Like a lot of Americans, when my husband and I moved to the suburbs of a bigger city, one of our top concerns was the commute.
Both of us work downtown in Madison, Wisconsin, and since the downtown is on an isthmus (surrounded by water on both sides), parking is extremely limited. When we lived downtown, my husband took the bus and I drove to work where parking was included in my job. As we prepared to move to the suburbs, my husband’s bus rides were no longer possible unless he wanted to leave half an hour early to head to the bus station for a 45-minute bus ride.
SInce the bus ride was impractical, we looked into a parking space downtown. His job didn’t offer one, so he would have to buy a pass for a city parking ramp. Looking at a Monday through Friday daily parking pass that suited our needs, we were astounded. It cost $180 per month — that would be $2,160 a year for parking alone!
In addition, there would be the cost of gas, around $80 a month for his 25-mile daily round trip. He would be forking over $3,120 each year just to drive to work. There had to be a better option.
Deciding to Carpool
Like most people who commute by car, I enjoy the time alone. It gives me time to prepare for the workday, to decompress at the end of the day, and to rock out when need be.
I was hesitant to give up my alone time, and also grumpy about leaving 10 minutes earlier and getting home 10 minutes later to accommodate my husband’s schedule. But $3,120 was too much money to throw away on driving separately, especially when he worked less than a five-minute drive from my own workplace.
We’ve been carpooling for about a year now, and it has saved us more than $3,000, as well as wear and tear on our second car. We enjoy knowing we could manage with only one car, if needed.
Carpooling comes with unexpected bonuses, too, such the chance to rehash the day with someone right after you leave the office. We enjoy chatting about work on the drive home and, for the most part, talking about other things once we arrive home.
In addition, it’s good to have another set of eyes when you’re driving home in rush hour. On several occasions, we’ve helped each other watch out for cars, pedestrians and cyclists. It’s also reassuring to have someone else in the car during bad weather.
Where to Find Carpool Members
Ready to save money by carpooling? Look for potential carpool members in three parts of your life. The first is your family. Does your spouse, partner or family member work relatively near your workplace? Do either of you get parking as an employee benefit?
Next, talk to your neighbors. Does anyone in your building or neighborhood share a similar schedule and commute? Look for community listservs, Meetups and Facebook groups where you can post your interest. Check whether any of your coworkers live in a similar area or drive past your neighborhood on their way to work.
Finally, consider the broader community. Would you be willing to share a ride with someone you meet on Craiglist or a ridesharing site? What about a friend of a friend?
If your city offers incentives for carpooling, it may also provide a messageboard or other way for interested parties to connect with one another. Check this list of cities that pay you to carpool for more information on potential programs.
Be Ready for the Downsides
Of course, carpooling has a few drawbacks. Some (OK, most) mornings I’m crabby, and we have a “no talking” rule in place during the drive to work. Some drives home are stressful between traffic and airing out daily work frustrations.
To make carpooling work, communicate constantly and be flexible. When my husband has to go in early or stay late, I have to adjust, just like he does when I have unusual obligations that keep me late or make me come in early.
Before committing to a carpool with a neighbor or someone you meet on a carpooling site, consider your safety. Don’t just invite any old stranger into your car or hop into theirs. Ask for character references, meet first in a public place, or consider finding carpool members from your trusted network.
Bottom line, carpooling is an easy way to keep some money in your pocket. You’ll slash your gas and parking costs, reduce your environmental impact and hopefully have a more enjoyable commute, all at the same time.
Your Turn: Have you tried carpooling? What tips do you have for someone just getting started?
Richanda Turner is a freelance writer living in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin with her husband, dog and cat. She enjoys coffee, kickboxing at the gym, and counting down the days until her student loans are paid off, and she blogs at rishenda.wordpress.com.