The Case for Carpooling 2.0

In February, Congressman Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) introduced a bill that would award a $1 billion prize to the first U.S.-based auto manufacturer to sell 
“60,000 mid-sized sedan automobiles which operate on gasoline and can travel 100 miles per gallon.” In part, Lungren presented the “E Prize Act of 2012” as a rhetorical vehicle. Why, he opined on his website, should the federal government subsidize specific technologies that may or may not deliver intended results rather than simply reward desirable outcomes? A gasoline-powered car may not seem like a forward-thinking solution to reduce carbon dioxide emissions or our dependence on oil—but if such a car could take our gas consumption levels from 8.9 million barrels a day to 1.8 million barrels a day, it’d be worth throwing into the mix, wouldn’t it?...

In theory, this should be a boom era for carpooling. Gas is expensive. Millions of people want to reduce their carbon footprints. The average U.S. commuter now spends a total of 50.2 minutes per day commuting to and from work, and according to numerous studies, commuting makes us miserable. Ride-sharing apps like Avego and iCarpool allow users to screen potential ride-sharers in advance, find drivers or passengers in real-time, and even manage payments between parties. And yet according to a paper transportation researchers Nelson Chan and Susan Shaheen presented at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting in 2011, carpooling is only about half as popular now as it was when an upraised thumb was the only technology connecting drivers with passengers. In 1970, they write, U.S. Census data showed that 20.4 percent of American workers commuted to work by carpool. Today, only around 10.7 percent do.

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