Is Carpooling Dead?

Screen shot 2014-11-17 at 12.00.39 PMCarma provided this special contributor article.

You may have heard recently about the so-called demise of carpooling. You may think that Vox has summed it up neatly for Austin with the deceptively simple equation: More singles + fewer kids + more car-buying = a car for everyone. There, that solves it, right? As more people hold off on getting married and having kids, cars become a more affordable product for these new, smaller households, and we all stop fighting over who’s going to ride shotgun. Add in the fact that Americans, in particular, work some ridiculous hours, and the further development of the sprawling suburbs (i.e. Round Rock, Leander, etc.), and you have the recipe for an Oregon Trail-style commute; except we’re not all going to Oregon and there’ll be no communal fording of the river. Basically, we’re riding alone more than ever, or so say the data. Especially in Austin, with reports of 300,000 single-occupant vehicles daily, making us the 4th worst traffic city in the U.S.

But what if this alleged death of carpooling, this dearth of co-commuting, and this unholy underutilization of HOV lanes was a premature pronouncement? What if, dear reader, after what is admittedly a lull in the percentage of commuters carpooling, office drones are simply regrouping, taking a breather to figure out new and innovative ways to get there together? If the above reads like a litany of leading questions to you, you’re absolutely right, so, without further ado: enter, Carma.

Carma Carpooling is part of the burgeoning ecosystem of digital applications aimed at connecting commuters and reducing the congestion and environmental degradation caused by the Vox equation outlined above. Carma digitizes the process of finding road buddies and splitting the costs of their commutes. Depending on the distance travelled, commuters pay as little as $0.20 per mile as a contribution towards costs, far below the going rates for taxis or, more nefariously, services offered by companies like Uber and Lyft. Even more exciting, as commuters are not considered for-hire drivers, drivers’ private vehicle insurance remains intact and any money earned via the app is non-taxable. On top of that, Carma is piloting a toll reimbursement program in Austin, currently on 183A and the 290 Manor Expressway. (Carpool with two or more people and Carma will reimburse 100% on the cost of the toll, carpool with one person and you get 50% reimbursement.) With Carma and services like it being accessible as smartphone apps, commuters have the flexibility to adapt their commute to variable hours and schedules. Pretty exciting, right?

As the rebirth of carpooling has happened under Carma’s loving gaze, the Carma team has taken steps to further encourage the growth of the carpooling and commuting ecosystem beyond its own ranks. Carma has been successfully bringing carpooling back to Austin since February 2014 and is approaching 2,000 users in our central Texas region. With a planned January 2015 launch, Carma is looking for teams to take part in its Carma Axlr8r, a take on the wildly popular (and effective) startup accelerator model. Startups working on transportation products and services will come to Ireland for three months and take part in an intensive program aimed at achieving rapid growth for these fledgling businesses. The teams will receive $25,000 in initial seed funding, hands-on mentoring from some of the biggest names in transportation (Gabe Klein, Jeff Chernick, and Susan Shaheen have all signed on as mentors), free office space, and access to the Carma development team.

With all this activity, perhaps Vox’s claim that carpooling is dead seems a bit misplaced. Your parents’ 1970s-era carpool may have gone the way of disco and Richard Nixon, but that doesn’t mean that commuters aren’t thinking of new and innovative ways to cut down on the costs, hassle, and environmental impact of commuting. Nay, carpooling is alive and well! All you need to do is fire up your smartphone and hop in.

PS: Carma Carpooling is piloting a toll reimbursement program currently on 183A and the 290 Manor Expressway. Carpool with two or more people and Carma will reimburse 100 percent on the cost of the toll, carpool with one person and you get 50 percent reimbursement.

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image via Texas A&M Transportation Institute


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