Can Carpooling Regain Its Cool?

Carpooling has taken a nosedive in the past two decades, thanks to sprawl and the relatively cheaper cost of buying cars. An article inThe New York Times details how about one in four Americans carpooled in the 1970s—now, less than 12% of drivers share rides. And carpooling numbers fall with each passing year, despite the fact that commutes into major cities across the country are painful, frustrating affairs.

Those who have their own cars are motivated to use them, even if it means sitting in mind-numbing traffic for hours. The article reports that car ownership has “outstripped even population growth, as the number of cars parked in American driveways has risen by nearly 60% since 1980, while the number of Americans has grown by a third.”

There is certainly no shortage of technology to make sharing rides easier. There’s eRideShare, which connects drivers and riders across the world on car travels ranging from cross-country excursions to suburb-to-city commutes. There’s also Zimride, which presents carpooling as a form of social networking, and focuses specifically on college students, corporate communities and concert-goers. Over 70 colleges and universities have signed on, including Stanford, Berkeley and Cornell, and the site has more than 2,000 active users. The latest, Avego, is a free, downloadable iPhone app that promotes “real-time ridesharing.” Whether you have a spare seat, or are looking for one, the app promises to match you with someone traveling the same route, and to include small electronic payments from riders to drivers as part of the service. A pilot program with 1,000 drivers was launched in Seattle, Washington on January 27, supported by state funds, with the hopes that it will provide a real alternative to single-rider commuting.

But although the signs aren’t particularly hopeful for carpooling to regain its ‘70s-era popularity, it doesn’t mean commuters aren’t finding other ways to avoid the traffic. Mass transit ridership is high across the country. Nearly 2.5 billion trips were taken on buses, trains and subways in the third quarter of 2010, according to the American Public Transportation Association.