Travel Magazine

It's Causal

By Travelspot06 @travelspot06
I have had a lot of questions lately about what form of transportation I use when I go into the city. I sometimes take the bus, sometimes the BART, but mostly I use the Casual Carpool (you can also take a boat if you are so inclined). People can understand the bus or the BART, but the looks I get when I tell people that I use the Casual Carpool are priceless. I mean, didn't all of our mothers teach us not to get into a car with a stranger?
In case you are not familiar with it, it is an informal carpool starting from several places throughout the Bay Area and going into the city. There is no prior arrangement; if you are driving, you go to a corner and wait for people; if you are a person, you go to the corner and wait for a car. When the car has three people, it goes into the city. In the afternoon, they go back to where they came from. The benefit of this is twofold for the driver. By having three people in their car, they get to go through the toll booth in the carpool lane, which not only saves them time (possibly an hour or more during the worst part of rush hour) but also saves them money. It used to be that if you had three or more in your car, you got to go through the toll booth for free. Now it is $2.50 instead of $6.
It sounds great, right? Except I have had people ask me some interesting (and valid) questions such as:
How do you know where to go? There is a list of sites where people meet. It's usually on a corner where the bus stop is, so if you cannot get a car, you can catch the bus at it comes by. That is what I do. If the bus is coming at 7, I go to the corner around 6:45 and wait until either a car comes and fills up or the bus comes. Once you are in the vehicle, be it bus or car, the drive itself takes the same amount of time. However, the car is cheaper. Which brings me to....
Do you have to pay to ride? Oh, now this is the hot topic of the month! Since this is technically informal, aka no rules, but we all want it to continue, there has been no clear black and white answer to this question. Also my friend and I just had a discussion about this. The loose rules are: the driver can ask for a dollar or two and the passenger can choose to give or not AND the passenger can offer a dollar or two and the driver can accept or not. I will tell you that as a passenger, I offer 9 times out of 10 and they accept 7 of those times. So, I pay 70% of the time, but it's only a dollar as opposed to $4.20 for the bus. However, my friend says she never offers as a passenger and that people who want you to pay them will have a little sign, which I have never seen.
Do you always ride with strangers? Yes. But, if I go around the same time of day, I often see the same drivers, so you get to know certain people. Usually, these are people in my neighborhood, as the carpool site is only a few blocks away for most of us. So, they are my neighbors.
Do you talk when you are in the car? This is another informal "rule". Supposedly, and I don't know where I heard this, if the driver talks to you, you can talk, but if not, you should keep quiet, as you don't want to distract them. I would say that maybe 20% of the drivers want to talk. Most stay quiet and we listen to NPR. Seriously, there are a lot of NPR fans in the casual carpool group.
Has anything bad every happened to you?  No, but there is a forum where you can post warnings about bad drivers or rude people or whatnot and it does happen. However, it is not a very big forum and the casual carpool has been around for a few decades, so I think that the bad things are minor. Also, you are allowed to skip a car, for instance if a man pulls up in a two-seater, I may give it a pass. Drivers are allowed to refuse passengers as well. I have never seen this happen though.
So, there you have it. The ins and outs of the casual carpool. Tomorrow I will be talking about Riding the Bus. Just kidding. I will probably talk about that next week.FYI for you excel nerds like me: by using the CC, even if I did pay a dollar each time, I would save $16/week! That's a glass and a half of wine at the airport! Or a new sweater at Target! Or...3 burritos! Thanks Casual Carpool!
Do you have a similar program in your area? Have you ever gotten into a car with a stranger / done a ride-share? How do you get to work/school each day?

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