This past weekend, I worked on a highway closure some distance from my home. Due to the distance, one of my coworkers and I decided to carpool to save money. But picking a meeting spot for the carpool had some difficulties. Some were anticipated, but others I didn’t even realize until after we had started. If you are considering carpooling to work, here are some issues to consider when picking a carpool meeting spot.
Carpooling is one of the most frugal methods of commuting on the planet. Walking or biking to work are cheaper, but only useful over a limited distance. I was fine biking when I lived 8 miles away from my job site in Windsor, but it isn’t going to happen to the job site 50 miles away in Boulder!
Meanwhile, public transportation is much better for the environment. Buses and trains hold many more passengers than individual cars can. But I’m not sure they are better on the pocketbook. And distances can create a scheduling nightmare. I once determined that a job site 40 miles away would take 4 buses and three and a half hours. Plus a daily cost of roughly $15. Not really economical or realistic.
However, carpooling has a pretty major drawback as well. It may seem obvious, but in my case, it has been the single biggest deterrent to carpooling to work and saving money. Members of a carpool need to be coming from a common area and going to a common area. I am one of only two employees at my company that live in this county. Another coworker in the county to the east is the only other employee I’ve met who lives further than 30 miles to the office. Since the company is based in Denver, it makes sense that the majority of the employees live in the metro area. Meanwhile, since it is all field-work, there is no guarantee that I will be working with either of the other two relatively local people. So carpooling has traditionally been out of the picture for me.
But this past weekend was different. We were closing Interstate 70 in Denver to replace the Pecos Street Bridge. (They built it in a parking lot and then rolled the 2400 ton bridge into place. Here is a time-lapse video of it.) It was a major project and a large fraction of the entire branch was on duty there at some point during the 50 hour-long highway closure. So, we decided to carpool.
Is there parking available?
This one seems pretty obvious, but we actually failed to consider it when we picked a spot. While there are “park and ride” areas along the highway, none of them were placed in an area that wouldn’t either send someone out of their way, or take us both further down the road than necessary.
So we chose a convenience store at the intersection that worked best. We parked behind the building to not take spots from paying customers throughout the day. But when we got back later that night, it was discovered that it was motorcycle parking! There was a note on the windshield saying that if it happened again, we would be towed.
Picking a meeting time
Since you are stopping and meeting others, carpooling takes longer than driving alone. According to the GPS, it would have taken me 70 minutes to reach my destination from my home. But by carpooling, I had to pull off the highway, wait for my coworker to arrive, and either transfer my gear to her car, or her gear to mine. Then get back on the highway and continue to our job. So, I left 20 minutes earlier than I would have otherwise. That cut into my sleep budget as I had to wake up at 4am to get to work on time.
Is the spot out of somebody’s way?
I could have picked a park-and-ride that was just 15 miles from my house, but that would have required my coworker to drive 10 miles in the wrong direction. Once we met up, she would have had to travel down the same stretch of road she had taken to get to the meeting spot.
At the end of the day, there were only two possible choices that would not have taken either of us in the wrong direction or otherwise have been awkward.
Does it make someone drive further than others?
This was the issue I had the biggest problem with. There were two possible spots to choose. Of the roads that connected my coworker to the interstate, one was a straight drive west and the other had a more southerly component. They were the same distance for her, but the second reached the highway 15 miles closer to our destination.
On the days I drove, either meeting spot would have been the same amount of driving for me or for her. I was coming from further north and passed the first spot to reach the second. But on the day she drove, the second spot wound up being 10 miles less for her and 15 miles more for me. By driving southwest, she cut a few miles off her drive, but at the expense of making me drive further. But if we had picked the spot closer to me, she would lose the advantage of the diagonals and spend more time driving at right angles.
Gasoline and Mileage
The last thing you have to decide is who is going to drive. In a carpool, everyone can split the driving responsibilities, or everyone could pay a single person to do all the driving. Last fall, I didn’t have a car so I depended on another coworker (who has since left the company) to drive me to work. Even then, I was stuck trying to decide whether it was more fair to pay him for half of his gas, or just the gas burned driving out of his way to get me.
Do you carpool? How did you decide on these issues? Is there anything I missed?