This week, I've been experimenting with the Casual Carpool. What's that? You've never heard of such an insane thing before? It's pretty insane. Basically, you line up at a designated spot in the East Bay, strangers pull up, you get in their car, and they drive you to a designated spot in San Francisco. 2-3 passengers per car, suggested-not-mandatory donation of $1, and carpool lane all the way, baby!
Casual Carpool has two websites (one and two) if you're interested in checkin' it out, for no apparent reason except that maybe one is the old one and one is shiny and new, and they didn't use the same URL? Multiple twitter accounts, too. I don't expect much organization though...after all, the whole point of CC is that it's relatively disorganized. Or...you know...casual.
Anyway, I've been experimenting with CC in the mornings, since the pickup spot is about halfway between my house and the BART station, and the drop off spot is literally on the same block as my office. Super convenient, and gets me to work earlier in the mornings!
Here are my findings:
Monday: First day, a little unsure of what to expect. Only one person waiting in line, but no cars to be seen. Within about 2-3 minutes though, someone showed up and off we went! I'd forgotten it was MLK day, so the 14 minute stop-to-stop ride was a pleasant surprise. Left the house at 8:40, was at my desk by 9:05. Cost: $1 (I offered to contribute a dollar, since the last time I drove, passengers all chipped in). Drivers dropped off on the left side of the (one-way) street, but it was still the same intersection, so whatevs.
Tuesday: Crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, on my first CC day with normal commute populations, but only had to wait about 3 minutes for my turn to get into a stranger's car. Was going to offer to chip in $1, but I didn't have any change, and nobody else in the car offered. Driver didn't seem to mind. Noticed how lovely it is to see the city (and the water, and the Golden Gate bridge) from above ground on your way in. The driver took a different exit from what I'm used to, so it was interesting to see a new way to get to work. He didn't seem like he was going to stop at the customary intersection, so I asked if I could hop out at a red light. Cost: $0 /Time: about 35 minutes door to door.
Wednesday: Huge line when I got to the stop, around 8:50. Waited about 5 minutes or so (felt like longer, but that's lines for ya) and got in a car. Nobody offered to pay, and the driver didn't ask, and I still didn't have change, so another free ride for me. Got in at about 9:20, so about half an hour door to door. Driver exited the same way as Tuesday's driver, and asked where we wanted to be dropped off (since her end point was several blocks past the customary drop off point). She pulled over and I hopped out, pretty easy.
Thursday: There was a pretty decent line, and the wait was almost 10 minutes. It was almost 9am, so I was worried there would be no more cars and that I'd have to resort to BART...but joy of joys, a car pulled up at 8:59am (same driver as Tuesday). She took a different route to get to the freeway (again with the learning new ways to get to the city!), and I was at my desk by 9:22. I'd left the house at 8:40, so that's still 40 minutes...but it was free (she didn't ask for money, and again I was an idiot with no change) and still took 10 minutes less than it takes me on BART. So far, so solid, CC.
Friday: I woke to my husband's alarm with a start at 8:30, after accidentally sleeping half an hour past my own alarm. I had planned to leave the house at 8:30 and get an earlier start on the CC line. Oops. Amazingly, by 8:37 I was out the door, and despite a line of 12-15 people, I was in a stranger's car by 8:48. This driver listened to the Steve Harvey Show on the radio, which only struck me as odd because the other 3 drivers in my small sample set all listened to NPR (which didn't surprise me at all, given the community-casual-carpool-bay-area-vibe thing). She was actually kind of rude, snapping monosyllabically and interrupting the guy who asked if she was going in a direction past the stop (sometimes people will ask the driver where their end point is in order to get dropped off closer to where they, the rider, are trying to go). After we got out, the guy said this driver is always like that. But whatever, who knows what's going on in her life? I was barely awake anyway, so I certainly didn't mind the silence. We pulled up to the stop in SF at 9:07, which puts my door-to-door at approximately 30 minutes. Oh, and the "I'm not going to talk to you and I seem actually kinda annoyed that I let you get in my car" woman didn't ask for donations, so I didn't offer. But going from dead asleep to at the Starbuck by my office in 40 minutes? Baller.
Overall, I think this is awesome. It allows me to be a bit more flexible with my mornings (I only get a BART train every 15 minutes, so if I miss one, it throws off my schedule), and it saves money (I saved $17.75 this week! Even if I paid $1 every day, I'd still save $13.75/week over taking BART). And it's much more pleasant than the super-crowded morning trains. The only downside is the relative unpredictability. If I have an early meeting that I need to get to, I'll probably BART rather than risk not having a ride and getting pushed back. But on most days? Riding in Cars with Strangers is the way to go.
Casual Carpool, I think I love you.