Archive for October, 2017

Carpool Love

A version of this column was published in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Most of us know the benefits of carpooling. Sharing rides cuts our household transportation costs. That’s significant when almost 20% of individual income goes to own just one vehicle. Carpooling also reduces our greenhouse gas and other vehicle emissions. However, the most important benefit may be that carpooling makes us happier: strengthening our human connections, reducing stress and building community resiliency.

My grandmother’s first cousin, Frances Burgess, passed away this summer at age 96; she had a sweet sense of humor and was one of my all-time family favorites. She also was a carpooler.

Frances and her husband raised their family in a small cape in the midst of farmland in Saco. They had one car and worked staggered shifts at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. When Frances headed to work she left her two daughters in the care of her mother and carpooled with a group of neighbors. She was tickled by the friends she made and stories she heard over the years riding together. There were more men in the carpool than women, she explained, and it was a unique opportunity for friendships in an era when time with the opposite gender was rarer.

I talked recently with Ben Connors who lives in Hampden and works in Pittsfield and carpools the hour and a half every day with his colleague Jeff (their photo at right). “We share the cost of the car – the wear and tear and gas – so that’s a direct benefit. But you also get to unwind with your co-worker at the end of the day,” Ben said. “You can talk about what you’re working on and they offer a different perspective on things. By the time you’ve gotten home you’ve gotten all that stuff off your chest.”

I connected with Ben because I met his former rideshare buddy, Rachel Porter, at a work event last fall. Rachel and Ben carpooled to work for three years before she recently moved and she shared similar thoughts about the benefits of ridesharing.

“My new commute still takes half an hour and I would definitely carpool again,” Rachel said in a recent interview. “I also miss it during bad weather – having someone else looking at everything going on around you when you’re concentrating so hard on the road in front of you.”

Carpooling like Frances did and Ben does used to be far more commonplace in Maine and around the country, when most families owned only one car or none at all. It took some Yankee ingenuity to make things work and get where you needed to go.

Maine is primarily a rural state – the most rural in the country according the 2010 U.S. Census, based on the number of communities with populations less than 2500. Many Mainers would like access to public transportation but the spread out-nature of our homes and towns decreases the viability of strong transit networks with frequent service.

Years ago, I remember a staff person from the GO MAINE statewide commuter assistance program showing a WWII era Uncle Sam carpooling propaganda poster and saying, “The best option for public transportation many of us have are the empty seats in our cars.” That’s still right.

Carpooling trends have decreased over time. Households started buying more cars in the 1950 and, by the new millenium, almost half of car-owning families had two or more vehicles and more than 90 percent of American households had at least one.

Carpooling peaked in 1980 at the end of the Middle East oil crises. At that time almost 20% of Americans shared rides to work. Now it’s a little less than 10%. About 9% of Mainers carpool. (Of note: people working in construction have some of the highest rideshare rates.)

Many of us don’t carpool because we think it won’t work for us. “I have kids to pick up, I have to run errands after work, I just want some peace and quiet, what if my aging parent suddenly needs me?” Or maybe we tried it once back in 1992 and it didn’t work for one reason or another. If either of these scenarios speak to you, I say give it a(nother) try.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Broach the subject with a co-worker to experiment for a couple weeks. Ask a neighbor who is going your way to try it for one or two days a week instead of every day.

gomaine-logo.jpgIf you don’t know anyone making a similar trip, do the quick sign-up and try out GO MAINE’s recently revamped and state-of-the-art ridematching service. It shows photos and profiles of people who live near you or who commute to near your destination.

“It’s like Match.com for carpoolers,” said Rebecca Grover, the Program Coordinator, during a recent conversation.

GO MAINE also offers rewards to those who log their trips walking to work, bicycling, using public transportation and carpooling. And if you use a smartphone, all this has just become easier with the new GO MAINE app.

One of the best parts of being an active GO MAINE member is the Emergency Ride Home Benefit. It’s a free taxi ride with a registered taxi company or Enterprise Rent-a-Car home in the event there’s a family crisis, you get unscheduled overtime or have another unforeseen workday emergency.

Think about rides in your personal life that you can share, too, if you don’t already. Carpooling with other people’s kids to soccer practice, sharing a ride to a community meeting or your place of worship.

If you’re hosting an event, consider using something like groupcarpool.com to enable folks to share rides. It’s a national app and online service specifically designed for one-time occasions. It’s free for an event with up to 50 participants and charges $10 for an event of up to 500 participants, with no registration or fee required for attendees. That’s an attractive and low-barrier option for people to try. Plus there’s no better ice-breaker for a conference or other occasion than for participants to have already built community before they even arrive.

Enough of the nuts and bolts though. Moral of the column: carpool and live to 96. It’s that simple.

More Suggestions

  • Dip your toe in via October’s Way 2 GO MAINE business-to-business commuter challenge! Businesses and organizations across the state are encouraged to pit their workplace against others for how many of their employees carpool, bicycle, use transit or rail, or walk to work. During this 21-day campaign participating employees log their trips, receive incentives and compete for the most green trips, most new GO MAINE members and most team spirit! Log your trips if you’re already a GO MAINE member or join at org (Full disclosure: I’ve been hired as a consultant to help with the campaign.)
  • For some fun carpool love, check out James Corden’s carpool karaoke videos from The Late Late Show. It’s hard to watch only one!

 

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October 3, 2017 at 10:14 am Leave a comment


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