Updated on 02.04.10

Starting a Carpool

Trent Hamm

Jenny writes in:

I work at an office park about forty five minutes from where I live. I live in a highly populated suburban neighborhood.

In order to save some money on gas and wear and tear on my car, I want to start a carpool, but I don’t know anyone who lives near me who works in the office park. I don’t mind stretching my hours a bit to make this work, as I could go in with them a bit earlier and do some busywork (email and the like) to start the day or read a book at the end of the day.

The only problem is I don’t know how to get this kind of thing started and I don’t have any obvious people to ride with. Any ideas?

Carpools are a tremendous way to save money. My wife is in a (semi-functional) carpool with a coworker and often has a ride to work two days a week. We estimate that it saves us at least $100 a month in gas and maintenance costs. It would be truly great if she could get another person or two into the carpool.

How can Jenny get a carpool started in her situation? Here’s the game plan I would use.

First, I would make up a very clear flyer that stated my first name, my cell phone number, and the fact that I wanted to start a carpool from the neighborhood or city where I lived to that office park. I’d probably make some “tear-off” tabs on the right hand side of the flyer so that people could yank the number off and put it in their pocket. Put “car pool” above the number.

I would then take a copy of this flyer to each office in the office park. There may be a lot of offices there, so you may need quite a few copies. Ask for permission to hang the flyer on the office bulletin board in each of those offices. Given your situation, I would imagine most would let you do this.

Ideally, you’ll get a few calls within the next few days. You’ll need to get some key information from each person, so you may want to carry a notepad with you.

From each caller, get the following:
+ their name
+ their cell phone number
+ their address (so you can map their location)
+ their approximate work schedule (so you know when they would need to depart/arrive)
+ any “special” days they have (like my wife’s carpool, where it doesn’t happen on Fridays due to a special need of her carpool mate)
+ what types of vehicles they have and how many it can seat

Once you have this information from a few callers (give it a few days), set up a schedule. Figure out a departure time (both from your town and from the office park) that works for everyone (or at least for the largest number of participants). Also, figure out a rotating driving schedule.

Once you have this information, call each person in the pool back and let them know when the pool will begin. I highly recommend you drive the first day.

When you do the first day, pick up the other people on the route and give each person a list of addresses, phone numbers, and schedules for everyone in the pool. I recommend that you make the schedule as simple as possible, even if it inconveniences you. The best way to do this is to say that Person X drives on Mondays, Person Y drives on Tuesdays, Person Z drives on Wednesdays, and Person A drives on Thursdays, with Fridays handled on a rotating basis. If you have five people, this is really easy. If you have three people, have Thursday and Friday rotate. If you just have two people, have each person drive two days and have Friday rotate.

Yes, this is a lot of set-up work. But you’re the one who has the initiative to start the carpool and you will save a lot of money on it. It may take a bit of extra effort in setting it up and an occasional headache when someone is sick, but it will be worth it in the large savings you get, especially with a four or five person carpool.

Good luck!

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  1. Kevin says:

    This sounds like a reasonable idea, but I’d use my office number and ask people to call during specified hours. Why give strangers your cell phone number? More to the point: why advertise that you’re a woman, and give strangers your cell number?

  2. Mike Collins says:

    @Kevin, good point. I know I’d be a little nervous if my wife was getting into a car with strange men she’s never met before. Now if you can arrange a car pool with friends or coworkers you already trust that’s something different.

  3. Christine says:

    I’m not sure that she’s advertising that she’s a woman…

    Maybe just put your email address on the flyer. It seems like that would be the easiest way to get all of the information anyway. That way you have it all in one place. If you get enough people, maybe you could print out all the responses and keep them in a small binder for organzational purposes.

    This is a great idea. Good luck with getting it started!!

  4. Adam Holte says:

    There are a couple websites that have carpool finders. I don’t know what they are right now, but I found 2 or 3 when I was looking for someone to carpool with. They often have maps of where you start and where you end to help match people.

