Which is more popular in the Bay Area, carpooling or taking public transportation to work? According to a just-released survey from the Public Policy Institute of California, the numbers are pretty close, with 14 percent of the region's workforce commuting by carpool (including vanpool) and 16 percent opting for public transit. The good news is that the local embrace of these environmentally friendly commuting alternatives is the most widespread in the entire state. The flip side is that 56 percent of Bay Area commuting is still done by solo drivers. While down appreciably from 69 percent in 2003, that number leaves plenty of room in the car for more commuters.
As part of its mission to reduce traffic congestion, clean the air, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, 511 can help fill those spaces. A free web and phone service funded by the Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, 511 maintains an expanding database of nearly 40,000 San Francisco Bay Area commuters.
The 511 RideMatch Service makes it easy to find a carpool partner, online or on the phone, throughout the nine-county Bay Area: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma counties. People who register online with 511 get instant access to a list of others with similar commute times and routes.
Carpooling is also a really good option during transit service delays or interruptions, notes 511.org 's Communications/PR Manager Kit Powis. During the July 1-4 BART strike, the number of 511 RideMatch requests increased substantially, surging from an average of about 200 per day to a peak of 1,857 on July 1.
The agency also provides free assistance to Bay Area employers in planning and developing customized commute programs, as well as guidance and information on pre-tax benefits and other programs. Hacienda has a number of rideshare support programs, including the designation of preferential parking stalls near the front entries to buildings throughout the park.
"There are many rewards to carpooling," Powis says. "Carpoolers contribute to improved air quality. They save money by sharing gas and parking expenses, qualify for discounted bridge tolls using FasTrak, and save driving time by using the numerous HOV, or high occupancy vehicle, lanes throughout the Bay Area, and reduce the wear and tear on their own cars."
To promote carpooling, 511 has put together a reward program for registered commuters who share the ride to work a few days each month. By tracking their weekly carpool trips, they can earn chances to win a rotating array of prizes, from gift cards and Ghirardelli chocolates to free tickets to local attractions such as Beach Blanket Babylon and the California Academy of Sciences.
Vanpooling is another convenient and economical commute alternative, especially for those who work far from home. Traditionally, vanpools have seven to 15 passengers; the vehicle may be owned or leased. 511 offers free services and rewards to start or join a vanpool, plus support to keep the vehicles full and on the road with empty-seat subsidies.
The 511.org website also maintains a list of the new crop of dynamic ridesharing start-ups that have surfaced lately, services such as Carma, Lyft, and Sidecar Ride, and links to other related third-party applications - like real-time traffic and parking information - from the "Mobile & Apps" tab.
Hacienda commuters, employers, and residents can access the 511 RideMatch Service at www.hacienda.org/services/services_commute_carpool.html .
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