Carpooling Through Apps: New Tools to Reduce Driving

Nithin Coca IMPACT MILL CONTRIBUTOR
Carpool

One of the most resilient American concepts is the single-occupancy vehicle. Every day, in cities all across the country, the vast majority of cars driving to and from work have most of their seats empty. Despite decades of tax incentives, carpool lanes, park and rides, and other initiatives, carpooling has yet to take off in the US.

And it’s a shame, because driving is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. If we could cut back on driving, our contributions to climate change would fall significantly.

Technology is attempting to change the carpooling game by connecting drivers, riders, and providing financial incentives to make the transaction positive for both sides. Here are a few of the many new, innovative options to carpool using mobile apps, which help reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles on the road.

Exploring Carpool App Options

There are many perks to carpooling, like designated parking | image: SmartSign/Flickr

There are many perks to carpooling, like designated parking | image: SmartSign/Flickr

My favorite carpool app is Scoop, which currently only operates in my hometown, the San Francisco Bay Area. It has a simple model. You set your home location, your work location, and what time you want to depart. If you’re a driver, it will match you with passengers going the same direction and pay you between $5-$7 per passenger. If you’re requesting a ride, you pay a similar amount to get to work.

When Scoop launched last year, I found it difficult to get a ride or find other passengers since so few people were using the service. More recently, however, its usage has become far more robust.

Waze Rider, a new service from the popular traffic-avoiding app, has just launched carpooling services in the greater Los Angeles area. It uses a slightly different model though. Like Scoop, you set a time, but the costs are based on the US Government carpool rate. That is 52 cents a mile and will rise yearly based on inflation.

Another option is LyftCarpool, which operates using the same model as Waze Ride and is being slowly expanded to cities across the country. All the apps require drivers to go through a verification process to ensure safety, but they otherwise rely on the basic trust between people. I’ve found it’s a great way to meet interesting people on your way to the office.

This is only a small taste of what’s out there now. In fact, there are dozens of other options, including Carzac, Carma, and Zimride, all operating with slightly different models and in different cities. Do a quick search of the Google Play or Apple App Stores to see what works best for you and is locally available.

What to Avoid

I recommend avoiding taxi-sharing services like LyftLine and Uberpool. Though both are marketed as carpooling apps, neither rely on regular drivers who are already making their regular commute. Both merely use technology to get more people into a taxi-like service, and the driver can be, quite often, coming from many miles away. They might be convenient, but certainly not awesome for the environment.

Secondly, if you live in a place with reliable public transit options, stick to that. While carpooling is great where such options don’t exist, public transit still has both a far lower carbon footprint and environmental impact.

Carpooling is, in theory, a great way to reduce cars on the road. In reality, it can be hard for drivers and riders to connect. New smartphone apps, including Scoop, Waze, LyftCarpool, and Carzac, and aiming to bridge this gap. If you can, using these tools to carpool instead of driving can be beneficial for the environment, reducing your carbon footprint, and helping remove cars from the road.

Nithin is an eecosphere Impact Mill and freelance writer who focuses on cultural, economic, and environmental issues in developing countries with an aim at building channels of communication and collaboration around common challenges. He alternates between a home in California and working on social projects in Africa and Asia.