Saturday, February 20, 2010

Carpooling to reduce fuel cost, pollution, and vehicle maintenance

I have been carpooling for over nine years. Because of all the benefits, carpooling is probably the single most sustainable choice I have made so far.  Funny thing is, I started carpooling way before I turned crunchy-granola.

My carpool buddy is a friend of almost 13 years; we live near each other, and we work together. We live 20 miles from where we work.  In peak traffic times, that equates to an average of 45 minutes one way, so it is nice to share the ride with someone. To tell the truth, I can’t remember how the arrangement even evolved. I just remember that it was convenient so we kept doing it. Over the years, we have found other people that work and live near us. Some share with us occasionally and some have shared for a few months at a time. Right now, my young cousin is working as an intern with us, and so she rides with us as well.

Whenever I bring up "carpool" in a conversation, people wrinkle their noses and frown as if a rotten egg was offered for tasting.

Fact is, in Houston, people like their vehicles, and most people are opposed to the idea of carpooling because they think it will impede their freedom. When you live in a city, there are lots of things to do and places to go. People in general like the freedom that a car gives them. On the way to work, one can choose to drive through for coffee or stop to buy a birthday card. There are many things to do after work as well - go see a friend, go the bookstore, go to dinner or a movie, or whatever.  If your carpool buddy is waiting on you to go home, you may feel less compelled to make that impulsive shopping trip.

However, I have not found those to be too difficult to maneuver as long as I follow these rules for carpooling: 1) be flexible and willing to make stops for my carpool buddy 2) plan ahead with my buddy for the events/activities/errands I want to do 3) and be considerate of my buddy's preferences.

My carpool buddy is easy-going. We both like quiet in the morning and conversation in the evening. We have different music preferences, so we leave the stereo off.  She keeps her vehicle is tip-top shape, so I wipe my shoes before entering and avoid opening a soda in her car.  If there are activities going on before or after work, we just plan around them. If one of us is running late, we just let the other know. If one of us has an errand to run, we either do it at lunch time or ask the other if they mind doing it on the way to work. We know the occasional problem might arise, but we just handle it together or drive separately on that day.  After doing this for so long, I really think more people could carpool and might actually like it if they would just try it.

Most folks I know have never tried carpooling and cannot imagine doing it. After the initial reaction of "oh no, I could never...", I usually get some pretty common questions about how the arrangement works. That's my opportunity to try to convince them that it really does work for me.

On average I spend an hour and a half in the car each day (Monday through Friday) - that's seven and a half hours a week. So I am grateful to split the driving time with someone. Carpooling allows us to avoid some of the traffic problems by using the Houston Metro High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane. More importantly though, I truly enjoy having her company in the car. Since we work together, we often discuss business as well as personal topics in the car; so by the time we get home, I am already unwound and ready to relax for the evening.

Only recently did I start thinking about it in terms of being sustainable.  Sharing the driving responsibility prevents stress and burnout from driving in a crowded city.  It also cuts out half the a) fuel cost, b) pollution, and c) wear and tear on the vehicle.  Nobody can argue with me when I say, “it just makes sense”.

In addition, since I can depend on my carpool buddy to drive half of the time and since my husband works from his home office, we were able to sell our second car.  We save on maintenance and car insurance costs.  I never thought we could be a one-car family, but it actually works out well.

There are lots of problems with urban sprawl such as traffic, pollution, zoning, and etc... As our cities continue to grow without balancing work/live spaces, we may be forced to live even further from where we work, causing even longer commutes.  In some cities, there may be viable public transportation solutions for commuters such as rails, park and rides, and bus systems.  Many people may choose to just accept a lower paying job in the suburbs to work closer to home, or we may accept higher living costs to live closer to work.  Both of those options would, unfortunately, result in lower standard of living.  On the other hand, some may choose more sustainable solution options like working from home, insisting on flex schedules, carpooling, or using hybrid electric vehicles.

Living in the USA allows us the freedom to choose where we live, where we work, how we worship, what we purchase, what we finance, what we wear, and what we eat. So think about what is sustainable for you, your family, the community, and our environment and make decisions that represent your goals.  Every choice matters!