Updated: Oct 26, 2018
Half of commuters coming into Boston drive, alone. The city aims to reduce this staggering 50% (see the GoBoston 2030 plan) by half. Fewer cars on the road will improve mobility and reduce carbon emissions. Reducing car volume by encouraging carpooling should be an important city initiative, especially in the short-term, while we wait for longer-term public transportation initiatives to take effect. We already have the vehicles and road infrastructure for cars. Now we need strong incentives for two or more individuals going the same way to ride together.
The City's transportation plan states that by 2030 carpooling into Boston should grow by half (from 8% to 12%) while they hope carpooling by Boston residents will decrease. These goals seem mediocre for a mobility solution that is immediately available and cost-effective. But growing carpooling requires more than adding a few new HOV highway lanes and additional parking incentives. Moving from driving alone to traveling with neighbors or colleagues requires individual sacrifices many will resist taking.
Commuters value control, minimizing time and convenience. By contrast, Carpooling can add more time to the commute and reduce flexibility. Carpooling everyday or even multiple times a week seems too daunting for most. But what if we asked drivers to carpool once a month? More of us would be willing to sacrifice some flexibility for the benefit of catching up with a neighbor or colleague once a month. Sharing a trip one day a month would be even more appealing if employers or Cities provided a special incentive just for carpoolers on that special day (e.g. subsidized or priority parking). Carpooling occasionally would expose solo drivers to the social and financial benefits of carpooling which could lead some to carpool more frequently.
Exposing individuals to a new way to travel once a month is a key objective of Green Streets' Walk/Ride Day Corporate Challenge. We see almost 15% of our participants taking advantage of Walk/Ride Days (the last Friday of every month) to make a change to their commute. Carpooling is one mode that grows on Walk/Ride Day; in 2017 carpooling increased by 30% from about 7% of Walk/Ride Day participants who reported carpooling as their normal mode. One participant from Dana-Farber shared how she uses Walk/Ride Day to carpool with a colleague to “catch up on work and personal life”, but she made it clear that she could never carpool regularly due to her erratic work and family schedule.
Coordinating schedules between two or more parties makes carpooling difficult. Fortunately new carpool matching technology can make this coordination easier. One interesting carpool matching start-up, tripBuddy is hoping to grow community-based carpooling among colleagues or members of the same church, town, club etc. Their app shows real-time availability of potential drivers and passengers from the same social network who are going the same way. The app also compensates the driver after every trip. Using tripBuddy doesn't lock one in to a carpool arrangement. With the app, carpooling can be as flexible as using Uber or Lyft. Carpool when you want with an individual who is never a complete stranger, but a colleague or a community member.
Now, get out there and start carpooling once a month and invite a politician from your town to come along for the ride! Getting political leaders to publicly support carpooling, including a monthly carpooling day, will help push forward policies that will make carpooling more appealing to all drivers.