Carpooling Quietly Booms in San Francisco

BY ADAM STARR

Every weekday, between 6:00 and 9:30 in the morning, a stream of cars and a line of pedestrian commuters converge at a Safeway supermarket in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, California. Without a single raised thumb, the individual passengers fill the empty seats in the waiting vehicles. Once a car has three people, it jumps onto the nearby Highway 24, bound for the Bay Bridge. Thirty minutes later, the Rockridge cars drop off their passengers in San Francisco. Once in the city, riders walk to work or hop on city buses. It”s unregulated, efficient carpooling with total strangers.

There are pick-ups like the one in Rockridge at two-dozen East Bay locations, in neighborhoods as far reaching as Vallejo, Hercules, and Lafayette. They all share the same terminus: the intersection of Fremont and Mission streets in downtown San Francisco”s central financial district.

This practice is appropriately known as “casual carpool” by locals. To anyone who”s tried to manage a daily commute from East Bay communities like Oakland or Berkeley into San Francisco, the benefits are immediately apparent. The passengers are freed from the rigid schedule of the Bay Area Rapid Transit trains. Missing a BART train online casino can mean waiting 15 minutes for the next one, but the carpooling spots have a steady stream of cars, allowing for a fluidly unscheduled commute. The drivers, by carrying a carload of three or more people, get to use the fast, toll-free carpool lane for High Occupancy Vehicles on the Bay Bridge. They skip a $4 toll and the gridlocked traffic that builds up at the tollbooths.

Casual carpool has expanded recently due to environmental concerns, according to Silicon Valley entrepreneur John Zimmer. Zimmer is the founder of Zimride, a social networking community that facilitates longer distance ride-sharing. He believes that increases in carpooling come from “a growing awareness of responsibility for our resource consumption; people realize they don”t have to own a car anymore.”

But casual carpool is not a new phenomenon. It has been occurring for three decades. The Bay Bridge carpool lane for HOVs was established around 1975. The carpooling culture began developing by word of mouth soon after. (In Washington, D.C., a similar practice called “slugging” has been happening since the 1970s as well).

Over the years, a sort of de facto code of ethics has evolved. In the cars, the radio plays classical, jazz, or, most commonly, Morning Edition, National Public Radio’s venerable morning news program. Talking, if it occurs, begins at the driver”s discretion. The ride may be peacefully quiet or host to an impromptu round table discussion. Passengers do not talk on their cell phones and food or drink must be cleared with the driver before entering a vehicle. Riders don”t tweak the windows or the air conditioning. Drivers, for their part, are expected to drive conservatively and maintain sanitary vehicles. Female riders who feel uncomfortable at entering a two-seat vehicle with a male driver commonly bypass the first car and ride in another vehicle to take advantage of the “safety of three.” Likewise, any rider or driver that does not feel comfortable with a given combination is welcome to wait for another car or rider without upsetting fellow carpoolers.

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