7 Tips for a Successful Commuter Carpool

The daily commute to work can be draining both mentally and financially. The average commute time in the United States is twenty-five minutes one way. Most Americans spend 100 hours or more in the car commuting every year. That’s 100 hours spent alone, spending too much money on gas, in traffic made up of other people in their cars alone spending too much money on gas. There ought to be a better way.

In some areas, the better way is obvious and easy—public transportation in Washington DC or New York City, for example. But what about those of us that live in rural or suburban areas or cities with lousy public transportation?

Carpooling may just be the answer.

So what is carpooling?

Carpooling is like a mix of driving to work, riding to work with friends or family, and taking the bus (without actually having to get on the bus). Simply put, it’s two or more people sharing a ride to the same place, a ride that these same two people might otherwise take alone. It’s most popular for commuting to work or school.

And why do it?

It’s good for the environment and your wallet, plus it can be fun. Carpooling was a 1990s flavor of the week for the environmentally-conscious, but it stuck around because it is truly a good thing.

If you’re looking to save the planet one good choice at a time or simply to spend less at the gas pump, carpooling will do that for you.

Carpooling is also a cool way to make friends with your co-workers or your neighbors and their kids.

If you’re a parent who needs to get their kids back and forth from school, then carpooling can save you time, too. You’ll have to take all the kids on your carpool rotation day, but on the others you’ll snag a couple extra hours of free time.

Carpooling can be fun

Sound good to you? Then start planning.

Your first step to running a successful carpool is finding other interested people to fill up the car. Just start talking about your carpool at work. Ask people that you like if they’d be into it. Get them to ask other coworkers. Talk to your neighbors. Check out online carpooling networks. You’ll find potential participants in unlikely places.

Once you have a few people in mind, you’ll need to get organized. With these seven tips, you can go from idea-(wo)man to carpool guru with ease.

  1. Make a printed schedule and contact sheetYou can avoid many carpooling pitfalls with clear communication. Each month, print out a schedule of driving days and distribute to each member of your carpool group. Also print out a sheet of everyone’s contact information, keep it current, and hand out new copies regularly. Ask everyone to keep a copy in their car or put all the numbers in their cell phone.
  2. Have a backup planExpect the unexpected. People will get sick, call off work unexpectedly, or need to stay after work with little notice. Have a backup driver for each day and put that on your printed schedule – make sure the backup duties are split fairly and that everyone still ends up driving a similar number of days each month. You’ll also want to have a backup transportation plan in case you’re the one who needs to stay late after work or go home early.
  3. Set some ground rulesYou’ll want to learn a little bit about the needs of your new carpool buddies before you get started and make some rules that will keep everybody happy. Set a late policy on how long you’ll wait for someone before they miss their ride. Decide whether or not extra stops are allowed, and if so how many or for what reasons. Talk about control of the stereo, find out if people prefer a quiet commute in the morning, decide whether people can have food and drinks in the car, set a smoking policy, etc. Setting all of this up in advance will save you from disagreements later.
  4. Drive safelyIt sounds like common sense, but it’s worth thinking about. Take the golden rule and make it driving specific: drive like you want others to drive (especially when you’re one of their passengers).
  5. Be on timeIt’s one thing to make yourself late for work or your kids late for school, but now other people are counting on you to be on time. If you habitually run late, use a trick like setting your clock forward or waking up a little earlier to make sure you’re on time. Your carpool-mates will thank you later (and your boss might even start to like you a little bit better, too, now that you’re on time).
  6. Make it convenientConsider how far you’ll have to drive to pick everyone up and get to your destination. Don’t be afraid to say no to someone who lives too far out of the way. Carpooling should be simple and a positive alternative to a solo commute.
  7. Make it fun!Get to know your fellow carpoolers. Consider going for dinner or drinks as a carpool group once in a while (especially in the beginning) to get to know each other in a fun setting. Or agree on some music to share, games to play, or a book to listen to on your rides together. Brainstorm ideas and try anything that sounds like it would make Monday mornings or Friday afternoon traffic jams a bit more enjoyable.