By Kim Robson
Let’s take a look outside our homes now, and see if there are ways to live more green without buying an expensive hybrid car. Ridesharing has been around for a long time, long before the “green” movement took hold, yet only 12% to 14% of American commuters take advantage of carpools (source: Commuting in America III, study based on U.S. Census data from 1990-2004; published October, 2006). There are so many reasons to rideshare: less money spent on gas, less wear and tear on your car and tires, less stress, less overall traffic and subsequent damage to over-burdened roadways, reduction in air and noise pollution and greenhouse gasses, less dependence on foreign oil, as well as improvement to your social life. It can help you make new friends and build business networks, too.
Just one two-person carpool with a 40-mile roundtrip commute can save between $2,000 and $2,500 annually. For every 10 people who pair up daily and rideshare, we can save up to 1,200 gallons of gas; and we can keep 185 pounds of hydrocarbons, 132 pounds of carbon monoxide, 79 pounds of nitrogen oxides, and 237,600 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere every year.
Some people, for a variety of reasons, simply can’t make daily carpooling work. For those who have to drive alone, consider your type of vehicle. There seems to be a growing backlash against hybrid cars, mostly about their not getting anywhere near the EPA gas mileage estimate posted prominently on the window sticker. My husband and I both had a 110-mile commute, five days a week, for five years. We chose a Toyota Yaris and are happy with it. It was very affordable, has lots of interior space, and consistently has given us 42 mpg fuel economy. Another very important point: take a hard, unbiased look at your driving habits. Avoid jack-rabbit starts and sudden stops, and above all, keep your speed down while on the highway. According to the U.S. Department of Energy “aggressive driving can lower your gas mileage by as much as 33% at highway speeds.” Every 5 mph over 60 mph reduces your gas mileage by a whopping 7% to 8%. It really makes a huge difference.
But it’s not just about carpooling to work. Other options can include ridesharing on long car trips, offering an elderly neighbor a ride to the doctor or to get groceries, as well as carpooling to group events, parks, clubs, churches, or schools. There are great websites out there such as eRideshare.com and RideshareList.com, which will connect you with other commuters who want to rideshare. Both sites are completely free and easy to use.
You could even start your own carpool. There are plenty of incentives to consider: access to HOV lanes and discounted tolls, county-based incentives from partnering agencies, and employer-based incentives including priority parking, rewards, etc. (Check with your employer’s HR or facilities management departments.) Incentives for starting a vanpool are even greater: $500 start-up incentives, seat subsidies ($300) for vanpools that have lost participant(s), county-based incentives from partnering agencies, free parking/priority parking with specific counties/employers, free assistance from 511 staff to help fill empty van seats, access to HOV lanes and HOV toll booths, reimbursement ($75) to drivers for a DMV-required medical exam, and pre-tax benefits for vanpool expenses.
Finally, how would you like to eliminate your commute altogether? More and more employers are allowing telecommuting. It’s a win-win for everyone. Telecommuting reduces travel costs, lowers parking demand, and helps the environment by taking cars off the road. Employees given the opportunity to work from home tend to get more done because they’re spending less time commuting. They are less stressed and more focused. Teleworkers also report greater job satisfaction because they feel a sense of trust and responsibility from their employers. As for employers, studies have shown that telecommuting is a great incentive in the recruitment and retention of quality staff. It can also reduce overhead by trimming the demand for employee parking and office space. Plus, research has proven that teleworkers are 10% to 20% more productive than cubicle workers.
I no longer have to travel that monster commute: we have enough work up here in the mountains and online to get by. The reduction in stress has improved my health dramatically: my asthma has all but disappeared; a skin condition caused by a dysfunction of the auto-immune system has cleared up by itself; and I’ve gotten only one cold in the past three years!
We really don’t realize how much stress daily city living places on our psyches. Ridesharing is a fantastic way to reduce a huge contributor to those stress levels.