  5. Amber says:

    I’m in a carpool with 4 people. We rotate weeks. Curtis drives a week, then I drive a week, then Adam, and then Joe. It works out great. We all have our own cars so if somebody has a special circumstance, they can drive alone without affecting anybody else. We’re a pretty easy going group and have been going strong for 1.5 years w/o any major conflicts.

  6. IASSOS says:

    Car pools are a pain. Every day there is some kind of issue like someone needing to change their driving turn. Or someone needing to go in early. Or stay late. Then there is the question of which radio station to listen to; and whether or not to discuss what you just heard or instead listen to the next item. Some klutzy drivers send you up the wall with their inefficient shifting or always hitting potholes instead of going around them. An finally, if there is an emergency where you need to leave in the middle of the day, you can’t. Let me have a sharp stick in the eye instead.

  7. Emily says:

    There are some carpool “matching” sites on the web (Carpoolmatchnw.org for one) that are greating for finding one-time rides and/or long-term carpool situations.

  8. Bill says:

    IASSOS points out many potential problems. I have days when I am close to calling it off. Waiting in a parking lot during the winter for 15 minutes is frustrating. I would guess that these potentially multiply with a larger carpool.

    I have been in 2 different 2 person car pools over a number of years for a long commute. Amber is right in that if you are willing to give up a bit of control and be flexible there is a lot to be gained. (For example tomorrow we are driving in separately because my colleague has a later than usual afternoon event and I need to leave earlier than usual.) We save a lot of money. We get some work done when we don’t drive and it is nice not having to drive all the time. Over the years both of the colleagues that I have shared with and I have talked about how we are more rested when we carpool than when we don’t. A carpool is worth pursuing!

  9. Julie says:

    I would also ask each caller if they are a smoker, because some folks might not want to ride in a car that is regularly smoked in – even if the smoker isn’t actively smoking at the time…

  10. J says:

    I have been carpooling for well over a year now. Generally it works out really well, but overall I’ve found the best idea is not to expect it to work as well as you would like it to and be able to roll with the punches.

    While the above “game plan” seems perfectly rational, it’s likely far too complicated and controlling to be sustainable. Carpools need to be fairly casual and a little sloppy to endure, and if it becomes a part-time job to keep it up, then people are going to return to just driving alone.

    First off, ditch the “who drives what day” schedule. That’s far too controlling. With 45 minutes each way, you have a lot of time to figure out schedules each day, anyway — there’s really no need to know very far in advance who is driving, if you can get a week where no one has a doctor’s appointment, sick day, vacation, sick kid, late meeting, and so on you are very lucky.

    The weekly schedule or just a simple daily rotation when everyone is present will suffice. You really don’t need to know who is driving three Tuesdays from now — it just doesn’t matter, as long as everyone is making a decent effort at sharing the load.

    I’m also a proponent of a central meeting point rather than driving to everyone’s house in the carpool. This allows for the creation of a “deadline” time by which the carpool will absolutely leave — if you pick up people serially, each extra couple of minutes you have to wait while people kiss their kids goodbye, dry their hair and mix up their coffee adds to the commute time. With a central meeting place, each person is responsible for getting there on time (or they get left behind). This also allows for you to silently drop out of the carpool and not worry if you oversleep, get sick, have to go to the hospital and so on. Of course, other people in the carpool can try can call you to see if you are running behind by a minute — but if they can’t contact you, then nobody feels guilty because you all agreed on the time and consequences.

    I’d also advise that Jenny start by offering HER work hours as the hour for the carpool. There’s no need to start out stretching your workday to make it work. She might also want to ask if it’s possible to shift her hours, too. I know the root of the idea is to be accommodating, but there’s no real reason to accommodate another hour spent at work if you don’t have to.

    I’d also cap the number at four in the carpool. It’s not very likely that you will find a situation where everyone has a car that can comfortably fit five people. Spending an hour and a half a day crammed in the back seat of a compact sedan will test anyone’s resolve. Plus, the combinatorics get pretty complex, too.

  11. Matt says:

    Another important question is if you pick everyone up individually or if there is a designated meeting place. I was in a 4-person pool at my last job and one of the guys lived at a place with plenty of excess parking, so we would all meet at his place in the morning, then get in the car of whoever’s turn it was. Driving around town picking everyone up can really eat into the commute time, so doing it the way we did really cut that down.

