Casual Carpooling: Hitch-hiking to Work

By: Bernd Wechner
© November 1, 2002

Casual Carpooling: Hitch-hiking to Work

Casual Carpooling: Hitch-hiking to Work

Author: Bernd Wechner
Published on: November 1, 2002

A friend once told of a friend of his (yes, it's a friend of a friend tale), who was so unhappy with his job he wanted to lose it. He couldn’t resign, social security wouldn’t kick in if he did, so he had to get sacked. His preferred method for so doing was to hitch-hike to work. The idea being that he’d arrive incessantly and unavoidably late to work. It sounds like an apocryphal tale of sorts even to me, but the moral of the story was, he never arrived late and never lost his job!

I’ve had the opportunity to sit house for friends a few times this month, out of town, in the bush, among the trees and the birds, in the quiet of the country. We live in the CBD of Hobart and that’s a nice change. It does present the problem of transport though. We have a car, but parking in the CBD is an expensive venture in cash and/or time and the car is more useful in my partners hands during the day than parked in front of my office in town. There are busses of course, and not all that irregular at rush hour.

On the first Monday in Fern Tree then I rang the Metro to see when I should expect the bus. No-one was in the office, and the answering machine suggested I try their web-site, or call back after 9. Hmmmph. I took a bus ticket (we keep some on hand) and marched down to the bus stop in one of those freezing wet mornings that Fern Tree Octobers can present … Brrrr.

I learned a long time ago that the only sensible way to wait for a bus on a clear road is with a thumb out. I never caught the bus. I got a ride in to work. Two weeks later I’d caught the bus only once, and had got to know a dozen or so locals to Fern Tree. Mum’s taking their kids to school, commuters heading to work and the occasional alternate lifestyler (what do we call that class of people who’ve displaced the hippies in their free and easy approach to work, life and love? – bless their souls).

Where we’re sitting house right now, my partner’s sister and her beau live in a flat downstairs. They’re both at uni and both drive klunky old ‘70s Volvos – quite a fashion here in Tasmania, I’ve never seen so many old Volvo’s before, not even in Sweden – they drive new ones there! Of all the ironies that one day I ended up on the bus, both those Volvo’s came past me one behind the other, with the bus hot on their tale! It’s a windy mountain road with no shoulder and a bus stop in a hairpin bend. You don’t pull in, in front of the bus. Oh well …

Weeks earlier we were sitting house down at Oyster Cove, a half hours drive south of town. There too, I caught the bus just once in over two weeks of house sitting, and got to know a few of the folk from the Channel country. Friendly folk south of Hobart.

It reminded me of the Oakland Bay Bridge in San Francisco somehow, where for years, because of HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes on the bridge people have been thumbing in to work with real success. Drivers find it in their interest to pick someone up, fill the car and take the fast lane. The American’s with their cultural aversion to any of the traditional words call it “Casual Carpooling”. It’s one way to win respect from the community at large for doing essentially the same thing.

They, from memory, only hitch in to town in the mornings and tend to use public transport heading home again. I faced the same dilemma. It’s easy of course to hitch in to town of a morning, half the city is migrating in precisely that direction on the pilgrimage to work-place. In short, everyone’s going in one direction, my way – into town! On the way home though, people are spreading out in all directions and the flagging scenario gets a little complicated.

The University of British Columbia has instituted a laudable program, UBC Trek, aimed at reducing the number of single occupancy vehicle trips and from the university. In 2001 they published the following strong recommendation:

    CASUAL CARPOOLING Casual carpooling, or instant ridesharing, is a type of ridesharing arrangement whereby drivers wishing to form carpools pick up passengers waiting by the roadside.

    Casual carpooling has proven successful on the Oakland Bay Bridge in the San Francisco Area, the Shirley Highway corridor in the Virginia / Washington, D.C. area, and to a lesser extent in Houston, Texas (Casey et al., FTA). In each of these areas, individuals form instant carpools on a daily basis to take advantage of the travel time savings afforded by HOV lanes, which require vehicle occupancy of three or more. Individuals wanting rides gather at park-and-ride lots and other locations and are picked up by drivers going to the same destination. In all of these examples, casual carpooling was initiated by commuters and continues to operate without any formal planning or sanction by agencies or organizations. One likely reason for the success of casual carpooling has been identified as the ease and speed with which a ride may be obtained (Casey et al.).

    1. UBC should develop, implement, and support a Casual Carpooling Program as soon as possible.

    Casual carpooling, without any supporting ridematching system, has proven successful in several settings, and can be implemented without significant cost. A casual carpooling program should be implemented immediately, before the end of the current transit strike if possible.

    People looking for a ride would be encouraged to display hand-held, 8 ½ by 11 inch signs showing their destination. A customizable sign template could be printed from the TREK website, and durable foam-core signs could be ordered through TREK.

    Drivers could display their destinations on a windshield sign, also provided by TREK. Those seeking a ride home would stand at high-traffic locations throughout campus, such as parking lot exits. Those coming to UBC would position themselves at the sides of arterial roads serving UBC commuter traffic.
    - Dynamic Ridesharing: Background and Options for UBC,
       UBC TREK Carpool Team. July 25, 2001

Let’s raise our thumbs to the UBC for a sensible stance on transport issues.

Type "Casual Carpooling" into any search engine and you’ll see a small wave of support for the idea, you just need to know the jargon-nouveau, hitch-hiking is out, casual carpooling is in! When you work out the difference, let me know.

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