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February, 2007


Casual Carpool Now
By Jim Fox

Since Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit was voted down in November, we need to look beyond our ineffective public transit system. Now there is talk of spending $250 million on widening Highway 101 allowing more cars to create more pollution and even more gridlock. There is an inexpensive alternative that is rarely discussed in the North Bay (or anywhere): Casual carpooling.

What is Casual Carpooling? Casual Carpooling started in 1973 during an San Francisco East Bay bus strike. People stood at bus stops and motorists would offer them a ride for free. Drivers then could use the carpool lane and didn't have to pay a toll. Passengers didn't have to pay bus fare and were guaranteed a seat. The concept has grown much since then. There are casual carpool spots all over the East Bay, even online maps and other information.

It still is pretty much a grassroots, guerrilla movement. It is estimated as many as 10,000 people use it each day with few problems reported to the police. There often are lines to get a ride and lines of cars offering rides at various carpool locations.

Imagine what could be done if a transportation agency really got involved. Marin County should consider implementing a Casual Carpool system. Done properly, it would be more efficient than a SMART train and cost virtually nothing to build and operate. Carpool stops would be easily accessible and safe to use. The empty parcel at Second Street and Lincoln Avenue in San Rafael would be ideal.

Casual carpooling is especially efficient during the morning commute to the San Francisco's Financial District. Infrastructure in cities would be needed for carpool stops for different destinations.

Why would a driver stop to give someone a ride out of San Francisco? Access to a carpool lane is not enough. Tolls should be set up in both directions to encourage casual carpools.

If 1% of the money that is to be used to widen the freeway were to be used as lottery style jackpots for carpoolers people would be lining up to carpool. Easily there could be a $100,000 jackpot every month and many smaller prizes that would be distributed among the drivers and riders.

"Carma Credits," could also be issued in which drivers receive vouchers good toward gasoline, tolls and fines. Incentive is very important.

Old-fashioned carpooling is inconvenient. The other riders have to depend on the driver. If they are late, or if you work late, you're stuck. People also need to feel secure because casual carpooling essentially is glorified hitchhiking.

Marin and Sonoma counties are unique in that there are two morning commutes on Highway 101. There is one from Sonoma to Marin and one from Marin and Sonoma to San Francisco. If casual carpooling were used, the Novato Narrows might not have to be widened because of reduced traffic.

Security is a problem. In the 33 years Casual Carpooling has been used, the first major incident involving Casual Carpooling happened a couple of days ago on Jan 9th, 2006. A car was carjacked by a rider. In 1990, I wrote "Carpool for cash" for the Marin IJ and was interviewed by the Pacific Sun about a proposal that would use a computer system for carpool matching that involves security. Much has changed since the articles I wrote in 1990 and I have a new design for this system and with the security needed where incidents like that would virtually not exist. (see

With casual carpooling, people get to meet other people in their neighborhoods, creating lifelong bonds that too often are lacking in our present society. Hopefully, the world will be a cleaner, better place, with less gridlock.

To learn more about casual carpooling in the Bay Area and for a list of pickup locations, go to

Jim Fox of San Anselmo, CA is a computer programmer and co-author of the original PC program WordStar His PenguinMan WEB site is He can be emailed at: [email protected]

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