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The Benefits of Carpooling and How to Incorporate It Into Your Life

How much time do you spend commuting to work each day, or driving your children to school or soccer practice? If you’re like most people, the answer is, “More than I’d like.”

Carpooling (also called ridesharing) offers a number of benefits: It can dramatically cut your commute costs, it reduces congestion on busy highways, and it can even help alleviate the stress of driving. Thanks to technology, finding carpool mates is easier than ever. But, is carpooling worth the trouble of finding a partner who’s a good fit? Is it worth the inconvenience of possibly going out of your way to pick up or drop off your riders? Let’s take a look.

How Much Can I Save Carpooling?

Chances are, you’re spending more on your commute than you think. According to the U.S. Census, the average commute time in the United States is now 26.1 minutes. In cities with the worst commutes, the average commute hovers around 40 minutes.

Long commutes, which are categorized as commute times of 60 to 90 minutes or more each way, are the becoming increasingly common. The Census found that the number of people with hour-long commutes grew by over 5%, and those with extreme commutes (90 minutes or more each way) grew by over 8%, since 2015.

So, let’s use the University of California’s Commuter Cost Calculator and see how much a few of these typical commutes cost.

Commute 1: “Typical” Thomas

Thomas commutes the typical 20 miles each way. Due to traffic, the drive takes him 30 minutes. He drives a Honda Civic, which gets 30 miles to the gallon, and he pays $2.60 per gallon of gas.

According to the UC’s calculator, Thomas’ commute costs him $848 in fuel each year. When you add in the related costs of car ownership (such as vehicle maintenance, insurance, and depreciation), Thomas’ commute costs $5,836. He’s also putting 6,214 lbs of carbon dioxide (Co2) into the atmosphere each year.

Savings With Carpooling
Thomas decides to carpool with a colleague two days per week (which means he drives solo three days per week), and they agree to share fuel costs. With carpooling, Thomas’s fuel costs drop to $249 annually, and his car-ownership costs drop to $1,751.

Commute 2: “Hour-Long” Eleanore

Eleanore’s commute is 45 miles, and the drive takes her one hour each way. She drives a Lexus, which gets 32 miles per gallon. She pays $2.65 per gallon of gas. She also pays $150 each month to park in the city.

According to UC’s calculator, Eleanore’s commute costs her $3,588 in fuel and parking. When you add in the related costs of car ownership, Eleanore pays $14,932 each year to get to work. Her commute also puts 13,109 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year.

Savings With Carpooling
Eleanore decides to carpool four days per week with one of her colleagues (which means she drives solo one day per week), and they agree to share fuel costs. With carpooling, her fuel costs drop to $1,978 each year, and her car-ownership costs drop to $3,113.

Commute 3: “Extreme” Edward

Edward’s commute is a long one; he drives 65 miles each way to work. The drive takes him 90 minutes. He drives a Ford F150, which gets 25 miles to the gallon on the highway. He pays $2.70 per gallon of gas.

According to UC’s calculator, Edward’s commute is costing him $3,369 each year in fuel. When you add in the related costs of car ownership, Edward is paying $18,969 to drive to work each year. He’s also putting 24,236 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Savings With Carpooling
Edward decides to carpool with two of his colleagues; they split the drive equally, which means Edward carpools five days per week (with no solo commutes). They also agree to share fuel costs. With carpooling, Edward’s fuel costs drop to $1,123, and his car-ownership costs drop to $6,323 each year.

Other Benefits of Carpooling

As you can see, carpooling can save you a significant amount of money each year. It also offers a number of other important benefits.

1. Increase Well-Being

One of the biggest benefits to carpooling is that it might improve your health and increase your sense of well-being. According to Gallup’s Well-Being Index, the United States saw record declines in well-being in 2017. Additionally, workers with longer commutes experience a steady downward decline in their well-being, more so than the rest of us. According to Gallup’s research:

  • One in three commuters (33%) with a drive of 90 minutes or more state they have a neck or back problem that causes them recurrent pain. For commuters with a drive of 10 minutes or less, that number drops to one in four.
  • 30% of commuters who drive 90 minutes or more are obese; for commuters with a drive of 10 minutes or less, this drops to 24%.
  • 27% of commuters with a long commute report having high cholesterol; for commuters with a drive of 10 minutes or less, this drops to 20%.

According to the Washington Post, long commutes are also linked to higher rates of divorce, depression, and death. The Post also reports that people with longer commutes are less likely to vote, are more likely to be absent from work, are less likely to escape poverty, and are more likely to have kids with emotional problems.

You also need to factor in the emotional costs of a long commute. According to Gallup, “Behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Alan Krueger in 2004 tracked the emotional states of employed women in Texas during their daily activities. They found that respondents’ ratio of positive to negative emotions was particularly low during time spent commuting.”

Long commutes are simply dispiriting. Spending 90 minutes commuting each way to work adds up to 31.3 days each year; that’s a full month spent driving and sitting in traffic.

So, while you probably can’t eliminate your commute entirely you can lessen the stress of driving by sharing the trip with someone else. You can use this time to get to know your colleagues better or even make a new friend who works in a different industry. And, you never know…your carpooling relationship may lead to great networking opportunities or even a new job.

2. Save Time

If you have children, you likely spend more time than you’d like ferrying them back and forth to school, various extracurricular activities, and friends’ houses.

According to research in Parents Magazine, 44% of parents spend five hours or more driving their children to activities each week. Additionally, 35% of parents state that driving their children around is more stressful than filing taxes. Mothers, on the whole, bear more responsibility for driving their children; according to Transact.org, a “typical” mother spends over an hour a day running errands and dropping people off.

