What Happened To All The Carpoolers?

Back in the early 1980s, carpooling contributed to 20% of commuting traffic. Today, the national average has dipped below 10%–a cut in half–according to Census survey data. Conversely, nearly every other mode of transit has either remained steady or increased in the years between 2010 and 2013.

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Pundits and theorists offer no shortage of ideas as to why carpooling has declined. More car advertising. More wealth to buy cars. Urban sprawl. More small-to-medium businesses.  

 

Rather than delve into the world of theory, we conducted our own research to identify why carpooling may have declined. We surveyed over 500 commuters and asked them to identify their top reasons why they choose not to carpool.

 

The main culprit: work schedules do not align with others.

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Among all commuters, work schedules played the largest factor in not deciding to carpool. Flexible work schedules, different shifts, and perhaps even working from home all play a role. The second main reason, at 19%, was preferring alone time. Safety ranked slightly higher than having better public transit, which proved to not be a key driver in the carpooling decline.

 

Not surprisingly, transit options do tend to differ in urban and suburban areas. Only 3.7% of suburban respondents indicated that better public transit was the cause of not carpooling, while rural respondents closely matched the overall average.  

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When you look at just urban commuters, the numbers differ slightly. While the work schedule is still the main reason for not carpooling, better public transit options rose 3% while having multiple trips planned decreased slightly. More urban commuters also prefer their alone time than the total average.

 

Interestingly, 18% of urban commuters age 25-34 cite better public transit, making it the second reason they do not carpool. Meanwhile, higher age groups drop off dramatically in choosing better public transit as their primary reason. Also among 24-34 year olds, preferring alone time jumped to 38%, making it the number one reason they choose not to carpool.

 

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Age definitely plays a factor when choosing your morning commute. Commuters aged 18-24 state that they just prefer to drive their own vehicle. Multiple trips planned is slightly higher than the total average while preferring alone time dips lower than both the total average and the total average for urban commuters. Better public transit is slightly lower than the overall total average, while showing a 4% decline among the overall urban commuter average.

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Commuters aged 25-34 seem to be less social than other groups, stating that they prefer their alone time as the main reason for not carpooling. Driving their own vehicle ranks second, while having multiple trips planned comes in third. Their work schedules seemed more aligned with their peers, and they seem to feel the same as the total urban commuter group about transit options. This group also ranked the highest for choosing better public transit. This could possibly mean that this age group either has a better perception of public transit than other age group, or is simply more aware of the options than others.

What Assumptions Can we Conclude?

 

Looking through the data, there are some high-level takeaways to consider:

 

  • Urbanites have better access to public transit than those living in rural and suburban areas. This follows that public transit is better suited for areas of dense population
  • A variety of work schedules prevents carpooling. This can be a result of relaxed restrictions around a 9-5 work day that typified the 1970s and 80s.
    • The need for more public transit options becomes more important here as carpooling by and large is not a solution for fragmented schedules
  • Younger age groups prefer their own way, whether driving their own vehicle or preferring to have some alone time. This isn’t a big surprise, but what is  interesting is that these groups tend to be more socially active. Perhaps the constant usage of social media and spending time with friends results in this group choosing the one place they can get some alone time–their morning commute
  • Safety is not a concern in carpooling
  • Trip-chaining or planning multiple trips during the day, is a factor, but not as much of a consideration over preferring alone time or not having schedules align.

 

The benefits of carpooling are well known. It creates more social interaction between groups. It reduces congestion on the roads. It leads to reduced emissions,cuts the impact to our environment, saves money on gas, and maintenance for the total carpool group. However, the numbers continue to decline as a primary means for commuting.

 

Can We Revive Carpooling?

 

Is the decline of carpooling irreversible? Some app companies are betting that an injection of mobile technology can jump start the trend in a positive direction. Mega startup Uber announced UberPool as a way to revive it. Other similar ideas are on the horizon.

 

However, if carpool adoption is to increase with commuters, it may also prove beneficial to provide incentives from a commuter’s primary destination source–work. How can companies and government agencies get involved to help ride-sharing surge? Below are two ways to possibly improve carpooling rates in the United States:

 

  • Companies can offer benefits for carpooling

 

 

Companies can offer reimbursement of gas, stipends for those that participate, or other incentives that would encourage carpooling. In a competitive benefit landscape where many companies offer similar novel benefits such as unlimited PTO, gym discounts, and coffee gift cards, organizations can stand out by rewarding acts of sustainable change. This incentive may also help some co-workers better align flexible schedules so that they can participate.

 

  • Tax benefits for companies with carpooling programs

 

Changing the transportation landscape through infrastructure and capital intensive projects is both time consuming and fiscally challenging for government legislatures. One approach that could fabricate the same outcome of less congestion and pollution would be to incentivize corporations that avidly promote carpooling. With fierce competitive conditions from rivals and a litany of regulations to follow, companies are desperately looking for any benefit they can find. Why not offer an incentive to organizations that are actively promoting better conditions for commuters and the environment?

 

Final Thoughts

 

The decline in carpooling appears to be a reflection on changes in work culture and a growing preference to drive alone, rather than an alternative solution that helps reduce congestion, such as public transit.

 

To better combat commuters venturing it alone, technology can be instituted to promote better ride-sharing options, make trip planning easier, and ultimately raise awareness of public transit options that are available. Companies can also aid this effort by supporting benefit programs to those that choose carpooling options.

 

If we don’t continue to innovate and find better ways to deal with our daily drives, we may end up not driving at all, but rather stuck in park on the freeway wishing we had chosen the light rail.