Carpooling: Pros, Cons, and How to Stay Safe
I have been an avid carpooler for nearly three years now. I carpool to and from work with colleagues each day, in addition to finding one-off travel companions for long weekend trips. I’ve pretty much seen it all, from the intensely inspiring conversations that blossom into great friendships to the insanely inconsiderate travel mates whose idea of a good time is stinking up my car with tuna melts and forcing me to listen to hours of endless rubbish on the radio. Moreover, I’ve learned how to stay safe while sharing the road with strangers. I’ve decided to jot down what I have found to be the pros and cons of carpooling, followed by some essential safety tips if you decide to take up the hippy-tastic art of carpooling.
PRO: Save Some Green – In More Ways Than One!
I decided to carpool primarily for financial reasons. I’d just signed a three-year lease on a Honda Civic, and I was only allowed to travel 15,000 miles a year before I’d be charged some serious penalties upon trade-in. I ran the numbers, added in some extra miles for weekend trips, and saw that I would never come close to being under the 45,000 mile mark in three years. Carpooling has saved me money on my lease, but it can also save car owners money that would be spent on wear-and-tear related issues including oil changes and gasoline. And for those individuals sans-wheels, it’s a perfect solution to get to where you need to go.
Carpooling also helps save money on parking, tolls, and other expenditures. And it’s wise to ask your insurance provider about discounts that you may be entitled to if you report yourself as a rideshare participant. I save a substantial amount in insurance payments this way.
And let’s not forget the environment — it just makes sense to limit our nasty emissions when possible. According to the Sightline Institute, the average car emits 1.10 lbs of CO2 per mile. When you carpool, an average car with two passengers decreases that number by one-half!
Finally, my organization really encourages carpooling. Those who carpool receive a cute little decal to put on their car (a hybrid with flowers floating out of the tail pipe!) and are offered prime parking real estate right in front of the building. This really comes in handy on those cold and rainy mornings!
PRO: Socializing and Networking
If you are a social person, and I certainly am, carpooling is a great way to meet people and make new friends. I had the pleasure of meeting two of my now closest friends because of the long hours we spent on the road each and every day. It’s so nice to pass the time in great conversation (or let’s face it — office gossip!), and it really makes rush-hour traffic seem to disappear.
It’s also a nice way to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise interact with at work. A lot of us tend to get lost in our own small work teams and rarely have the opportunity to meet interesting people who sit on the other side of the building, or who are in higher or lower positions. And while you’re at it, this can also be a great way to schmooze and network, if that’s what you’re into.
PRO: Catching Some Zzzs or Multi-Tasking
One of the greatest perks that I enjoy as a carpooler is the chance to catch 40 winks. I do enjoy the usual banter and chitter-chatter, but there are certainly those difficult days when you feel like your head is about to explode, and you just can’t take it anymore. It’s times like these when an understanding carpool buddy can take the burden off you and let you relax while you magically make your way home.
Alternatively, if you’re a real go-getter and hate the lack of productiveness that 40 minutes on the road brings, why not use the time to pull out your laptop and get a bit more work done? When you get home and email your boss the final draft of the memo she’s been waiting for, she’ll wonder when you found the time to get so much done!
PRO: Leave Work Early
Ever notice how that meeting that was supposed to end at 5:00 p.m. sometimes drags on until 5:15… 5:30… 6:00? I found people at work to be very understanding of my obligations as part of a carpooling team. “Excuse me, I’m really sorry, but it’s 4:59 p.m. and my carpool buddy really gets upset if I’m not out in the parking lot and ready to go at 5:00 p.m. sharp. I really wish I could stay all night, but I don’t want to inconvenience him...”
CON: Schedule Conflicts
Assuming you can’t always use your strict carpool departure schedule as an excuse to get out of work on time, carpooling may not always work. There will inevitably be obligations outside of one’s control, which may leave one or more individuals stranded late at the office. Vacations, sick days, and other events might also put a spanner in the plans as well. My advice in these circumstances is to try to plan ahead as far in advance as possible, and to always have a back-up option. Do you know anyone who has a similar route home but who you don’t carpool with on a daily basis? Make sure to keep them in mind for those emergencies. Being aware of the public transportation schedules is also a good way to ensure you will never be stranded in a pinch.
It’s probably easier to practice safe carpooling when you’re doing it with neighbors or colleagues. There’s a sense of security knowing that you already have a relationship with the person, or at least a few things in common, and there is less of a risk than driving with a total stranger.
But it’s not always possible to drive with people that you know. What if you want to catch a lift with someone for a five-hour journey? This person is most likely not going to be someone you already know. So how do you make sure that you’re being careful enough?
I like to find people to carpool with on reputable sites such as ZimRide.com and eRideshare.com, university carpool boards, and other local websites. Some of these sites show user profiles and give you a little more information about your potential travel companion. Some even show feedback from people who have already shared a ride, helping you to feel safe that others felt they were good drivers, and that they got to their final destinations in one piece. Craigslist.com also has a rideshare category, which I have personally used with great success; however, it isn’t nearly as well organized, and I urge you to be careful to avoid scams.
I also try to have a conversation with the individual before setting out on the road. Establishing some ground rules before you decide to take the plunge with a total stranger is an absolute must. Crucial issues such as payment, how they feel about smoking, what their driving record is like, and other essential pieces of information are best to learn early on. You could also meet in a public place for lunch to get a good sense of who you’re about to share the next several hours of your life with. I’ve found that I’ve had a great deal in common with individuals I’ve met through carpooling. After all, we’re all doing it for similar reasons and heading to the same destination, so there’s usually enough material to fill the silence!
But at the end of the day, you never really know for sure. When I am driving with someone whom I’ve never met before, I always let my husband know who the person is, what time we’re supposed to arrive at our destination, and I have him call me a few times throughout the ride. My main rule of thumb is to not ride with anyone who I don’t feel comfortable with. If you get an initial bad vibe upon meeting someone, trust your gut and don’t get in the car — plain and simple. They may be upset that you’re backing out, but that’s completely your prerogative and you should feel 100% within your rights to do so.
This is a guest post by Higgins Bealing, an engineer by day (trying to save the planet through green initiatives) and an MBA student by night. She divides her time between West Hartford, CT and Ithaca, NY and has found many ways to pinch pennies through carpooling, renting out her home, and writing for environmentally friendly blogs.
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