Teaming up with other parents to carpool kids can help eliminate some of the time and stress that goes along with a child’s social and extracurricular calendar. However, it’s not foolproof. Parents Magazine reports that 7% of families say their carpooling arrangements fall through at least once per week; this can certainly add stress and frustration when your child needs to be at ballet and you’re at work 30 minutes away.

3. Reduce the Vehicles You Own

Thanks to their commute, many families have to have two vehicles in order to function. However, a good carpool relationship could allow you to cut down to one family vehicle, or even choose to live without a car if you wanted to. This, in turn, would help cut down the various costs of car ownership, such as gas, insurance, and maintenance.

4. Maximize Your Commute Time

Commuters who take public transportation have the luxury of working or reading while they travel. However, drivers can’t afford this luxury because they have to stay focused on the road.

Another big benefit of carpooling is that it can help make your commute more productive. Having someone else at the wheel frees up your time to get some work out of the way; you can check emails, return calls, or even get started on a report. You can also use your commute time to listen to podcasts, learn a foreign language, or do something relaxing, such as take a nap or knit.

If you rideshare with a colleague, you can use this time to talk about upcoming projects or brainstorm ways to get ahead at work. You could also use this time to set and plan major goals, such as starting a side business, going back to school, or writing a novel.

How to Find Riders

Technology has made it much easier to find carpool riders. Additionally, some apps even make it possible for you to find a partner whose personality is likely to mesh with yours.

1. uberPOOL

With uberPOOL, you get matched with other riders heading the same direction as you. Riders are picked up or dropped off along the way, so in some cases, it might take longer than driving solo. However, this can be a great way to carpool for unexpected trips, or even regularly to work if you can spare the additional time.

2. Waze Carpool

Waze Carpool allows you to browse people’s profiles and choose carpool mates that are along your route – and that you think you’d be compatible with. Profiles have photos and star ratings, and you can narrow down your choices with filters like “co-workers only,” or “same-gender riders.” Wave also gives you up-to-date traffic information and real-time alternate routes so you can get to work faster.

3. iCarpool

The advantage of using the iCarpool app is that you can find a ride within minutes: There’s no long-term commitment because each rideshare is for one trip only. The advantage of this is that you always ride with someone new. Plus, it allows you to keep a flexible schedule, which is particularly useful if you often have to stay late at work.

4. RideSharing.com

RideSharing.com is unique in that it focuses on short- and long-distance trips within the United States and Canada. You can find someone willing to take you from Denver to L.A., or find someone to share your medium-haul commute to work. Members have their identity verified by the site, and users can rate their trip with each driver.

5. Check Your Metro Area for RideSharing Services

Many large metro areas have their own ride-matching websites. For example, Los Angeles has RideMatch, Phoenix has ShareTheRide, San Luis Obispo, California has RideShare, New York City has 511 NY Rideshare, Arlington has CommuterPage, Vermont has Go! Vermont, and Minneapolis/St.Paul has Ridematch. If you live in or near a large metro area, there’s a good chance that your city has a service in place to help you start or find a carpool.

6. Ask Around

Another way to find a carpool buddy is to simply ask around. Post a notice on your company’s intranet or public message board to see if anyone else is interested in sharing a ride to work. Your company might also offer benefits, such as fuel reimbursement or flexible scheduling, for carpooling programs.

How to Interview a Potential Rideshare Mate

In some cases, you might find that the only way to carpool is to share a ride with a complete stranger. This kind of “blind date” relationship has its benefits and its drawbacks. Carpooling with strangers can help you expand your circle of friends. You can get to know someone new, and perhaps even learn something from them. However, ridesharing with strangers can also be problematic. Conflicting values, political beliefs, and personalities can lead to some heated conversations on a long drive. So, how do you go about choosing a riding mate that you’ll get along with?

Talk About the Details First

It’s important to talk about the details before anything else. Consider these important questions:

  • Who will drive, and on which days?
  • Does this person have adequate auto insurance?
  • How will fuel costs be shared? How and when will these payments be made? You can accurately calculate your true driving costs using AAA’s 2017 Driving Costs brochure.
  • When and where will you meet?
  • If the driver is late, how long will riders wait before driving themselves to work?
  • How will everyone be notified if that day’s driver is ill or has mechanical problems?
  • How will pickup times be adjusted on days with inclement weather?
  • What are the ground rules for each car’s cleanliness?
  • What are the car rules for each driver? For example, some drivers might not want you to eat, drink, or smoke in their car. Others might not want you to talk on your cell phone.
  • What are the ground rules for music? For example, some drivers might stipulate that only predetermined, approved radio stations can be played, while others might request that you listen to music only through headphones.

Talking about these details is important; however, it’s best to create an official Carpool Agreement document so that everyone fully understands the rules and conditions of the arrangement. You can find a great sample Carpool Agreement at Drive Less Save More.

You’ll also want to find out a little bit about your potential partner’s personality. For example, ask them up-front how punctual they are. Your Carpool Agreement might allow for five minutes of lateness, but the arrangement won’t do you any good if your partner consistently shows up late to pick you up.

Final Word

Despite the increasing opportunities for telecommuting and work-from-home positions, the length of most Americans’ commutes continues to rise. One reason for this is that the cost of living in the city keeps going up: People want to live closer to their workplaces, but they often can’t afford it. Or, they might choose to have a bigger home with a backyard in the suburbs, even if it means commuting an hour each way to their jobs.

You might not be able to do much about your commute, but carpooling can help transform this time into an enjoyable, even productive, experience.

What’s your commuting story? Do you like the solo time you spend driving to and from work? Do you carpool? If so, how is it working out?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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