TerraPass, I began my adventure with a far more remarkable form of “public” transportation — the casual carpool.
Here’s how it works: car commuters pick up random passengers at designated spots in the East Bay and give them free rides over the Bay Bridge into downtown San Francisco. A driver with two passengers can skip the bridge toll and use the carpool lane to speed past the queue of cars waiting to pay.
The casual carpool is entirely free. Free for the passengers, free for the driver, and provides free additional capacity to the public transportation system. It is the perfect win-win-win. With a pick-up spot less than a block from my apartment, the casual carpool takes me door-to-door in twenty minutes or less.
Monday, Columbus Day, 8:00 AM
I strolled around the corner, thinking I would need an hour to get to work. Fifteen people waited in line, hopping into arriving cars two at a time. For my first ride, I followed an older lady into a late model Acura, and sat shotgun next to Kim, a college student on the way to school.
Kim had me pop in her new Kanye CD so she could sing along to the song she liked. We agreed it was too early in her career for Amy Winehouse to fall apart so completely. I asked how chatty her passengers were. “Depends.” Less than 15 minutes after I left home she dropped me off two blocks from TerraPass. I was a happy commuter. Could it always be this good?
I approached the carpool stop and was surprised to see a line of parked cars. Then I realized the cars were actually drivers waiting for me! I got into a nice BMW driven by a mom in her early forties. An older mom climbed into the back. The three of us had a nice talk about Bay Area transportation and schools. She dropped me in front of TerraPass twenty minutes later. Not too shabby.
My first nearly silent ride. A Camry. Older lady driver. Twenty minutes. Still free.
My first couple. I sat in the back of their Volvo SUV and was ignored for the whole ride. They discussed plans for picking up kids, coaching practices, Thanksgiving, etc. I was just cargo, but the delivery went straight to my office door in twenty minutes.
Sure, I take a bus back at night, but my mornings could not be easier and I get the bonus of drawing a low-stakes social wildcard before work. More importantly, I witness each day how incentives can be aligned in a way to save money and time for everyone while reducing environmental impact. Not a bad lesson in these times.
Photo available under Creative Commons license from Flickr user Mercybell.