    As for things like the radio, simple rule: the driver gets to pick. Yes, this means you have to deal with the guy who likes to listen to weird tribal drums (this happened to me once), but that also means they have to listen to NPR when I’m driving (which might be equally irritating to some).

  12. J says:

    As an addition to Julie’s point, I would just put it on the flyer that it’s a non-smoking carpool. Luckily my carpool is composed entirely of non-smokers so it’s never been an issue. In my experience, smokers bring their stink with them and I don’t want the smell of death in my car.

  13. Katy says:

    Check out eRideshare.com – it covers a lot of cities nation wide. I used in in Milwaukee, which isn’t that big, so I’d assume it’s in quite a few cities, big and small.

    Ta daaaa! Internet! I’m sure there are other similar sites out there, too. Maybe Google “[your city] carpool rideshare” and see what pops up.

  14. J says:

    @IASSOS – they are only as much of a pain as you want them to be. If you are somewhat accommodating and go with a flexible driving rotation, there is no real issue of “turns”. As for other people’s driving, well, if the car is being driven safely, what does it matter if they hit potholes or don’t hit the optimum shift points you like? It’s not your car, why care so much?

    As for emergencies, true “emergencies” are rare. At my workplace we have a “Guaranteed Ride Home” program that provides a cab ride free of charge to anyone in a carpool. If you don’t have something like this available, then find out what a cab ride would cost to get you back to your car, get that amount in cash and keep it in your wallet. Wah lah, you have a way to get home in the event of an emergency, and it’s likely less money than what you saved in a month on gas.

    But overall, you just might not be the “carpooling” type … which is OK, we all have our “things”.

  15. Jane says:

    My husband has been in a carpool for over five years, and it really is a delicate balance. It started with three and now is down to two. They actually have become pretty close friends. At one point, another acquaintance at his company asked to join the carpool, and they actually turned him down. They were nervous about it not working out. When you are 45 minutes in a car with someone five days a week, it helps to be friends or at least know each other. There are often times that either my husband or the other person wants to drive separately, and they just work it out. I also think that you should schedule based on weeks – i.e. one person drives a whole week. Otherwise it could become very confusing. I would also suggest to start small. You can always add more people later if you want.

    My husband’s company (which is over 1,500 employees) used to have carpool parking spots very close to the building, in order to award those who made the effort. I think people complained about it (jerks!), and also very few people were using them. They ended up getting rid of them. It’s sad that more people don’t take the time to save on gas.

  16. Adam says:

    My job has no commute right now because my condo is across the street, but if it did, a carpool wouldn’t work for me at all.

    Starting times are generally the same, but ending times vary for me each day…must be nice to have a regular 9-5 punch the clock type job, but since starting my path to being a CPA to my current job (so basically, since I was 19) I’ve had completely irregular hours.

  17. Ward says:

    You could also use carpooling websites such as erideshare.com

  18. Joe says:

    Also check with your local Mass Transit company. The one where I live has options to create “Van-pools” where the vehicle being driven is a Transit vehicle, not a personal one, but driven by one of the riders and not a transit employee.

    In the D.C. area, there are “slug lines” where people share rides for the expressed purpose of being able to use the high-occupancy lanes. An interesting read at least: http://www.slug-lines.com/. You can always look for similar groups in your area.

  19. Kate says:

    We tried a carpool this year during our city’s bus strike. The frugal side of me loved it, the practical side of me hated it.

    Like Adam (#9), we found ourselves quite frustrated by the different departure times, and most (if not all) of the savings of carpooling were eaten up by the cost of cabbing it home 2-3 times a week. Pick-up times were rarely an issue.

    Honestly, we didn’t save much, but that’s because my work has very limited parking (enough for 10% of employees, awarded on a seniority basis) and parking nearby costs 12$ a day.

