It's Causal

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?


  1. Oh interesting! I had never seen this until I went to visit Becky in DC as they have a program for this as well. We do not have anything like this in Minneapolis. Very intriguing - and cost effective!!

  2. I have never heard of that. Interesting:)

  3. I had never heard of that, but I guess I'm not surprised that such things exist in places like the Bay area. I've never carpooled with anyone other than roommates or my spouse, but I wouldn't be opposed to such an arrangement. Luckily, I found out that university students, staff, and faculty can ride the city buses here for free, so I'm planning on taking advantage of that as soon as I can go get an ID made.

  4. I've never heard of this, but it sounds like a great idea to me. There are a lot of people who do the drive I do every day to Boulder--I wonder if this is something that could be made to work....

  5. This is so cool - love this idea and I would definitely use it. Have never heard of this before.

    When I was in university, I used to wait for a bus and would often be offered a ride, which I may or may not have accepted, with other students. I got to know two different ones quite well and would take their offers when they stopped.

    But in the winter, their parking spots were so far away from the SUB that it was better for me to take the bus!!

  6. I've heard of this before, but never with so much information. I love that you equate your savings to the number of burritos that you can buy - love it! And, more importantly - what does your mom think?

  7. Wow, interesting. I kind of like it! I think I'd do it if we had that around here.

  8. For the commuting crowd, I think this is a brilliant idea. Seriously. In Chicago, public transportation is most convenient for people leaving the suburbs to work in the city. However, there's a large number of people who live in the city and reverse-commute to the suburbs (though, commuting times are just as bad, if not worse than inbound traffic). A commuting carpool could really cut down on traffic, waste of gas, etc. Plus, to quietly listen to NPR sounds like a dream to me! So cool!


Thanks for commenting! Any suggestions, tips or praise you have is always welcome!