  20. Brent says:

    I live only a few (3.5 to be exact) miles from work, If it were not for the weather, dress code, and occasional after work activities I’d be biking. I still might a few days a week in the warmer months. The trick of transportation costs is to open it to all options: walk, bike, horse, bus, carpool, scooter, motorcycle, clunkers, hybrids, trucks, jetpack.

  21. Amy B. says:

    In the DC metro area, carpooling is made easy by the local governments. Visit Metro Washington Council of Governments website for commuting: http://www.mwcog.org/commuter2/. You can also sign up there for the guaranteed ride home program to help in those times when you’re in a pinch due to an emergency.

  22. Hurray for Jenny!

    Not only is her interest in carpooling helping her finances, but also all of ours! By Jenny going the route of trying to carpool, whe helps us by

    1.) Cutting down on green house emissions
    2.) Lessening our dependency on foreign oil
    3.) Helping to keep the price of gas at a reasonable level.
    4.) Helping the environment by not require her car to be worked or tires replaced as quickly (and potentially extending the life of the car).

    Kudos to Jenny!

    Not only am I a carpooling commenter, but I’m also a carpool participant (sometimes) :)

  23. matt says:

    I agree with you brent, except for me its not just the weather and dress code (i have showers at work). But the fact that drivers here are nutjobs, and I dont feel safe biking on the roads I would have to take to work (no shoulders and no sidewalks 1 lane). Even when i used to live literally across the street from work I couldn’t walk because crossing a 6 lane state highway on foot with no crosswalks would be putting my life in murphy’s hands.

  24. Karen J says:

    I have been a member of a van pool for just shy of a year and it is work pretty well for me. We have two pick up locations (at park and rides) in the suburbs and three drops in the city. We are a 14 passenger van, with 5 drivers. We have a set schedule, and we have a set policy of leaving on time (we do not wait for late people – and yes I have gotten left behind a couple of times). The van pool makes me have better time management skills at work because my time is truly limited. And if I have to stay late, I just drive myself – no one on the van pool cares.
    My company will pay up to $120/month for my van pool expenses, and the rest (like 30 bucks) is taken out of my paycheck before taxes. If i take the van pool everyday in a month, I save almost $300 in gas, wear and tear on my car and tolls.
    @IASSOS – As far as choosing the radio station – drivers choice! :-)

  25. T says:

    Couple of suggestions:

    1> Try a rideshare network like http://www.nuride.com.

    2> Take a look at http://commutergal.com/.

  26. jim says:

    THere might be local or state organizations setup to help coordinate carpools.

    Try searching google for your city or state and the word “carpool”. e.g. if you live in Chicago try for “chicago carpool” and “illinois carpool”

  27. Diane says:

    I have a carpool that works really well (mostly). We meet at a local mall parking lot (out in the boonies, so no one minds) instead of picking each other up, as we are spaced at at distance on that end. We all work fairly close on a Univ. campus, so that works well. We also each drive for a week at a time – a schedule that is easier to keep up with (and since there are 4 of us – is just once a month). The only tricky parts are remembering who substituted for whom and if they were paid back – mostly it still works. We share a parking permit and still need to have daily permits when we need to drive outside of the carpool (appointments and the like). We mostly don’t listen to radio, and often don’t even talk much. I like daydreaming.

  28. Ruby Leigh says:

    Often times, Public Transit companies will assist you in coordinating your Ride Share. Look into that. I tried it out myself, and got $10 of free gas just for signing up and attempting.

  29. Hope D says:

    I like the idea of carpooling. I used to carpool with the most annoying man. It was just us two. He was and arrogant, intellectual, agnostic(heavy on the arrogant). He would actually bring cassettes of speeches about agnosticism. He was also in a folk band and would play tapes of them. Everyone who knew him could not believe I could put up with him. Looking back, I can’t believe I put up with it either. I swear my ears bled.

  30. Carpooling is a practical idea ,I’m in a carpool with 3 friends and my brother. We rotate in different days. If you have good companies for car pooling it’s an advantage for your daily travel, but if they are not, you better drive alone.

  31. Henry says:

    Be careful! Just because you’re not 16 anymore doesn’t mean what mom said about being careful who you ride with doesn’t apply anymore! I’d suggest an upfront list of behaviours that are unacceptable and are grounds for terminating the member. The list will be different for everyone, but could range from smoking in the car, drug use, drinking, applying makeup, eating, texting, sexting, using a non-hands free cell phone, or anything else you all think is dangerous.
    And, as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “Americans should park their recalled Toyotas unless driving to dealers for accelerator repairs,” so be careful if that’s the machine you’re getting into.

  32. Laura says:

    I work a second job three days a week, so a girl in my office and I carpool two days a week, unless there are exceptions. It is amazing the difference in gas money just by driving to work 4 less days a month. PLUS (and this is huge in my area) we can take the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, which also cuts 10 minutes off my commute both ways!

  33. Anthony says:

    Carpooling would be a good idea. However, I travel (locally) for work, so I need my own car! Oh well. There are plenty of other ways to save money.

  34. KC says:

    I’ve been in a carpool for about 4 years. I started out in a carpool with just one other person. That was great – but pretty expensive as we each live 60+ miles one way from work. When the gas shortage hit our state, Georgia, we upped the carpool to four people, a little bit more challenging adding two other personalities. But we added some rules, no more than 5 minutes late and a dollar a minute fine, goes toward breakfast every Friday. Also, no talking/texting for the driver. We each drive one week and if the driver is out, we have a designated buddy system where his/her backup is the driver for that day. Then the original driver drives a day for the backup. If a member has a prescheduled conflict, he/she drives in alone. We end up getting a gift card for $40-$60 every month if we meet certain ride share quotas thanks to the Clean Air Campaign and we have a Guaranteed Ride Home program. In four years, we’ve only used this twice. Both dealing with sick kids. I save a fortune and wouldn’t have it any other way because I genuinely like my carpool buddies. For those looking to carpool in Metro Atlanta, try Georgia RideShare.

  35. I think that you should schedule based on weeks – i.e. one person drives a whole week. Otherwise it could become very confusing. I would also suggest to start small. You can always add more people later if you want.

  36. Rhonda says:

    I’ve been in a carpool for almost seven years with two other women – we live pretty close to work so it’s about sharing the parking costs than the driving costs. One of our members emails out a calendar every month so that we can request to drive when we have appointments or meetings out of the office; she then uses that to make up the monthly schedule.

    We also have an official meeting time and the “drop dead” time in the morning, after we can leave without you.

  37. Lauren says:

    There’s also a website called http://www.nuride.com where you can earn points for carpooling and taking public transit. There’s also a part that lets you look up other people around you to see if you want to carpool, but it sends the messages through the website, so that your personal information is not being given out. I take public transit everyday, and I like that it shows how much money I save and how many emissions I’m avoiding.

  38. divajean says:

    When I carpooled, I was lucky. I found someone who lived fairly close to me and was agreeable to my just paying her what bus fare would have cost. The big savings to me was more in time- I didn’t have to bus downtown, transfer, then bus the rest of the way (an hour each way!) We let each other know changes in the schedule well in advance and din’t have any big problems.

  39. Cindy B. says:

    I carpooled many years and enjoyed talking with the others during the drive. It also allowed me to sleep when I wasn’t driving. Realize that you can set any schedule that works for the group – it can be that you only carpool three or four days a week. It doesn’t have to be five. Also, we met at a meeting points – we didn’t pick up at people’s homes. We would have to change our meeting from an underused parking lot to next to a park to at the person closest to the freeway. We changed meeting points as members and our needs changed.
    Finally, we had a strict waiting policy. Our meeting time was 6:15 and we left at 6:20. Otherwise, everyone was late to work – not just one.

  40. Sara Bee says:

    Call your state department of transportation. It is very likely they or someone they know has a car pool matching service.

    An alternative is contacting the Association for Commuter Transportation. They have a list of local chapters and you may find local help more quickly that way.


  41. NP says:

    If you are a control freak, maybe you could offer to drive all the time if passenger(s) contribute(s) a set amount for the service. If the pool consists of more than 2 people, it might be okay to sleep on your non-driving days or to wear headphones or read to tune out obnoxious radio or recordings or people.

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